The movie, "8 Apellidos Vascos" (8 Basque Surnames), has
viewers in stitches over the cultural divide between a
slick-haired young man from southern Spain and his Basque
"It is very, very healthy for all of us that we are laughing at
ourselves and especially that people in troubled areas of the
country are able to laugh at themselves," Enrique Gonzalez
Macho, president of the Spanish Film Academy, said in a
television interview on Monday.
The Basque separatist movement ETA declared an end to its armed
struggle in 2011, after decades of violence in which more than
100 people were killed. Hundreds of ETA members have been jailed
The pro-ETA newspaper Gara, which was not amused by the movie,
ran a scathing review.
"Nothing good could come of a production with an advertising
campaign based on the same jokes about Basques and Andalucians
that were told during the Franco era," wrote critic Mikel
Non-Basque actors playing Basques were unconvincing as was the
Basque hamlet created by the filmmakers, he said.
But the taboo-breaking film racked up 16 million euros ($22
million) at the box office in its first three weekends — a boon
for the stricken national film industry where it is rare for a
Spanish movie to gross more than 10 million euros.
After two recessions and a tax hike that hit ticket prices,
movie attendance has fallen to record lows. But crisis-weary
Spaniards seem to enjoy an opportunity to laugh at themselves.
The humor is particularly poignant right now as a surging
independence movement in Catalonia has caused deep political
rifts in Spain. The Basque region and Catalonia both have their
own languages, distinct cultures and nationalist histories.
The movie takes its title from the notion that a true Basque's
great-grandparents all bear the region's distinctive surnames
such as Goirigolzarri, Billelabeitia or Etxeberria.
Protagonist Rafa, played by Dani Rovira, must pretend he is
Basque and invent a family history complete with complex
surnames to court Amaia, played by Clara Lago, whose rough,
fisherman father would not approve of a "foreign" suitor.
[to top of second column]
Rafa, who has never before left his native Sevilla, chases Amaia to
her village, where he struggles with the Basque language and falls
in with separatist militants depicted as bumblers with piercings — a
take on them that is risky in a country deeply scarred by bombings
Directed by Emilio Martinez-Lazaro, the film draws heavily on gags
about supposedly easygoing Andalusians from the arid home of
flamenco and dour Basques from the damp region known for industry,
hearty cuisine and beret-wearing farmers.
The movie has broken several rules of the Spanish film industry.
Fueled by word-of-mouth, it has made more money each weekend since
its debut, which is unusual. Also it has been a huge hit in the
Basque country's biggest city Bilbao — where Spanish films are not
"People are coming to see it out of morbid fascination because
everyone is talking about it," said Manu Idarraga, 54, who saw the
movie in Bilbao on Sunday.
"It was good for a therapeutic laugh, but it's a bit over-the-top,"
said Idarraga, who could not see the film the first time he tried,
because it was sold out.
The film's success has taken Basque screenwriters Borja Cobeaga and
Diego San Jose by surprise even though they had never shied away
from politically sensitive material during years of co-writing the
Basque television comedy "What a Week."
"We thought it might fill a need right now because comedies are
going down pretty well. But we didn't expect full houses or that it
would be hard to find someone who hasn't seen it," Cobeaga told
($1 = 0.7271 euros)
(Additional reporting by Arantza Goyoaga in Bilbao;
editing by Fiona
Ortiz, Angus MacSwan; and Michael Roddy)
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