Spanish cinema is bright, broad and diverse – the country loves its blockbuster comedies as much as its art-house treasures. This year the Spanish Film Festival brings us dance, sex, romance and murder, and a special focus on films made by women. Here are our picks of the bunch.

The Tribe
Carmen Machi and Paco León (star of Kiki, Love to Love) play a mother and son separated when he was adopted. Reunited decades later they discover a mutual love of dance through her dance troupe of like-minded older women, The Mommies. The Tribe is a colourful, energetic comedy about gaps in age and class and one of the biggest recent box-office draws in Spanish cinema. The Tribe will be launching the festival in style followed by an opening-night fiesta with Torres Wines, tapas and live entertainment. Watch the trailer

Also see: No Filter, Spain’s other comedy smash hit of the year, in which a meek, downtrodden woman suddenly loses all inhibitions and unleashes her fury on the world.

Loving Pablo
Penélope Cruz and Javier Bardem reunite to tell the true story of Virginia Vallejo, the journalist who fell in love with Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. Escobar’s larger-than-life story has been told before, of course, but Loving Pablo goes back to the source, adapting Vallejo’s memoir of her time with the cocaine baron. As Escobar’s empire spirals out of his control, Vallejo has no choice but to collaborate with the Americans trying to bring him down. Expect gangsters, passion, and some astounding ’80s hairpieces. Watch the trailer

Also see: Mist & the Maiden, a crime noir set in the thick forest fog of the Canary Islands.

Júlia Is
To lift herself out of the malaise she feels in Barcelona, architecture student Júlia takes up an exchange position in Berlin, only to discover that leaving everything behind can be as overwhelming as it is liberating. First-time filmmaker Elena Martin directs, co-writes and stars in Julia Is, the story of a student battling the isolation of moving to a foreign city. Martin shot this small film with a skeleton crew when time allowed. It’s about the social isolation and alienation of a whole generation. Watch the trailer

Also see: Summer 1993, a critically acclaimed hit from last year’s festival about the upheaval of an orphaned girl moving to the Catalan countryside.

This intense art-house drama has been turning critics’ heads. Against the idyllic backdrop of a Basque holiday town by the sea, Marta is told by her partner Luis that he has an inoperable brain tumour. He doesn’t want pity, and above all, he doesn’t want other people to know. Denial, pity and anger ensue. Director Fernando Franco and star Marian Álvarez previously made Wounded, a claustrophobic drama about a young woman battling mental illness. The duo doesn’t retreat from difficult topics here. It’s not an easy watch, but it’s a rewarding one. Watch the trailer

Also see: The Open Door, a heartwarming drama in which Carmen Machi (the lead in The Tribe) plays against type as a sex worker caring for her Alzheimer’s-suffering mother and a seven-year-old girl.

Jamon Jamon (1992)
As part of a retrospective of films by iconic Spanish director Bigas Luna, the festival presents this farcical, passionate comedy-drama about seduction, the changing face of Spain, and ham. The pampered José Luis (Jordi Mollà) falls in love with lowly factory worker Silvia (Penélope Cruz), not betting on his parents trying to split them up by bringing bullfighter and model Raúl onto the scene. A love triangle (square? dodecahedron?) ensues with plenty of memorable moments, particularly two men beating the hell out of each other with legs of ham. It’s also notable for being the first collaboration between Bardem and Cruz, whose onscreen chemistry has lasted decades and has led to further collaborations such as this year’s Loving Pablo, and, well, a marriage.

Also see: Luna’s surreal pubescent fantasy The Tit and the Moon (1994)

The Spanish Film Festival runs from April 17 to May 16.

Broadsheet is a proud media partner of The Spanish Film Festival.