Friday, January 2, 2009

Inspiring Careers in Modern Cinema: Paz Vega

Paz Vega

In a decade filled with an incredible amount of quality performances in films from all over the world, there are few that I value higher than Paz Vega’s remarkably honest, subtle and moving performance in Julio Medem’s extraordinary 2001 film Sex and Lucia. The award winning Spanish film, near my top of the decade, wasn’t the first film for the then 25-year-old Vega, but it was the one that signaled there was something quite special about this surreal, strikingly beautiful and talented young woman from Spain.

Paz Vega

Born Paz Campos Trigo on January 2nd, 1976 in Seville, Andalucia, Paz Vega was surrounded by artists growing up, as she lived right in the center of Triana, a part of Seville known for its many writers, artists and painters. Triana is also known for its bullfighting, something that her father participated in, as well as its musical culture, which her sister flourished in as a flamenco dancer and singer.

Paz Vega

Paz’s early aspirations were of both a political and athletic nature but after seeing a Lorca stage play in her mid teens all of her attention turned to acting. Paz proved to be as ambitious as she was clearly talented, and she formed her own stage company before even leaving High School. Paz’s college years were spent at the esteemed Centro Andaluz de Teatro, where she studied acting. After a few years of perfecting her craft, Paz relocated to the bustling Madrid and almost immediately she landed her first role, in a Friends styled Spanish television sitcom named Menudo es mi padre.

Paz Vega

Vega’s rising star in Spanish television in 1997 and 1998 led her to the big screen, and by the turn of the decade she had a few movies under her belt including three high profile Spanish films from 1999: Zapping, I Will Survive and Nobody Knows Anybody. Paz received solid notices for each but nobody expected the depth and range she would show just two years later, when Julio Medem cast her as the lead in his follow-up to his acclaimed Lovers of the Arctic Circle.

Paz Vega

Sex and Lucia is a stunning film. A mesmerizing character study obsessed by sex, memory and death, Medem’s film wowed Spanish and then world audiences in late 2001 and throughout 2002. Controlling the production is Paz Vega’s haunting, bruised and uncompromising performance as the title character. Nominated for a whopping eleven Goya Awards, including a win for Paz, Sex and Lucia alerted audiences that Paz Vega was much more than just another Spanish sex symbol.

Paz Vega

Riding on the success of Sex and Lucia and a multitude of comparisons to a young Penelope Cruz, Vega proved her performance wasn’t a fluke with her follow-up work in Javier Balaguer’s tale of domestic abuse, 2001’s Solo Mia, for which she would receive yet another Goya nomination.

Paz Vega

2002 proved to be another busy year for the twenty-six year old Vega when she appeared in Pedro Almodovar’s astonishing Talk To Her, the delightful musical The Other Side of the Bed and the interesting Novo for French director Jean-Pierre Limosin. Vega’s work in all three showed her as a remarkably versatile and accomplished actress, as well as being one of the most intensely beautiful women to grace modern day screens.

Paz Vega

By the time she appeared in Vincent Aranda’s underrated 2003 production of Carmen, Paz Vega was one one of Spain’s biggest stars, and her face and image were splashed all over the country courtesy of magazine covers, advertisements and modeling assignments. It was no coincidence that Hollywood called soon after and within a year Vega would be making her English language debut.

Paz Vega

James L. Brook’s much maligned Spanglish (2004) is an underrated work that didn’t deserve the critical drubbing it took. Starring opposite an excellent Adam Sandler, Vega delivered a moving and winning performance that was unfairly overlooked at Oscar time, even though it was touted as an early favorite. The film’s disappointing failure to connect with audiences and critics hurt Vega’s first introduction to many American filmgoers, and the unfortunate ‘introducing’ credit granted her in the film made matters even worse. It was all a pity as Spanglish is wonderfully played and nicely rendered film, and Vega’s work with Sandler is unforgettable.

Paz Vega

Paz Vega took a break after Spanglish to be with her family and in the next year or so she only worked in Spanish television. She returned to the big screen in 2006 with the odd but effective low budget film 10 Items or Less, which teamed her with legendary Oscar winner Morgan Freeman. She returned to Spain after to have her first child and in 2006 she appeared in Ray Loriga’s Theresa, The Body of Christ and The Taviana Brother’s The Lark Farm.

