51ST SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - 9/18/2003-9/27/2003
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 18, 2003
(Written by Laura Clifford  except where noted as Robin)
 

51st San Sebastian Film Festival The 51st Donostia San Sebastian International Film Festival began despite a strike at the Marie Cristina Hotel, which houses festival guests, and the apologetic withdrawal of Jury President Chaz Palminteri due to a filming conflict.  The festival issued the following statement:

"Mr. Chaz Palminteri has at the last minute informed the San Sebastian International Film Festival that unexpected working commitments prevent him from fulfilling his undertaking to chair the International Jury at the 51st Festival.

The Festival can only state its regret at the absence of this highly admired actor, and to an even greater extent the belatedness of his unexpected decision.

Given the dates on which Chaz Palminteri has informed us of his new activity plan, the Festival management has decided not to try to replace him. Instead, we will invite the other six members of the Official Jury to appoint their own chairperson if they consider it appropriate to do so."

Nonetheless, excitement was in the air, the weather was gorgeous (for the first week anyway, before rain and fog set in) and filmmakers and stars poured into this beautiful Northern Spanish bay city of the Belle Epoque.  Signs in San Sebastian will, however, inform you that you are not in Spain, nor in France (which one can view from one of the two peaks which terminate either end San Sebastian's bay), but in Basque country. The Basque region is fiercely independent and its ETA is a controversial group which has resorted to terrorist acts fighting for independence from Spain.  San Sebastian's street signs are in both Spanish and Euskera, the Basque language, and the festival highlights many films subtitled in this language.  The festival included a Basque Day and featured a highly controversial documentary by Spanish filmmaker Julio Medem on the subject.

San Sebastian fountain

Although they are not sure, linguists believe the Basque language has African roots and the region's longevity is encapsulated in the popular saying 'Before God was God and rocks were rocks, the Basques were Basques.'  It is said that the devil studied Basque for seven years and only managed to learn three words.  We learned two - pinchos, the Basque form of Tapas, and Txakolai, the name of the popular regional fizzy white wine, both terrific and quick forms of festival sustenance.

The film festival seems to have a sense of humor as a huge blue billboard featuring "Finding Nemo's" shark over the river is flanked by two red ones of Cate Blanchett's triangular, serious journalist's face in "Veronica Guerin."

Guerin/Nemo posters

Suite Habana (Official Selection, Opening Film)

Suite Habana The first official selection, Fernando Perez´s ¨Suite Habana,¨ was a celebration of a city through ten of its citizens.  Edited like a musical composition, the film is entirely dialogue free, yet we´re brought into the lives of a diverse group of people who weave in and out of the others´circles.  Beginning at dawn, an informal changing of the guard takes place at a seated statue of John Lennon on a park bench - he is never left of company (the film returns to his image time and again and we see Che Guevara, but never an image of Castro!). Work is the initial theme as a grandmother prepares her handicapped grandson for school, a railway maintenance worker rides his bike, a supervisor spot checks a factory line, an old woman sells paper cones of peanuts.  As the workday ends, the importance of the arts to the Cuban people becomes prominent.  A young day laborer performs ballet, another is a drag artist, a doctor sidelines as a clown.  Music, of course is preeminent, not only for the characters but the film´s very rhythm.  One of the film´s central sequences revolves round the preparation of the midday meal.  As beans are cleaned, and ingredients chopped, a closeup of  pressure cooker is edited to the beat of the swaying hips of women being ogled on the street.  Perez concludes his film with a parade of his characters (who were introduced simply by name and age), their profession and their dreams.  B+

Robin:
Cuban director Fernando Perez takes his camera into the homes and lives of ordinary people in Havana, Cuba in a richly documented view of a day in the life of a cross section of its inhabitants. We meet many of folk, from diminutive Francisquito, age 10, to Natividad, aged 97, and all manner of folk in between. All the while we hear the music and te beat of the people in “Suite Habana“.

Perez uses little, if any, dialogue as he follows his collection of common folk living their lives in Cuba´s largest city. The only subtitles you read while watching “Suite Habana” come from television shows, the radio, a teacher in a classroom and a woman calling out to someone from a window.

The suite of the title is a mix of the sounds of the city and music scored to blend with these sounds. This tone poem of a slice of Cubano life makes no comments on the thoughts of the people he follows until the end of the film when Perez tells us a little about each person and their dream. There is one exception – an old woman,  Armanda, long a widow, who makes her living selling the peanuts she prepares ever day at home to be sold on the streets. She, the director admits, has no dreams.

