Carol's Journey
Film Movement // Unrated // $19.99 // February 10, 2004
Review by Don Houston | posted April 3, 2004
Highly Recommended
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Movie: Film Movement is a company dedicated to the release of interesting independent films from all over the world. While I haven't seen all of their releases, both Inch Allah Dimanche and Ginger And Cinnamon were among my favorite indie releases of the past year. The company essentially takes notable films from directors that are often overlooked and provides them with a means to distribute some very well made movies that otherwise might only be available at film festivals, keeping them out of reach for many folks. Their latest release is a little gem by the name of Carol's Journey (the fourteenth release in the Film Movement series).

The movie is a close look at the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of a young girl, Carol (Clara Lago), who is brought to Spain by her mother during the end of the war, just in time for WWII to begin. Her mother is sick and wants her family to look after her while her American father fights the good fight in the war, much to the chagrin of his wife. The family has a lot of issues with the situation, not least of which is who will take care of the adventurous young girl in a time when the world seems to be coming apart at the seams. Along the way, she meets several local boys, most of which tease and trouble her, until they become close friends. One of them, Tomiche (Juan Jose Ballesta), becomes especially important to her as she tries to send mail to her father, a task made extremely difficult by the trying times. Tomiche is also a handful to those around him although for different reasons and the film spends a fair amount of time on the coming of age aspects of the two preteens looking to make sense of a war that divided a nation on the brink of far bigger battles to come.

The box cover described the movie like this: "Carol, a twelve-year-old Spanish-American girl from New York, travels with her mother to Spain in the spring of 1938, at the height of the Civil War. Separated from her beloved father, Carol arrives in her mother's home village and transforms the secretive family environment. Her innocence and rebellious nature drive her at first to reject a world that is at once new and foreign. But she soon journeys into adulthood through a friendship with Maruja, the village teacher, and a young local boy, Tomiche."

I found a lot to like here. From the character development to the direction of the story, there was a tone established that rang true. I haven't read the novel it was based on "A Boca De Noche" by Angel Roldan must be quite a treat to read. War movies that focus on the big picture, you know the kind I mean (Hollywood Blockbuster's like Pearl Harbor, Midway, A Bridge Too Far and others), are fine in their place but the personal message of this type of film drives much deeper into our hearts as the events unfold in such a manner as to remind us that life goes on as much as war comes at a greater cost than we tend to realize.

I think the director, Imanol Uribe, put it best in the liner notes for the movie when he discussed the film: "I wanted to tell a story to my two daughters (ages nine and twenty-four). It seemed to me a challenge to make a film with children, in which important and serious things are counted," says Uribe.
The love of Carol by her father attracted Uribe to the story: "The girl lives with the family of her mother in a town of people on one side of the Spanish Civil War, while her father is a pilot for the International Brigades which is working for the other side. The stubborn defense of the girl by her father is a passionate story.
The casting of Carol was laborious, because it required a twelve year old girl born of a Spanish mother and North American father. "We had to decide what image we wanted – if she were an Anglo-Saxon or Spanish girl. We worked for months considering the Anglo-Saxon aspect of her character, and we ultimately decided to play up the Spanish aspect." The weight of the film falls on Clara Lago (Carol) and Juan José Ballesta (Tomiche). "They are the essential axis of the film. In the film we see the history of the Spanish Civil War through the eyes of the children, and so it was fundamental that the pair worked. To work with the children was a fantastic experience. Never had I let my emotions take me like I did in this film. It has been tremendous."

I'm going to rate the movie accordingly, as a Highly Recommended because it was so well acted, so definitive of the times it focused on, and technically solid. All aspects of the DVD were handled with care and the replay value of the movie, even after all the twists and turns of the plot are known, was so high. Check it out and I doubt you'll be disappointed.

Picture: The picture was presented anamorphic widescreen with an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 as it was originally shot. The grain was minimal and the video noise rarely a problem and only some occasional pattern noise got in the way (not often though). You'd never know the budget for this one was so small if you were told it came out of a major motion picture company, with the fleshtones accurate and the detail very crisp and clear. Those with a television set capable of handling anamorphic images will especially enjoy the added detail you'll get but it looked fine on my meager television as well. I saw no compression artifacts and the camera work was fine.

Sound: The audio was presented in the original Spanish with a 5.1 Dolby Digital surround track. The optional English subtitles were clear and easy to read, in bright yellow at the bottom of the screen. There wasn't a lot of directionality to the vocals but the music and sound effects routinely displayed some depth and dynamic range. At no time did I think the audio was optimal (I doubt the budget allowed for a true 5.1 set up) but it fit the intimacy of the story quite nicely and I had no problems with any aspect of the sound. Even the music seemed appropriate, if subdued.

Extras: The best extra of all the Film Movement Series films is the short film that comes in the DVD. In this case, it was an animated short, A Fall From The Clouds by Craig P. Herron. The short was a tale of a pilot and his girlfriend during WWI. He'd make sure to pass the tower she climbed up into each day as he finished his patrol and she'd wave at him. One day, an enemy plane chases him and this endangers his woman. How the matter is dealt with was amusing, to say the least. Here's what the website said about it: "A combination of live action and 3-D, A Fall from the Clouds tell the story of Natalie. Every morning Natalie, a beautiful 17-year-old French girl, climbs to the tower of the chapel on her family estate. She leans out from the tower window to watch for the handsome British pilot she is in love with as he flies toward the front. Today he will bring danger back with him." The other extras included trailers and biographies but no paper insert was available this time.

Final Thoughts: Carol's Journey was a warm, fulfilling movie about the effect of war on a girl growing up in a strange land as she met her destiny head on. The technical aspects were solid and the story showed a lot of thought, making it one I'll be keeping in my personal library. Much like Inch Allah Dimanche and Ginger And Cinnamon, I think Carol's Journey is a testament to the Film Movement Series of providing quality entertainment without the usual limitations of the movie distribution system most films are stuck with.

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