The Human Contract

Paz has a couple of films awaiting release including Jada Pinkett Smith’s The Human Contract as well as Dror Soref’s Not Forgotten. Extremely busy, she has four more films in the works and she can currently be seen in Frank Miller’s dazzling (and mark my words, future cult classic) The Spirit where she plays the beautiful but deadly dancer Plaster of Paris.

Paz 3

Whether Paz Vega will ever manage to connect with American audiences remains to be seen. She has though, in Spain’s rich and wonderful modern film community, become one of her home country’s most devastating and popular actors. An actress capable of heavy drama, comedy, eroticism and camp (plus a nice person in her daily life), Paz Vega feels like a legend in the making. Her performance in Sex and Lucia alone already makes her one in my book.

Paz Autograph

***This article was written as a tribute to Paz on her 33rd birthday. Biographical information and photos were gathered from the essential Paz Vega online, which can be visited here***


MovieMan0283 said...

Great post, great pictures, and great autograph! (lucky bastard...)

By the way, I have linked up to your interview with Derek Hill in my year-end round-up of great posts. You can check it out here - lots of other great links too:

You've got a tremendous blog here, and I love your focus on images (your site is the most visually stunning I've found on the blogosphere) and on underrated or undernoticed personalities and films.

That said, I do have one quibble to lodge. The Spirit was terrible! It had visual panache, but of the most hollow kind, which only served to highlight the grating braindead screenplay and smug reliance on cliche! Though of course Paz & the other actresses looked great (particularly Saychelle Gabriel - who holds the screen with more force than any of her elder peers in the film, and was the most interesting thing in it...)

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks so much MovieMan for the great comments. Also, thanks for linking to my interview with Derek. That's one of my proudest moments here. I appreciate your support and hope you keep finding things of interest this new year.

As for The Spirit. I know I am in the minority on this but I just got a real thrill out of it. I really admired just how uncompromising Miller was in what was is an obviously very peculiar and alienating vision. I can't argue your point about its (deliberate) use of cliches and its(again deliberate) 'braindead script', but I didn't care as visually I was simply floored by it. I respond strongly to things I haven't seen before and stylistically The Spirit struck me as being quite different to anything else (even Sin City).
I also just loved the sheer strangeness of it, with special mention going to the Nazi scene that struck me the same way the films of Renato Polselli did the first time I saw them. I was completely enthralled while at the same time mentally muttering WTF under my breath.
Cast wise, I thought the film hit a perfect chord...Scarlett especially continues to become one of my all time favorite actors with her perfectly worked out monotone delivery suiting the material ideally (of course this shows too how differently I am reacting to the film as she is receiving a lot of criticism).
Anyway, I hope to do do a full post on it once it hits DVD, where I am sure I will get a lot of disagreement. I'm always happy to really dig a film not too many other people do (and vice-versa of course) so I always welcome one when it comes down the line...

As for the autograph...if you click the link near the bottom of the post about her being a nice lady you will get the full story.

Thanks again! Your comments were just great.

Brandon Colvin said...

Oddly enough, I'm totally with you regarding THE SPIRIT, Jeremy. I think it might be the most widely misunderstood films of the year.

I thought it was NOTHING like SIN CITY and probably one of the strangest, most idiosyncratic films I've ever seen. It's insanity verges on genius in numerous scenes and it really presents a comedic, cartoonish, and indulgently B-movie-inspired comic book film attitude that is startlingly different than the one which has dominated the genre recently. Additionally, THE SPIRIT has some of the best one-liners I've heard all year, particularly, "This one's for Muffin."

My only real problems with the film are the voiceover, which I found absolutely grating, and the scenes involving the Angel of Death, which I thought were pointlessly distracting.

Also, Paz Vega is a stone cold fox. As is basically every female in THE SPIRIT.

MovieMan0283 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
MovieMan0283 said...

Brandon & Jeremy,

Re The Spirit, I have no doubt that Miller's reliance on cliches was intentional, but this only makes it more offensive - he knew better (which is not to say he can do better) but took the easy way out.

Brandon, I am nowhere near on the same page as you emotionally - I found the closing gun battle mildly stimulating, the women wonderful to look at, and the super-stylization mildly intriguing (though I got my fill of it in the trailer), but otherwise the film just left me cold cold cold.

