From The Ashes
With our hands on our hearts, we'd have to admit that good Catalan language films have been frost-thin on the ground during the 30-odd dictatorship-free years that have made it possible for them to be made once more. Indeed, the ones that you could screen before an international audience without trying to sneak out in embarassment before the lights came back on could be counted on the fingers of, say, three hands. (Among those that cut the mustard we might include, for example, Costa Brava, Pa negre, and La plaça del Diamant). So when a new film comes along that doesn't put an artistic foot wrong it's surely a cause for celebration, especially once the initial incredulity has worn off. This has to be the case of Joel Joan and Sergi Laras' Fènix 11·23, which, aside from being well acted and directed, avoids the pitfalls or even pratfalls to which its partially political subject matter could have made it prone. Fènix relates the true story of Èric Bertran, a 14 year old who, in 2004, sent an email to a branch of the Dia supermarket chain in his home town of Lloret de Mar, asking them to use Catalan on their labels and threatening them with some follow-up emails if they didn't. He signed off as 'The Army of the Phoenix', a Harry Potter-inspired name for the eensy-weensy linguistic pressure group formed by him and three teenage friends. The manager complained to the (Spanish) police who duly sent a fully-armed anti-terrorist squad down from Madrid which ransacked the Bertran home, and later ordered Èric to the Spanish capital, where he was sentenced to eight years of borstal. Only when the store manager withdrew the charges (after a Catalonia-wide protest campaign) did the prosecution back down and let Èric – who by now was in psychiatric treatment and on a course of ansiolitics and anti-depressives - off the hook. The film, fortunately, keeps itself free of propagandistic cheapness, and concentrates on the personal implications (much is made, for example, of Èric's difficult relationship with his angrily unsympathetic father) and on the objectively comic absurdity of the situation, leaving spectators to draw their own conclusions about the peculiar nature of Spanish democracy today. In short, if you want to see at least one film over the Christmas period, you could do a lot worse than choose this true life mixture of suspense, drama, comedy and outrage featuring Bertran, Èric Bertran.
Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, desembre de 2012