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Demy, Noir and Chinese: Three cycles at next Sebastian International Film Festival

 The programme of this year's San Sebastian International Film Festival include three cycles

This year, the 59th edition of San Sebastian International Film Festival, running from 16-24 September, returns to its tradition of programming three cycles. The usual retrospective dedicated to a classic filmmaker will be accompanied by another two thematic cycles.


In its 59th edition, San Sebastian Festival will dedicate a complete retrospective to the work of French filmmaker Jacques Demy (Pontchâteau, 1931-Paris 1990), a figure key to French cinema who pumped surprising new breath into the musical genre. Although initially grouped with other young directors belonging to the nouvelle vague movement,Demy's work eventually became so unique and difficult to classify that he set off along his own, absolutely personal path. His original approach to "singing cinema" and his exquisite sense of artistic direction always shunned the movie fashions or trends of the moment.

Demy studied Fine Arts, starting in animation cinema as an assistant to Paul Grimault. He later worked as an assistant director to the documentary-maker, Georges Rouqier, who produced his first short, Le Sabotier du Val de Loire (1955). Having directed several short films, Demy made his debut in features with the first of his great films, Lola (1960), an emblematic title among French new wave movies. He reconfirmed his talent in a melodrama set in the gambling world, La baie des anges (Bay of Angels, 1963), starring Jeanne Moreau.  

However, it was his third film that send ripples through the celluloid world and overwhelmingly established his peculiar vision of film: Les parapluies de Cherbourg (The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, 1964), winner of a Palme d'Or at Cannes Festival and nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Starring Catherine Deneuve, this brilliant new take on the musical where dialogue is replaced by song, was to find a continuation in his delicious homage to Hollywood movies, Les demoiselles de Rochefort (The Young Girls of Rochefort, 1967), in which Deneuve and François Dorleac rub shoulders on the cast with a myth of musical films, Gene Kelly.  

In his next works, Demy continued exploring his extravagant aesthetics and cinematic narrative bringing us, among others, the remarkable Model Shop (1969), reflecting his view of American society at that time; Peau d'âne (Donkey Skin, 1970), a fascinating look at the world of children's stories once again starring Catherine Deneuve; Lady Oscar (1979), adaptation of the Japanese manga "The Rose of Versailles;" Une chambre en ville (A Room in Town, 1982), yet another musical about a tragic love story set against a political backdrop; and Trois places pour le 26 (1988), a last work in which fiction and reality merge to portray the life and career of actor Yves Montand. 

This cycle is co-organised with the Filmoteca Española and sponsored by EGEDA.


The thriller, or film noir,is one of the genres to have weathered best with the passing of time, most likely because portraying the dark side of societies across the world has always been its true philosophy. Portrayals of delinquency, police and political corruption, criminal impulse and dark desire have nourished one of the most powerful cinematic imageries to come out of the 20th and 21st Centuries.

While criminal fiction of this kind emerged in the context of classic American film, it was later transplanted into cinematographies across the world. But how has the genre evolved in that American cinema over the last two decades? The aim of this retrospective is to offer a weighty selection of some of the most remarkable contributions to American film noir, underscoring its untold mutations and variations with time: nostalgic recreations of that former film noir, film adaptations by masters of noir fiction and post-modern revisions. However, there was also space for films offering revamped portraits of emblematic characters in the genre such as detectives and gangsters, films depicting the reality of the African-American community in the shape of a detective story, films on serial killers, erotic thrillers, country noir, and their x-rays of "deep America" or the independent movies turning to the genre.

The cycle includes important works by moviemakers like Quentin Tarantino, Michael Mann, Abel Ferrara, Ethan and Joel Coen, Clint Eastwood, Spike Lee, David Lynch, Martin Scorsese and David Fincher. Here we can classic films in the genre like Reservoir Dogs (1992), Wild at Heart (1990) Miller's Crossing (1990; Silver Shell for Best Director at San Sebastian Festival), Seven (1995), Fargo (1996), Collateral (2004) and Zodiac (2007). However, there will also be space to recover and discover independent productions and recent cult titles like John Dahl's Red Rock West (1993), Suture (1993) by Scott McGehee and David Siegel, the Hughes brothers' Menace II Society (1993), James Gray's Little Odessa (1994) and Paul Thomas Anderson's Hard Eight (1996).

Thanks to a selection of 40 titles, the cycle dusts down a rather unflattering view of the American dream, a mirror darkly reflecting the welfare society, yet similarly a clear-cut example of the astonishing vitality of a genre that continues to attract moviemakers and audiences the world over. 

This cycle is co-organised with the Filmoteca Vasca.


Miller's crossing


In Chinese culture, the expression "electric shadows" ("dian ying") refers to the art of film. Today the electricity of those first projectors that allowed Chinese people to take delight in films has largely been substituted by the digital media with which a generation of new moviemakers is leaving a testimony of their country's changing society. In recent years, independent Chinese cinema has experienced rapid development with the shift from stills to bytes. Digital media permit directors to take more chances, to be more daring, to explore hybrid documentary/fiction formats and combine images shot by themselves with others, reused and re-contextualised. Rather than mere nostalgia or simple social protest, the titles brought together in this retrospective show us some of the more unusual angles of Chinese reality thanks to plural points of view and varied approaches.

The cycle will comprise 18 movies filmed digitally from 2000-2010. We will therefore also discover some of the most interesting Chinese filmmakers to have made their appearance in the last decade. Among others, we will screen Zhu Wen's Seafood (2001), Andrew Cheng's Destination Shanghai (2003), Liu Jiayin's Oxhide (2004), Peng Tao's Little Moth (2007), Emily Tang's Perfect Life (2008) and Zhao Ye's Jalainur (2009).

This cycle is co-organised with San Sebastian's San Telmo Museum and enjoys the collaboration of the Filmoteca de Catalunya.


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