With his 2011 debut, The Soul of Flies, director Jonathan Cenzual Burley crafted a whimsically enjoyable but flawed odyssey through rural Spain. For his follow-up, The Year and the Vineyard (2013), he’s ploughing rather similar soil with another dose of bucolic magical realism, inflected with gentle humour and endearing if inexpert performances. What is noticeable about this sophomore feature, however, is that the filmmaking on show bears the hallmarks of a more assure hand on the tiller; the silliness has been tempered by a more considered narrative and subtler explorations of the questions at hand. The Soul of Flies took a rather scattergun approach, which has been jettisoned this time round.
His follow-up has been trimmed even further (74 minutes) and the director’s concerns are more thoughtfully contemplated in the midst of a fully formed story. This centres on a headstrong Sicilian solider, Andrea (Andrea Calabrese) forging his way towards Guadalajara for what would be a decisive battle in the Spanish Civil War. Andrea awakes in a vineyard after a parachute jump to find himself some way from his target; not only is he in an small township in Salamanca, but he is no longer in 1937, but 2012. Where his debut arguably built on influences from the episodic structure of Odysseus’ mythic journey, in this instance the setup inverts his famous ‘nostos’. As Andrea also comes to befriend a local teacher, Tomas (Fede Sánchez Garcia) and an insufferable priest (Javier Sáez).
It quickly becomes clear to both audience and protagonist that he cannot remain in 2012. A history book further reveals that his fiancée travelled to fight at Guadalajara after his disappearance and that he must complete his military expedition – regardless of the crushing defeat that awaits – in order to reach his love. This is a step up for the director not just in the tone but in the far more polished and elegant camerawork (Cenzual Burley). His natural eye for composition is coupled with saturated imagery to beautifully showcase the Salamancan vineyards and create a nostalgic golden-hour aura. They town itself seems out of time – rustic and communal – and accompanied by Tim Waters’ pitch perfect music they evoke an old fashioned Spanish love story to charming effect. There are, of course, areas on which the filmmaker can improve but the majority of bum notes here are easily overlooked. Instead, what we find in The Year and the Vineyard is a simple, melancholic fable about love, and one that would go down impeccably with a glass of rioja.