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Chaotic Ana

An immediately noticeable thread running through the programming of this year’s Recent Spanish Cinema showcase is both the quantity and quality of strong roles for women. It’s not that the men are slighted — the experimental mind-fuck of the documentary Pepe Sales: Poor, Poor Men Who Else End Up at the Bottom, about the late iconoclastic folk musician/artist/provocateur, almost single-handedly balances the gender scales — but it’s los mujeres who really make a stellar showing. Iciar Bollain’s Mataharis follows the lives of three women who work for a private detective agency, and whose profession ultimately brings their own lives under intense surveillance. One woman must decide if she’ll bust the union organizers she’s been brought in to sniff out; another discovers her husband’s secret, which could destroy their already fragile home life; and a third has a painful epiphany about her own marriage while tailing the spouse of a friend. What could have been soap-opera fare is instead elevated by the wonderful acting of the three lead actresses and a script that’s as empathetic as it is intelligent. Sex and Lucia director Julio Medem’s Chaotic Ana, a ballsy, engrossing film that veers into surrealism to illuminate its unapologetically feminist politics, is a series highlight. When free-spirited Ana, having been raised on the beach by her single, artist-philosopher dad, is brought to Madrid by a wealthy arts patron (Charlotte Rampling, flawless, of course), she experiences not only her first love but its assorted, unexpected consequences. After an encounter with a hypnotist triggers past lives, Ana finds herself a one-woman tour guide through the political and personal travails of women throughout history. It’s a wildly ambitious movie that grapples with the politics of gender and sexuality but also war, nationalism and the meaning and purpose of art itself. (American Cinematheque at the Egyptian Theatre; thru Sun., June 22. www.americancinematheque.com)

LA Weekly