La Llamada (Holy Camp): A hymn to freedom

European Films, Independent Cinema, Reviews

What makes the film industry different from any other industry? Its power to change people’s lives and shape generations. Every so often a movie comes out that defies the odds – and our preconceived notions – and becomes a cultural phenomenon that goes beyond the screen. This is the case of La Llamada (Holy Camp), which, after becoming one of the highest-grossing films of the year in Spain, gets it international release today on Netflix. I’m going to make my point right away, la Llamada needs to become a global phenomenon that goes beyond borders, languages and cultures, as it captures the voice of a new generation of storytellers and moviegoers.

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María and Susana, two rebellious 17-year-olds, spend their summer in a Christian summer camp. After getting in trouble for sneaking out to attend a concert, they are forced to spend a weekend with Mother Superior Bernarda, an older nun looking to modernize, and Milagros, a young nun filled with doubt. But things change when God appears to María…singing Whitney Houston.

La Llamada is not your typical coming-of-age story, there’s no doubt about it. In fact, it’s so unlike anything you may have seen before. And the fact that such an edgy and unique Spanish musical has been able to conquer such a wide audience, is nothing short of a miracle and above all, a great sign that proves that movies are changing and that betting on new creators is worth it. When directors Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo – known as the “Javis” – wrote the original stage musical of the same name back in 2013, they could have never imagined what was ahead. The play was first set in the hall of Teatro Lara in Madrid, and after its smashing success, went on to the main stage of the theatre, where it is still playing to a full house every night. And it is not difficult to understand why the play has garnered over the years one of the most passionate fanbases in the country, with fans going to the theatre up to 400 times (400 TIMES!!!): in spite of its apparent craziness, La Llamada has the powerful and timely message our industry needs.

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La Llamada is an hymn to freedom: the freedom to be yourself, to follow your passion and not having to regret the opportunities you missed. Happiness lies in the courage to accept what you love, no matter how crazy it may seem. Upon accepting the Feroz Award for Best Comedy Picture– the Spanish Golden Globes, in some way – Javier Calvo, who, with his partner Ambrossi, is a prominent member of the Spanish LGBTQ community, summed up what this movie is about: This movie is about the importance of being oneself, of finding your path and being who you want to be. How many movies share these values and spread such a powerful message? La Llamada has inspired a whole generation of theatregoers and moviegoers who did not see themselves represented in mainstream entertainment, and the Javis, along with veteran producer Enrique López Lavigne (“The Impossible”, “A Monster Calls”), have transformed a small play into a cultural phenomenon that grossed over 2,7 million euros in the box office.

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This gem would not be possible without the incredible performances of its four leading ladies, the actresses who originally portrayed the characters in the play: Goya-winner Macarena García, Javier Ambrossi’s younger sister, Goya-winner Anna Castillo, whose performance has received unanimous praise, scoring nominations in every major award show, Belén Cuesta, whose portrayal of Sister Milagros has also has earned her a Goya nomination, and Gracia Olayo, who received a Feroz nomination for her portrayal of Sor Bernarda. Every character is unique, yet all of them feel real, as they face challenges and doubts we can all relate to: growing up, realizing what you want in life and letting go of the past.

As someone who has always looked down on Spanish cinema, especially comedies, that rely on the same tasteless and sometimes offensive jokes, I believe that this new generation of filmmakers is what we need to ensure the survival of this industry and make younger audiences discover a cinema that would otherwise be doomed. I often defend the idea that movie should reflect the society we live in, and La Llamada does that, both in form and content. Get ready to laugh, cry, sing and fall in love with this musical. You will not regret it.

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