“Suite Habana” is both melancholy and hopeful and has one notable thing missing – there is never an image of Fidel Castro to be found anywhere. Che Guevara and John Lennon are both prominent but the dictator-for-life is not. This is a telling point about a country that, some day soon, will be free of his oppression and the Cuban people will be able to  join the rest of the world.

I give it a B.

  El Espiritu de la Colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive) (Festival Symbol/Special Screening)2003 San Sebastian Official Poster

The film's official poster features a famous shot from perhaps Spain's most essential film, Victor Irice's masterpiece "The Spirit of the Beehive."  Ana Torrent, the lead actress, who was six when the film was made in 1973, has been replaced in the shot with a current photo.  "The Spirit of the Beehive," a lyrical, moving film that weaves a little girl's belief in the Frankenstein monster with the politics of the Franco era, was presented as a special selection in a restored print thirty years after winning San Sebastian's Golden Shell.

Los Guantes Magicos (The Magic Gloves) (Latin Horizons)

The Magic Gloves Moving from festival central at the Kursaal Center, we wandered into the Parte Vieja to attend one of the Spanish language lineup Horizontes Lantinos at the Principe Theaters.  "Los Guantes Magicos" (The Magic Gloves" is an absurdist comedy about the ´luck´ that robs a Buenos Aires cab driver, Alejandro, of everything but his love of disco dancing. Alejandro is introduced driving through a rainstorm while his customer in the back seat disparages Alejandro´s Renault 12 to his wife via cell phone.  Hanging up, he introduces himself as Piranha and declares Alejandro as an old friend of his brother Luis´s although Alejandro professes not to know him.  Piranha invites Alejandro and his girlfriend over for dinner to listen to the CD he has just produced, but Alejandro has broken up before the date and arrives alone.  During the hilarious dinner, Piranha's wife Susanna grills him on his broken relationship before the couple place him between two power speakers to rattle him to the core with Piranha's absurd CD, then lend him the use of brother Luis's apartment.  Deadpan jokes revolving around repeated trips to the ear and eye doctor, expired pudding cups, dog walkers, porno actors and Canadians stud this wry little comic character star.  Gabriel Fernandez Capello is like a sad sack Nathan Lane crossed who accepts life's unfairness as long as he can still dance.  A scene where he 'talks' to his old taxi threw a showroom window with his old remote is brilliant.  B  (It was a disappointment that none of the Horizontes Lantinos were screened for the press, making access difficult.  This is the only entry from this section we were able to schedule in.)

Robin:

Alejandro is the 35-year old owner of a piece of junk Renault 12 that he hires out, with himself as driver, in Buenos Aires. He is driving a music producer, Sergio, home one rainy night and the man recognizes him from their childhood. Sergio invites Alejandro to dinner and to hear his latest musical creation but Alejandro asks for a rain check and goes home to his girlfriend Cecilia. He wants to go dancing but she is preoccupied. They go out to have a drink and she tells him that she wants to break up, leaving Alejandro without a place to stay.

The hapless driver takes Sergio up on his offer for dinner and tells his host of his woes with Cecilia. His new friend offers Alejandro the use the apartment of his brother, Luis, who is in Canada starring in porno movies. In return, they make a deal that Alejandro can stay, rent free, in return for rides whenever Sergio and his wife needs one – usually to the airport. Life seems simple but there is trouble brewing.

Cecilia is suffering from a severe case of depression and is soon taking all manner of anti-depressants, uppers and downers – all drugs that she obtains illegally. She meets a professional dog walker who also suffers depression and the two, with false prescriptions in hand, use and abuse everything they can get. Meanwhile, Luis returns home and invites Alejandro to continue living in his flan. But, the driver has to contend with sleeping in the same room where Luis obsessively works out. When Luis´s porno collegues come to town to make movies all of the players in “Los Guantes Magicos“ form an odd little circle of friends.

When a freak cold snap hits the city, Sergio convinces Alejandro to sell his car to Luis and use the money to invest in a shipment of magic gloves – one size fits all. They make a minor killing in the glove market and Sergio persuades Alejandro to borrow a lot  of money from a loan shark to buy more gloves. The cold snap abruptly ends and Alejandro is in even worse straights than before. Through all of this, though, he never loses his own obsession for his beloved Renault.

“Los Guantos Mágicos” is a quirky and likable little movie with sad sack Alejandro letting his life be ruled by circumstance. The oddball crew that surround him are made up by a variety of characters that would not likely get together in real life but it works well enough here. Screenwriter/director Martin Rejtman moves his eclectic collection of characters with a deft and often humorous hand. When Alejandro gives up his precious Renault 12, he wanders the city and every time he sees another 12 in the street, he tries his remote key to see if it is, in fact, his. The anti-depressives also take on a life of their own as Cecilia, her dog walking boyfriend and Sergio´s wife have ongoing conversations as to what is the best combination of the drugs to take.