And intellectually, I've grown a strong aversion into reading subversive touches into stridently stylized and expensive megapictures. While formulating my thoughts on this, I came across this comment on the excellent Sergio Leone and the Infield Fly Rule movie blog in regards to The Poseiden Adventure: "The rival student film critic was indignant and complained about how many films by Jean-Luc Godard could have been financed for the same Ten Million dollars?"

It may be an easy laugh line, but I think, particularly in regard to the spate of recent super-stylized (but largely content-free) big-budget pictures, the pretentious student film critic was on to something.

Ok, two things: one, back in August I wrote a post detailing my (and many critics') ambivalence about "comic-book movies" which can be found here:

Looking back, I almost feel that The Spirit was produced to validate my thesis - it was everything I'm wary of comic-book films being.

And two, this brings me to a venture I am contemplating launching soon: another blog called Amateur Hour, a celebration and contemplation of filmmaking without the professional imprimatur. I am hoping to kick it off with a few entries of my own, and then open it up to anyone who wants to post there on pertinent subjects. I think both of you might be interested; Jeremy, with his interest in below-the-radar and forgotten films (not sure to what extent this extends to the low-budget realm, but still) and Brandon with his recent appraisal of Ballast (and the interesting discussion which ensued in the comments section). Keep tuned to my blog for updates, which should be coming within the week.

MovieMan0283 said...

*Looking back on the comic-book movie post, I should note that I focus on the "strained seriousness" of a film like Batman Begins which half-heartedly attempts a sort of realism while wallowing in comic-book cliches. Obviously, this doesn't apply to something like The Spirit. However, I think the larger point, which is an aversion to the mixture of self-important somberness with comic-book cliche, does apply to The Spirit and to its antecedent, Sin City, as well - which is why I included the latter film in my critique. If the screenplay makes no attempt to be serious, the aesthetics of its mise en scene do, I think - and as I note in my piece, I prefer the cheerful playfulness of a Dick Tracy when it comes to stylized comic-book worlds.

Tony Dayoub said...

I am now looking forward to seeing The Spirit, thank you. Though I respect MovieMan a lot, I find my tastes run more along the same lines as yours, Jeremy, and Brandon's (Slumdog was a total piece).

"The rival student film critic was indignant and complained about how many films by Jean-Luc Godard could have been financed for the same Ten Million dollars?"

Honing in on the point MovieMan is trying to make with this quote, I find that I'd much rather watch the big blockbuster movies, AT THE MOMENT (capital letters because this is very important to my argument), than most of the indie and mumblecore stuff coming out right now. It was the huge, unrealistic sights of such films that enthralled me enough to get into this film thing in the first place.

Here's a link to a great article by Time's Richard Corliss on a somewhat similar topic:

Movie Magic: When Bigger is Better

MovieMan0283 said...

I should note a couple caveats, Tony, because in some regards my opinion may be closer to yours than you think. Or, to put it succinctly, I'm with you on Raiders of the Lost Ark but not Sin City.

To wit: I would definitely NOT put most indie films in the same category as Godard. Not just as a matter of degree, but as a matter of kind. Godard's very subject was cinema itself, and his style was uber-cinematic, as much so (in its own way) as any of the classic blockbuster films of Steven Spielberg (on a slightly different note, Peter Greenaway once said that both Godard and Spielberg make home movies; in fact, these two auteurs have a lot in common though apparently Godard despises Spielberg as an example of crass vulgar Hollywood - a Hollywood which he once, of course, idolized himself).

Compared to Godard or other stalwarts of the French New Wave, most latter-day indie films strike me as kind of drab, not very engaged with the medium, and accordingly, less "cinematic" than Jurassic Park or Star Wars. And "cinematic" is kind of my gold standard (it's a loose term though; I would also classify the talk-heavy films of Rohmer - at least the Six Moral Tales - as "cinematic" too.)

This anti-style has changed somewhat in recent years, mostly I think because of Wes Anderson's influence, but the new aesthetic brings with it some new issues - and there remains something slightly forced about the "genre" of indies.

