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Not really alone Character's constancy an uplifting force in Spanish 'Solas'

Friday, February 09, 2001

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

The word "Solas," which is the title of Benito Zambrano's movie now at the Harris Theater, means "alone" in Spanish. Those who speak English may associate it with the word "solace," to comfort and console. The two seemingly opposite concepts forge an unlikely and ultimately rewarding coexistence in this Spanish film, winner of the audience award at the 1999 Berlin International Film Festival.


RATING: Not rated; contains strong language and much alcohol consumption.

STARRING: Maria Galiana, Ana Fernandez, Carlos Alvarez-Novoa.

DIRECTOR: Benito Zambrano.



The film establishes the isolation of the key characters early on. A stocky older woman from the countryside (Maria Galiana) looks lost amid the polished hallways of a city hospital. On the other side of a window she finds her husband, who has just undergone major surgery. She has been staying at the hospital, but the doctor suggests she move in with her daughter, Maria (Ana Fernandez), although they clearly are estranged.

Maria has just moved in, which is evident -- although the apartment contains the most basic of furniture, it reeks of odors and a vacancy of spirit. She gets paid next to nothing as a cleaning woman and resents anyone who has it better than herself. She won't even interact with her colleagues at work. She has, her mother says, inherited her father's bad temper. How bad, we find out later.

Maria wants neither advice nor money from her mother, whom she considers a foolish old woman.

But Mother brings home a plant, and then a rocker someone else has discarded. With a stone face conveying both sadness and the slightest hint of compassionate reproach, she sets about making the place livable -- both for Maria and for the retired gentleman (Carlos Alvarez-Novoa) who resides downstairs.

Most of all, Mother adorns their apartments, their lives and, ultimately, the movie itself with her humanity. She conquers her own loneliness by spreading her love to the others. She speaks as if she is being charged by the word, but her stolid and constant presence makes it seem like she has always been there and always will be.

Galiana's performance may be minimalist in fashion, yet there is nothing the least bit cold about her. It is Fernandez who gives Maria an anger that has ice at the core of her fire.

The only force Mother has not been able to tame is her husband, a sour and jealous old man interested mainly in asserting control. Yet, thanks to her, by film's end solas turns to solace as strangers become neighbors and the virtues of dogged simplicity assert themselves in this moving slice of life.

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