I hope that “The Magic Gloves” will make it to theaters in the States. It is a funny piece of work ideally suited to the festival circuit, especially  for Spanish language viewers, and gives a feel for the life of a real schlemiel in Buenos Aires. I give it a B-.

 
We discovered the old quarter's most welcoming pinchos bar around the corner from the Principe and revisited Gazteli's often during our stay.  Their pimento custard and tuna, pepperocini and anchovy sandwiches are highly recommended.

Supertex (Official Selection)

Supertex The next official selection, the German-Dutch production "Supertex," was screened at the festival's third main theater, the Teatro Principal, a lovely old theater at the opposite end of the Parte Vieja.  Jan Schnitte's film is the first of two to deal with the friction between generations of a family owned business.  Jerry Seinfeld lookalike Stephen Mangan is Max, a young well-educated hotshot who quits Supertex, an Amsterdam manufacturer of cheap, low quality clothing, when his father neglects to read a report he has painstakingly put together.  Dad (Jan Decleir) is a camp survivor fond of Yiddish sayings ('we deal in rags and wear velvet') and suspicious of education.  Younger brother Benjamin, known in the family as Boy, plods along in the business, but clearly doesn't have Max's talent (a theme also explored in the Danish "Inheritance").

Max is thrown into further high dudgeon when he discovers his father keeps a beautiful young Schicksa mistress (Ana Geislerova), some Hasidic Jews deride him as a 'Jew in a Porsche,' and his lover Esther begins yearning for Israel.  When dad suffers a heart attack, Max makes boy travel to an important business meeting in Morocco where he disappears.  Boy's Jewish princess fiancee Leah believes he has been abducted and she and Max travel there to discover changes in Boy that are both profound and comical.  Schnitte has difficulty with tonal shifts which veer wildly from comedy to drama and Max's sudden change of heart in an abrupt ending doesn't feel earned, but "Supertex" is watchable for individual scenes and Maureen Lipman, who plays the mother, is excellent.  C

Robin:

No, “SuperTex” is not about a big Texan. It is about Ámsterdam native Max (Stephan Mangan) - the eldest scion of a weathy, Polish expatriate, Simon (Jan Decleir) - who has reached an impasse in his life. Max, with an expensive education paid for by his father, is positioned to take over the family business, the textile works called SuperTex. But, though Max works hard to make plans for the company´s future, his recommendations fall upon Simon´s deaf ears, especially when the plans include disbanding the company the aging magnate has worked his life to build.

One day, Simon is honored by his colleagues at a dinner and and kudos which he gracefully accepts. He sends his wife home with their other son, named Benjamín but called Boy and drives off alone. Max, curious, follows his father and not quite surrepititiously sees the older man go into a strange apartment and into the arms of a much younger woman. Max is in a quandry as to what to do with this shattering information – until he gets a phone call from a woman who claims to be Simon´s mistress. They plan to meet in a swanky bar but Max approaches the wrong woman, a hooker, and a loud, uncomfortable confrontation ensues.

This is not the least of Max´s concerns and a series of events – he hits a Jewish boy with his car on Shabbas, his traditional Jewish girlfriend leaves him to live in Israel  and Simon falls into a coma following a car accident caused by a heart attack – make the heir to the textile throne question who he is and what his future now holds.

“SuperTex” is amusing family story that journeys from the Netherlands to Casablanca but is also an examination of how Max Breslauer, an intelligent 30ish man, must cope with living in the shadows of his father, a Holocaust survivor and icon in the textile trade. As Max makes plans to quit the family business, his father´s accident and subsequent coma make him take a vastly different view of his future. Forced to take command, Max sends Boy on a mission to Casablanca to renegotiate a business deal, which the younger Breslauer screws up royally. Boy gives up his pampered life and becomes incommunicado, requiring Max to track him down. The events make it impossible for Max to quit and, after his father´s death, he becomes the family patriarch.

Everyone should have the tough life that Max has had to suffer so “SuperTex” is not a film that will evoke much sympathy for the heir to the throne. The varied performances by the principals keeps things moving and Max´s metamorphosis, though predictable, has some nice moments. Stephen Mangan, as Max, bears an enormous resemblence to comedian Jerry Seinfeld, which caused frequent moments of distraction early on, but director Jan Schutte gets by this with his family-based story.

Techs are solid all around.

I give it a C+.


Jet lag prevails, but we do wander up to check out the red carpet proceedings for Opening Night.  Riot police in full gear are a surprise which we later see protested on banners in Parte Vieja, but thankfully, they are not needed.



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