I have not yet seen any mumblecore movies though they are at the top of my Netflix queue for the new year. While I'm curious, I go in with a bit of a prejudice; supposedly mumblecore caters to the very thin, rather narcissistic slice of the population (the same segment modern indie rock - which I have absolutely no use for - caters to). This is its prerogative, but I resent how something some narrow can be considered the "independent" cinema of the moment - movements like neorealism and the New Wave were expansive and their movies were not niche movies.

And on a second point, I make a distinction - in some regards unsustainable and perhaps based in part on nostalgia for my childhood (though I think there's something to it as well) - between blockbusters of today and blockbusters of 15-30 years ago. CGI started to change things (Jurassic Park remains, for me, the ideal utilizer of the technology - almost everyone since has gone too far) but I think the threshhold year was 1999 and perhaps the crucial film was The Matrix. The new aesthetic is dark, flat, technologically brainy, humanistically void, and to my eyes often smug. And artificial - not in the sense of a Raiders which was make-believe and alive with a sense of texture, history, and imagination, but in the sense of a Sin City which is so utterly one-dimensional that there's nothing left to think about...just plug into the Matrix and drone away. Obviously this describes my own viewing experience and I'm sure you and other fans of these works are finding different ways to engage with them. But I might as well be honest about where I stand.

(I expand on these thoughts, as well as my nostalgia for the year 1998, in the opening paragraphs of a review on, of all, things, Affliction:

At any rate, Tony, films like Star Wars, Jurassic Park, and E.T. and specifically the Indiana Jones trilogy are what made me love film in the first place. Obviously, though, I don't regard The Spirit as their (pardon the pun) spiritual heir.

MovieMan0283 said...

I wrote that before reading Corliss. He writes:

"Indie films have grown stagnant and flaccid, while the blockbusters have gotten smarter, mixing storytelling craft with nifty effects work by the most imaginative people around--the F/X technicians, cinematographers and second-unit directors--who push their movies' visions further. To put it baldly, action films are where the art is. Bigger is better."

He's right about indie films, as I indicated. But I have to confess I'm appalled by Corliss' vapid celebration of blockbusters for their "artistry." Big-media critics cannot see the future forest for the trees. I think the greatest potential of the medium lies in the hands of people without access to huge budgets and big-name talent. At a time when video technology is more affordable - and higher-quality - than ever, when digital editing equipment is available to the consumer and the internet and DVD offer whole new venues for distribution, Corliss would have us believe that "computer-cool and handmade" means big Hollywood productions saturated in CGI rather than a cinema which uses computers to open up filmmaking to the unwashed masses - a cinema that is actually, you know, handmade. The direction Corliss wants the movies to go in is not cinema, it's video games.

And no disrespect for the craft and hard work of second-unit directors and F/X technicians, but the jobs of those people is not to create art, it's to deliver a piece which may or may not be a part of some larger artistic endeavor. If they are driving the "art" of motion pictures than there's something deathly wrong here. (Corliss mentions cinematographers, but would Haskell Wexler or James Wong Howe or Gordon Willis have any place in the "cinematography" of the present?)

I also am irritated with the way Corliss cashes in on his credentialed reputation (years at Film Comment, a frequent critic of Hollywood) to proclaim, "action films are where the art is." To me, it smacks of boomer desperation, an aging commentator's perhaps unconscious desire to be relevant and on the cutting edge of critical commentary.

Twenty years after rather arrogantly taking the critical establishment to task for its thumbs-up/thumbs-down, flack for Hollywood approach (precipitating a relatively polite but nonetheless contentious back-and-forth with Roger Ebert, with Andrew Sarris eventually stepping in as a sort of referee), Corliss has just decided that the kool-aid tastes mighty good after all (never mind that it's ten times more rancid than it was in 1990, when he lodged his petulant complaint). But of course it's ok, because now he's the one dishing it out.

Gee, and that's just the first paragraph...

Ok, having read the rest, I must thank you, Tony, for pointing me in this piece's direction, even I think it stinks to high heaven. I smell another Way We Weren't-esque screed in the near future...

MovieMan0283 said...

In fairness to Corliss, however, even this bending-over-backwards-to-see-art approach isn't enough for some people. One letter to the editor lodges this complaint:

"Richard Corliss needs to get a life! A Romanian horror film among his best of the year? If I want to get depressed, all I have to do is watch CNBC. Seriously, we are in a deep recession, and the world is suffering. Please get out of those artsy theaters, visit the multiplex, have some popcorn and find us a funny movie."

