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Saturday, Jan. 8, 2000

'DEATH IN GRANADA'

Oh, the glamour of poetic injustice


Violence aspires to poetry and vice versa in "Death in Granada," an American/Spanish production that sheds a fleeting but eerie light on one of Spain's greatest poets: Federico Garcia Lorca.

If you're not familiar with the name and his work, this is a chance to sample aspects of both. Lorca was considered a genius, admired by the likes of Luis Bun~uel and Salvadore Dali. He was incredibly handsome, a dandy, a liberal and a homosexual. A man whose brief life ended in 1936, Lorca was the closest approximation to Spain's first rock star. Fifteen-year-olds recited his poems to one another, thronged the theaters to see his plays, copied his suits. Women did their best to seduce him, men were seduced within five minutes of introductions. In short, Lorca was everything that the Franco regime detested. He was executed outside his home city of Granada, at the age of 38.

What exactly happened that fatal night and on whose orders? Why did Lorca choose to return to Granada just when the military had seized power? Such are the questions that had always baffled Lorca fans. As for director Marcos Zurinaga ("La Gran Fiesta"), those same questions had been a 30-year obsession. But he's not as interested in the answers as the inevitable and unavoidable sequence of events that led to Lorca's death. By tracing and retracing this story of a death foretold, Zurinaga enforces a dizzying sense of helplessness onto the viewer -- nothing can be done, Lorca is marked for murder and all one can do (as many of the characters in the movie) is wring one's hands in fascinated anguish. The terrible rush toward his final hour is re-enacted side by side with scenes from a corrida, and it's clear that for Zurinaga, this is exactly what Lorca's death means to him.

"Death in Granada" also takes a shot at film noir detective fiction, complete with a sultry femme of distinct '30s glamour. Zurinaga weaves in his own embellishments along with hard facts and the result is a story with a foregone conclusion that nevertheless keeps one guessing until the last 10 minutes. It's only befitting that a film about Lorca should pile on the drama -- judging by his works and portrait photos, the man's entire life was one extravagant stage play. In the words of none other than Luis Bun~uel: "I can hardly imagine anyone being like Lorca. He himself was a masterpiece."

The protagonist is Zurinaga's altar-ego, a man obsessed by Lorca and fired with the need to unearth what happened the night he died. Ricardo (Esai Morales) is a 30-year-old Puerto Rican journalist. At the time of Lorca's arrest, he had been a teenage fan living with his family in Granada. In spite of an imminent military coup, Ricardo took to the streets with his pal Jorge to look for the great poet whom they heard had just come back from overseas.

But Jorge was killed by soldiers out for random target practice and Ricardo blamed himself. The night of Jorge's funeral, Ricardo's father (Vincente Fernandez) was forcibly detained and returns with a bloody face. On this same night, Lorca had been imprisoned, charged, found guilty and executed. The father was not a Lorca follower, but he seemed to know this information firsthand and also declares that they must move out before things got worse.

Now many years later, Ricardo decides to return to Granada and lay his two ghosts -- Jorge's and Lorca's -- to rest. Dad violently opposes this plan but when he sees that Ricardo is deaf to entreaties, he makes a private call to Jorge's father (Jeroen Krabbe), now a bigwig general in that city, and entrusts him to "look after" his son -- which as the story shows, means preventing him from asking too many questions. But Ricardo remains adamant, especially since Granada is rife with clues and people with excellent memories. Not even the attentions of Jorge's gorgeous sister Maria Eugenia (Marcela Walerstein) deters him from his path until in the end, he comes up against a most gruesome and unexpected bit of truth.

What makes the movie work is the casting of Andy Garcia as Lorca. Not only does he resemble the poet physically, he blends effortlessly into the ambience of '30s Granada and displays an absolute flair for reciting poetry. He stands in front of a camera and castanets begin to click, so to speak. It's almost redundant when in one scene, he dances the flamenco with a flaming rose between his teeth.

Such props are unnecessary, for throughout the movie, you feel that he's always got a rose stashed somewhere, if not in his mouth then certainly in his eyes -- that's the charm of Andy Garcia. Or just as likely, of Federico Garcia Lorca. Apparently, Dali could hardly resist his attractions and they had a tumultuous, semi-affair. Handsome poets with tragic endings: Hopefully they can still be found in the new century.

"Death in Granada" opens Jan. 22 at the Chanter Cine in Hibiya. Dialogue in English.


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