Back in August, a couple of my friends from Spain were in town, and came over for dinner. I hadn’t seen them in over a decade, so there was a lot of reminiscing and catching up to do. My buddy Ruben told me about these Spanish flicks called “Eight Basque Surnames” and “Eight Catalan Surnames.”
The short version: they’re a pair of rom-coms about a guy from Seville (the very south of Spain) falling in love with a girl from Argoitia (the very north of Spain.) He’s Andaluz, she’s Basque, and if you don’t know much about Spanish culture, that’s like a left-wing Portland vegan falling for a gun-toting Alabama carnivore. Not a perfect comparison, but you get it.
Spain is a lot like the UK, in the sense that it’s a bunch of formerly independent nations (by “formerly” I mean “hundreds of years ago”) who haven’t forgotten that they’re better than each other, and want you to know it, too.
The Basque are pretty much the Irish; they want to secede, and they have a homegrown army that will commit acts of terror to make it happen.
The Catalans are like the Welsh; the also want independence, and they will hang signs everywhere in their confusing language until they get it.
I think in this analogy, the Scottish are like the Galicians, but I never lived in the west of Spain, so I can’t be sure.
Anyway, I had a great time watching these movies, and they made me nostalgic for my second homeland. They captured so much of the Spanish spirit, and knowing so many of the “in-jokes” really endeared them to me.
The plots are straightforward: Rafa, a free-loving southern dudebro, meets Amaia, a grungy northern firebrand, at a wedding in Seville. She’s in a bad place personally, because she was supposed to be getting married soon, and the Seville trip was her bachelorette party. The problem is that her boyfriend, Antxon, (pronounced On-chone) ditched her and left her in a ton of debt.
Amaia hooks up with Rafa (well, not really, they have more of an emotional hookup) only to leave him the next morning and hurry back to the Basque country. The problem is, she leaves her purse at Rafa’s place, and he’s determined to go to the Basque country, win her over, and bring her back to Andalucia.
Anyone who knows the Vascos and the Andaluces knows how well this will go over.
It’s driven by more than the plot, though; Rafa’s comedic recklessness, paired with Amaia’s stubborn unwillingness, makes for some hilarious banter and misunderstandings along the way.
Eventually Rafa has to pretend to be Basque, and the longer he keeps it up, the more trouble he gets into…at one point, a bunch of low-level Basque resistance bros believe that he’s a deep-cell terror leader, and put him at the head of an independence march in the middle of the city. He ends up on the news, leading a Basque independence chant (to the tune of a Sevillan patriot ballad), in a moment that had me trying not to guffaw in the waiting room at Jiffy Lube.
And don’t even get me started on all the things he does to convince Amaia’s hardcore Basque father that he’s the real deal.
As funny as all of that is, the sequel felt a little closer to home for me, as it takes place in Catalonia, and riffs on their culture to perfection. I’ll admit I got a little teary-eyed when Rafa and Koldo (Amaia’s dad) went to Gerona to break up Amaia’s wedding to Pau, a Catalan hipster. I’m pretty sure they filmed that part in the Casco Antiguo area of Gerona, a city where I lived for almost six months.
(All in all, I spent roughly half my mission in Catalonia and Valencia.)
Like the Basque country, Catalonia vies for independence, though they have a different tack than the Basque do. The Catalan people aren’t as violent about it, though they are remarkably proud of their culture, and are often cold-shouldered to people who speak Spanish to them. (I was able to use this to my advantage a few times, talking my way past doormen by introducing myself in Catalan instead of Castilian…generally if you try to play by their rules, they’re a lot more accommodating.)
But enough of the cultural asides! The movie itself was just as fun and heartfelt, as everyone tries to find love. My friend Ruben said it wasn’t as good as the first movie (and he’s probably right) but I didn’t feel like it was bad by any stretch. I don’t blame Spanish cinema for capitalizing on the unexpected success of the first film. They were right to, and I think they did a good job.
To any of my fellow Spanish ex-pats (ho-hum) who want a little bite of the old country, check them out on Netflix. I do recommend watching them with the Spanish subtitles, because between the Andaluces and the Vascos, it’s sometimes hard to keep up. Also, the English titles insert a lot of swearing that isn’t in the Spanish dialogue.
Also, content warning, there are two bedroom scenes in the first film (doesn’t show anything, they’re just drawn out) and two more in the second film (definitely shows something, and quite flagrantly.) So keep that fast-forward button handy.
The English titles are “Spanish Affair” and “Spanish Affair 2.” Not as inspired as their Spanish counterparts, but I don’t know if the direct translation would grab as much of an audience.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to see if I can buy jamon serrano on Amazon.