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San Sebastian fest ambiance

by Alex Deleon

As if to serve notice that this festival is solidly back in the "Big Time" the 52nd edition of this early autumn Basque Country extravaganza opened with a bang on September 17 with a screening of Woody Allen's latest opus, "Melinda Melinda" and an opening night lifetime award presented to the American director who was here in person to accept the honor. Allen who is well known for his dislike of festivals (the only one he condescends to visit upon occasion is Venice) was most engaging and in high spirits at the press conference which followed the screening. He is generally much more popular in Europe than in his own back yard, and it is quite significant that he chose San Sebastian this year rather than Venice.
As for the film itself, a tragi-comedy of sorts, it was very well received -- perhaps a bit over-exalted in the local press, but general agreement
reigns that "Melinda" represents a "return to form" for Mr. Allen after two successive commercial and critical flops in recent years. Tonight (September 21), Annette Benning, the star of Hungarian director Istvan Szabo's "Being Julia" will also receive a life achievement award
although the film was shown out of competition.
"Being Julia" is a highbrow comedy dripping with class from the very first seconds of the opening credits and has numerous Oscars written all over it.
Benning is simply magnificent in the title role of this Somerset Maugham tale of snobbish West End sophisticates set in the London of 1938. With a
star-studded cast featuring such British stalwarts as Jeremy Irons (in one of his best portrayals in years as Benning's theatrical producer husband)
and Michael Gambon as Julia's acting guru, "Julia" may well turn out to be the film of the year. Although Gambon's role is little more than an extended
cameo, it has the it has the incrustations of a major supporting performance. The film in fact opens with a "tirade" by Gambon on the art of
acting that puts the viewer in the mind of George C. Scott's unforgettable opening address to the audience in "Patton". The Spanish poster for the film
bears the inscription "Preparate para la mejor actuacion de su vida" -- "Get ready for the best acting you've ever seen" -- and for once the initial hype
seems to be right on the mark. Yes -- great acting all around in a most sophisticated piece of entertainment from the director of such Hungarian
classics as "Mephisto" (Academy award, 1981) and numerous others. Szabo, a bit like Allen, somewhat underappreciated in his own country of late, is now set to become known to the iinternational public as an "English" director of the first rank.

STAY TUNED -- More to come ....
PEV, San Sebastian, Sept. 21, 2004

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