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DVDs I think you should own #6 – 800 Bullets

01/02/2011

Every now and then you stumble on a film by complete accident that takes your breath away. My girlfriend, in her quest to learn Spanish, has raided the UK release schedules for as many interesting looking Spanish language films as possible in a bid to expand her opportunities to listen to the spoken language and thus ease the learning process. As far as discovering quality films go it can be a little bit hit and miss but more often than not it turns up gems of cinema that would have otherwise passed us by. 800 Bullets is such a film.

Ostensibly the tale of a young boy Carlos who, when he discovers his grandfather (whom he has never met) had been a stuntman in classic spaghetti westerns, sets off on a quest to the Almeria sets where they were filmed. There, he happens upon his grandfather and his friends who spend their time putting on shows for the tourists in a dilapidated film set and constantly reliving their glory days of being in the movies. All is going swimmingly until Carlos’ mother tracks him down and takes rather extreme measures to prevent her son from being with his grandfather, extreme measures that lead to the mother of all showdowns between the inhabitants of “Texas – Hollywood” and the local Policia.

It’s a charming, funny, bawdy, rowdy, violent, heartwarming, touching riot of a movie. The Almerian sets, familiar to anyone who has seen a Leone western, still look wonderful. It’s almost like visiting an old friend. The acting is fantastic, the relationship between Carlos and his mother and the estranged grandfather is utterly convincing and totally heartbreaking. Although there are plenty of laughs to be had, this bittersweet undercurrent flows through the whole film. There is a pervading sense of how it feels to grow old, to feel like you are becoming less and less useful to the world and a longing for the heady days of youth. That isn’t to say that the film is all sentimental and maudlin though. Carlos’ grandfather is a cantankerous old goat and the rest of his rag tag bunch of cowboy wannabes are not much better and are a source of constant amusement.

Brimming with nostalgia for the good ol’ western it does an excellent job of paying tribute to the genre. If like me you are a fan of the likes of Leone and Eastwood it’s an homage that you will certainly appreciate. The most amazing thing about it though is how it has stayed off the radar of most people in the UK. Director Alex De La Iglesia is pretty unknown on these shores (the only other film of his I am familiar with is the Gilliam-esque Accion Mutante which is also worth a look) and I think, certainly on the strength of this film, it’s a bit of a shame. Nevertheless, this accidental discovery makes for compelling viewing and I strongly recommend you check it out.

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