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San Sebastian live


As if to serve notice that this festival is solidly back on track in the "Big Time" the 52nd edition of this Basque Country autumn 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 from the hands of Spanish super-star director, Pedro Almodovar.. 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.

On September 21, Annette Benning, the star of Hungarian director Istvan Szabo's "Being Julia" received 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 multiple Oscars written all over it. Benning is simply magnificent in the title role of this Somerset Maugham tale of snooty 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 juiciest portrayals in years as Benning's theatrical impresario 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 all the incrustations of a major supporting performance. The film in fact opens with a virtuoso "tirade" by Gambon on the art of acting which puts one 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 appears 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 cinema public as an "English" director of the first rank.

A third prestige premiere outside of competition is "The Door in the Floor", a drama based on the John Irving novel "A Widow for One Year" and directed
by Tod Williams. This is a heartbreaker starring Kim Bassinger and Jeff Bridges as a once happy couple whose marriage begins to flounder after their
two teenage sons are killed in a car accident. The coupling of Bassinger and Bridges, two mature but still attractive and charismatic star players, is in
itself a casting coup. Williams is next slated to direct a new adaptatipon of Hemingway's "To Have and Have Not".

The sixteen films in competition for the Top Prize, the "Concha de Oro" (The "Golden Seashell" -- San Sebastian is after all noted for its excellent
seafood!), span a wide international spectrum and include the following titles:

(1)"Bombon, The Dog", director Carlos Sorin, (Argentina) explores the relationship between a man and his best friend, a dog, set in the southern desert of Patagonia.
(2) "Brothers" by Susan Bier of Denmark, who made a big splash here two years ago with "Open Hearts" is back with a family melodrama centering on three brothers who merge into a triangle of unforeseeable consequences.
(3) "Spider Forest", South Korea, Director Sing Il-gong, his second feature is a slightly supernatural mystery set in a forest. Song is regarded as one
of the leading lights of the new Korean Cinema, and his first feature, "Flower Island" won a Best Debut prize at Venice in 2001.
(4) "Horas de Luz" (A few hours of light), Spain, Manolo Matji, director, is an extremely powerful drama based on an actual prison case. Juan Garfia (not "Garcia") brutally shot three people to death on a roadside at the tail end of the eighties and was sentenced to more than a hundred years of "special confinement" -- as there is no death penalty in Spain. A prison nurse, Marimar, falls in love with him, becomes his consort in a penal system where even the most cantankerous of prisoners are allowed "connubial visits", and eventually marries him within the prison walls. In the intervening years the young desperado has changed enormously educating himself through massive reading and meditation. Together they dare to dream of a future but the future is always a long way off. Today, they are still together as the years of the sentence stretch out before them. Garfia is played by an exceptionally handsome actor, Alberto San Juan, and Marimar (not "Miramar") by a marvelous middle aged actress, Emma Suarez, both well known in Spain via television serials. I must say that, normally, prison dramas are not this writer's cup of tea -- (they tend to give nme claustrophobia) -- but here the drama -- the human story, is so intense that the enclosed prison aspect is soon forgotten as the texture of the relationship takes over. Matji is a veteran "triple threat" Spanish cineaste -- as director, producer and screenwriter, and, so
far, this film has been the discovery of the festival for me.
(5) "Nine Songs", England, directed by Michael Winterbottom. This director, whose previous work I have not seen, was actually given a retrospective here
last year. If "Nine Songs" is typical of his work I can only say that I have no desire to be exposed to any other of his earlier songs. The film is
vaguely about rock concerts at night and explicit sex in the afternoon. Yes, you actually see them fucking, but who cares. First of all, the young woman
involved is singularly unattractive, physically or otherwise, and the guy is basically a nothing. Secondly, the way the fuck scenes (and that's just
what they are) are filmed is neither artistic nor erotic, although apparently intended to be both. Frankly this is some of the most boring
fucking I have ever seen on screen, aside from which the film has nothing else of any interest to say. "Behind The Green Door", anybody ....?

STAY TUNED -- More to come Alex Deleon.

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