51ST SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - 9/18/2003-9/27/2003
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 19, 2003
(written by Laura Clifford except where noted as Robin)

We discover Cafe Santana just before the bridge over the Rio Urumea heading towards the Kursaal, where our morning coffee and tea order will be whipped up before we can even order it throughout the remaining days of the festival.

Zabaltegi poster A sleepless night means oversleeping in the a.m. and we miss our last change to see Firpresci Grand Prix and Cannes Golden Camera winner "Reconstruction" from Denmark.  However, as we are to discover later in the day, films shown in the Zabaltegi, or 'Pearls of the Festival' section, which features prize winning films from other prominent festivals, are usually shown in their native language with Spanish subtitles only!  This is a great disappointment as we had been looking forward to a half dozen titles ("Carandiru," "La Fleur du Mal," "Hero," "Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter...and Spring") in this section which were not presented in English. Only official selections and Spanish languages films were pretty much guaranteed to be available in English or with English subtitles.  San Sebastian would benefit from the below-screen subtitle scrawler, that, while not optimal, guaranteed English subtitles for every film at the Venice fest.

The Station Agent The Station Agent (Official Selection, New Directors) - click for link to review

The Station Agent press conference (director Tom McCarthy, actors Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale)

The Station Agent press conference The next official selection is "The Station Agent," which goes on to win a Special Jury Award 'For being a movie which talks about loneliness in a simple, amusing and miraculously non-sentimental manner.'  We had occasion to see "The Station Agent" in Boston with director Tom McCarthy present, and here we are with him again across the Atlantic.  At the press conference, where McCarthy appeared with stars Peter Dinklage and Bobby Cannavale, McCarthy said he was glad to hear people say that they wished his film would continue on and that he believes audiences really connect with his three characters (which were written for the actors who portray them).  He said his influences included Truffaut, John Ford (because his story is like a Western where a stranger comes into town) and Pedro Almodovar (because disparate characters are thrown together and absurd touches like a hot dog cart in the middle of nowhere really don't matter much).  Cannavale, of Cuban heritage on his mother's side, amuses the largely Spanish speaking press with his 'Spanglish' and the difficulty of obtaining Bacalao in New Jersey. Dinklage says he admires the honesty of children, who ask him things like 'Are you a child or a man? Do you want to come and play?' which Cannavale says is the first thing he asked Peter when he met him too.  "The Station Agent" team gives a long, interesting and entertaining press conference but it is sadly under attended in light of the journalistic hordes Mark Wahlberg and Charlize Theron will draw later in the afternoon.
                Peter Dinklage     Bobby Cannavale

Uzak (Distant) (Zabaltegi)

Uzak (Distant) We head back to the Teatro Principal to see Zabaltegi selection and multiple Cannes winner "Uzak" and manage to follow the Turkish film pretty well even with the (then) unexpected Spanish only subtitles.  Mahmut (Muzaffer Özdemir) is a photographer in Instanbul who lives in a stylish and fastidiously maintained apartment.  He is disturbed by noises in a cabinet that may indicate rodents and spends most of his time watching TV.  Country cousin Yusuf (Emin Toprak) arrives and throws Mahmut's lifestyle into disarray.  Yusuf spends his time smoking cigarettes and following a woman throughout the city (he stops only when she enters a cinema, allowing his voyeurism to pass to her).  When Mahmut travels to his sister's to visit his dying mother, Yusuf takes Mahmut's place in front of the TV but his sloppy habits infuriate Mahmut when he returns.  After a comical confrontation between the two over their different approaches to ridding the kitchen of its mouse, Yusuf leaves Mahmut's without a word.  Mahmut discovers Yusuf's cigarette pack and drives to a bench overlooking the city to smoke.  This quiet film is a lovely character study of how people miss the very ones who irritate in their presence.  Director Nuri Bilge accentuates his two protagonists in foreground with unfocussed backgrounds and uses the melancholy sounds of winter for Yusuf's opening's journey through the countryside and to signal his absence at film's end.  B+

Robin:

One problem with a film festival like San Sebastián – a fest that focuses mainly on Spanish language films – is that sometimes you sit down to watch a movie like “Uzak” only to discover it is subtitled in the host country´s language. But, for someone like me who refuses to walk out on a film after investing my time, it can lead to some interesting experiences.

In “Uzak,” an Istanbul photographer is obliged to take in a young relative who has come to the city to find a job aboard a ship to take him to new lands and adventures. But, the younger man is not very ambitious and becomes a permanent fixture in the photographer´s home. This living condition is tolerated until the photographer is called away to care for his ailing mother and the boarder is left in the flat alone. When he returns, the photographer is shocked to find his home in slovenly condition and he castigates his roommate for being a  slob. What remains is an underlying conflict that must be resolved one way or another.