And if I want to get depressed, I only have to read comments like these. I understand that for some people movies are nothing more than mindless distraction, but how is acclaiming a dark film MORE arrogant than proclaimaing that anyone who looks to movies for more than "funny" popcorn fodder needs to "get a life?"

And you gotta love the implication that Romanians have no right to be making movies. How arrogant of them to presume otherwise...

Tony Dayoub said...

Well, I don't want to hijack Jeremy's Paz Vega post, who BTW is as extraordinary an actress as there is in modern cinema.

But I will say this, MovieMan. I agree that Corliss has been off his game lately. His easy dismissal of Che is something I doubt would have occurred in his days at Film Comment. That being said, I think the general thrust of his argument was correct. Flawed though it may be, a film like Dark Knight (which didn't make it into even my top 20 for this year) demonstrates a lot more ambition than that current indie phenom Slumdog Millionaire.

A movie like Wall-E was more representative of the range of emotions that cinema can evoke than most indies out there. And I say this having selected 8 indies for my best of the year list.

I think the argument is really about consistency, and in 2008, blockbusters were more consistently good than indies. And you addressed one of the reasons why, which Corliss failed to do himself.

Any joker can pick up a camera now for next to nothing, and film an indie. Only rarely are these come-from-nowhere filmmakers disciplined enough to be up to the task.

Keith said...

Hey Jeremy. Great post and pictures. I really adore her. She's stunningly beautiful and talented. It's cool to see her get more of the attention she deserves. She's been in some great films. What a wonderful tribute to her.

J.D. said...

Nice tribute, Jeremy. Unfortunately, I haven't seen her in much but I did absolutely love her in SPANGLISH, which I agree with you 100% about it being underrated.

Jeremy Richey said...

Hey guys,
I'm not trying to ignore the comments. I'm just a bit swamped at the moment but will try and respond accordingly later today. Thanks for all the thoughts...I can never predict which posts will cause conversation.

Tim Lucas said...

Wow, that poster from THE HUMAN CONTRACT... someone's been watching VAMPYROS LESBOS!

I enjoyed both SPANGLISH and 10 ITEMS OR LESS and thought Ms. Vega contributed vivid performances to both.

Juan Iluminado said...

Although as an actor I tried to be on top of news and stuff to improve my craft, quiet hones I never heard of her. Shame on me. I'm going to look for her films, and find out more about her.


Juan Caros Pinedo

Jeremy Richey said...

Thanks Tim,
Now I know why that poster struck such a familiar chord with me!
Also, nice to hear more good words on Spanglish, a film that I thought was a bit roughed up unfairly.

Thanks also to everyone else for the nice comments on Paz. I think she has some amazing stuff ahead for her.

I won't comment anymore on The Spirit right now. I really don't like to discuss a film in depth until I have had a chance to watch it at least a couple of times but I promise a long post will be coming once it hits disc.

Thanks also to MovieMan and Tony for the interesting exchange. I've enjoyed reading both your thoughts and will check out the Corliss article as time permits. The list I have been assembling of my favorite films of the decade has (and will) included 'indie' works as well as big budget studio pictures so I think there is much value to find in both fields. I would say the ratio between the number of crappy studio pics and independent productions is about the same each year, and they outweigh the number of quality products. I wouldn't want to make a blanket statement about the state of each though, especially in regards to which one os 'better' at the moment.

Anyway, it's an intriguing topic and I really enjoyed reading everyone's posts on it and will check out the different links.

MovieMan0283 said...

Tony, I actually don't think the capacity/market for amateur films has really been tapped yet - most indies come with pedigree of some sort (part of the reason why, truth be told, they aren't really indies in any true sense of the word). When that capacity IS tapped you will see two things.

Yes, as you point out, a lack of discipline which will increase the quanitity of trash tenfold. But there will also be diamonds in the rough - the sort of movies that simply aren't possible when everything is filtered through the Hollywood scrim. I'm not sure yet what means will emerge to sift out the quality from the crap but I look forward to the coming wave because the film industry has become too ossified, ingrown, and braindead to produce more than the occasional gem (and Pixar is one of the few exceptions which prove the rule).