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Cultural Engagement for Beginners - Part Two
Written by Geoff Hall
Thursday, 12 July 2007

Language can be a barrier to seeing the whole picture as well as to creating a view of the world around us.

I want to end with this little story from our Barcelona Adventure.

My son is doing a Film Studies course at Southampton University and we are often caught chewing the cud over some film, director, cinematographer or other. We had both seen the Spanish film, ‘Volver, (starring Penelope Cruz and written and directed by Pedro Almodóvar). Whilst walking near the Plaça de Catalunya, on the Gran via de les Corts Catalanes - see even the street names in Spanish are like sentences(!) - Mark and I came across a most wonderful cinema called the Coliseum and it was showing this film.

As we walked along the plush blue velvety carpet, another member of the staff spoke to us. Now I've never known a language spoken so quickly, so I think he said something like, ‘paraparapara elpescky lidos'. I turned and smiled and said ‘No hablo espanyol.' He returned my smile and as we walked away, I could see out of the corner of my eye, a bemused look, as he suddenly realised that there were two Englishmen in the cinema and the film about to start was Spanish - and without subtitles!

We sat and watched the film for nearly two hours. It is amazing what you can see when you don't have to consciously read the language. We discussed his visual technique, his favoured camera positions and lenses; generally presenting two characters face-on to the camera, very direct, very intimate, also the same shot used but to the left and out of focus, it was framed looking passed the back of another character's head, we form part of the group, eavesdropping into the conversation. When there was dialogue on the street scenes Almodóvar liked to use a short focal length, the Madrid streets out of focus, the features blurred, simply adding blobs of colour to populate the colourful backdrop. I know what you are thinking! They put this guy in charge of Cultural Engagement! Hey, worse things have happened. Remember the Thatcher years, he whispered!!