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30 Coins (30 Monedas) – Episode 1

Renowned Spanish filmmaker premieres his new fantasy-comedy HBO series in an out-of-competition slot at the Venice Film Festival, offering audiences at the event a break from a far more stern film selection


This is at least the second time in recent years that this 54-year-old Spanish filmmaker premiered one of his works at a major film festival in Europe. He first showed El Bar three years ago at the Berlinale. Both films were prestigious enough to be included as part of the two events’ main selection, however running out of competition. The cult director is perhaps too genre-orientated for a Golden Bear or a Golden Lion. Yet he’s guaranteed to entertain audiences.

His latest creation is another twisted fantasy teeming with horror and black comedy devices. The story is entirely preposterous and all over the place. Father Vergara (Eduard Fernández) is a priest with a very disreputable past as a boxer and former convict. He lives in a remote Spanish town. One day, a cow gives birth to a human baby. A local woman called Carmen (Carmen Machi) adopts the baby, who quickly grows into a very grotesque creature. The mayor Paco (Miguel Ángel Silvestre) and the local vet Elena set out to uncover the truth, which turns out to be far more elusive than anyone could have imagined.

The human-turned-creature is in search of a coin that emerged from under the skin of one of the subjects of Father Vergara’s exorcisms. Carmen becomes obsessed with her new “baby”. She will do anything in order to protect him from those who attempts to take him away. Father Vergara believes that she is possessed by one of his old enemies. Both Machi and Silvestre deliver energetic performances. A major duel and the grand finale take place inside a formidable Catholic church. This is a film dotted with religious imagery and biblical references, including a very strange crucifixion in its opening.

Old-fashioned stone houses, country mansions and churches give the film a very quaint, all-Spanish feel. It was mostly filmed in the small village of Pedraza (near Madrid), plus Toledo, Segovia, Salamanca, Ciudad Real and Almería. The colours are plush and vibrant, as in any good fantasy movie, helping to detach both characters and viewers from a plausible reality. The plot is entirely subordinate to stunning visuals. This is a film that relies on fantastical people, lucky charms and grotesque creatures rather than coherent narrative devices. Perhaps the disjointed elements will come full circle in the next episodes. We’ll just have to wait and see.

30 Coins has just premiered at the 77th Venice International Film Festival. It only partially works as a stand-alone movie rather than a series. It lacks the urgent simplicity of The Bar, which takes place almost entirely inside a bar under one single premise (that the guests have been infected and the venue forcibly quarantined). Still, a refreshing, uncompromising break from the Festival’s very serious line-up.

By Victor Fraga - 11-09-2020

Victor Fraga is a Brazilian born and London-based journalist and filmmaker with more than 20 years of involvement in the cinema industry and beyond. He is an LGBT writer, and describes himself as a di...

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