I spent nearly two hours trying to decipher the subtitles with my poor Spanish while the little drama unfolded on the screen. Thankfully, the dialog is minimal and the emotions of the characters so pronounced that I felt compelled to stay for the entire film. This little drama is definitely for the true film buff, and not the average movie goer, as it provides a slice of Turkish life through the eyes of its two main characters.

Helmer Nuri Bilge Ceylan tells his simple story with a sense of elegance with his sparse yet evocative screenplay and camera – kept mainly in static shots – that keeps you guessing as to what is going to happen. Will the photographer´s roommate snap and run amok? You are left to wonder about such things as the country boy follows a pretty young woman through the streets of Istanbul or glares at his benefactor after being scolded for the slob that he is. In the end, I was satisfied with the slice of Turkish life and give it a B.

The Italian Job press conference (Actors Mark Wahlberg, Charlize Theron)

The Italian Job press conference         Charlize Theron
We race back to the Kursall for "The Italian Job" press conference.  ("The Italian Job" was presented as a special, big screen Velodrome selection as was "Finding Nemo.")  Mark Wahlberg talks about the excitement of actually filming on Hollywood Boulevard, but he's obviously dopey from lack of sleep and keeps encouraging everyone to take a siesta.  Theron does most of the talking, although she enjoys teasing her costar.  The South African actress declares herself a farm girl who should play a pig which sets the two off on a bunch of jokes at George Clooney's expense.  Asked about the hotel strike, Wahlberg makes the obvious statement that people should be allowed to work and take care of their families while Charlize says she was still able to get room service.  (To the best of our knowledge, only Robert Duvall and Kevin Costner moved from the Maria Cristina to the four star Hotel Londre.)  Asked about her "Head in the Clouds" costar Penelope Cruz, Theron said ´She´s a dork, but that´s what I like about her´ while Wahlberg asked ´She´s Spanish, right?´  Theron also discussed her pride in her upcoming indie film "Monster," in which she gained thirty pounds and used extensive makeup to play serial killer Aileen Wournos and her fight to keep educational rape ads on television in South Africa.

The Galindez File (Official Selection, non-competing)


The Galindez File The next Official Selection is "The Galindez File," a truly inept, made for television quality entry which must have only been included because of its titular Basque hero.  Had I realized before the film that it was not in competition (the only other official selection not in competition was closing film "Open Range"), I would have skipped this one.  In a 1956 flashback, Basque UN representative and college professor Galindez (Eduard Fernandez) is offered $50K not to publish a book on Dominican Republic Generalissimo Trujillo.  When he refuses he is kidnapped from New York and taken to the Dominican Republic.  In 1988, a college student (Saffron Burrows) becomes obsessed researching the man (his fate is speculated upon here), and she crosses paths with a CIA operative (Harvey Keitel) who is tasked with keeping the Galindez file closed.  Burrows tells her Spanish lover Ricardo (Guillermo Toledo) that she is haunted by a previous Chilean lover who went to his home country and never returned, so we can pretty much tell what's gonna happen when Saffron travels to the DR.  The wooden Keitel will find himself in a perpetual time loop with his file as the disappearance of one inspires the investigation of the next.  One of the major problems of "The Galindez File" is that there is no mystery - everyone seems to pretty much know what happened to Galindez, yet they keep trying to find out.  Gerardo Herrero's hamhanded direction allows acting that ranges from the uninspired to the over the top (Reynaldo Miravalles's Don Angelito), with Toledo giving a natural performance.  D+

Robin:

In 1956, Basque political dissident leader Jesus Galindez spoke out against the tyrannical rule of Generalissimo Francisco Franco, the despot of Spain who tried, during his half-century reign, to wipe out the rebel culture and influence. One day, the opposition leader was kidnapped from his exile in New York City and was never heard from again. Decades later, Muriel (Saffron Burrows), researching her thesis on the disappearance, uncovers proof that Galindez was kidnapped by Franco’s thugs, tortured and murdered. Her evidence also implicates the United States government at the highest levels and she, too, is in danger in “The Galindez Files.”

This is a woulda, coulda, shoulda story that has an intriguing premise but falls far
short of what might have been a solid work and strong political statement. There is
a similarity to the Costa Gavras film, “Missing,” though this low rent tale does not
come close to the latter film in intrigue, content or depth.

Director Geraldo Herros strives to weave a political mystery that spans decades and speculates on what happened to leftist political aggitator Galindez. But there is little emotion in the telling and the film’s star, Burrows, does not involve the viewer with her strident, though unconvincing, portrayal of Muriel.

“The Galindez File” is a mixture of English and Spanish but has the feel of a script translated from the latter. Harvey Keitel, in particular, gives a stilted reading of his lines andis less convincing than Burrows. What could have been a dynamic political thriller is, at best, amildly interesting story that never gets beyond two dimensions. I give it a D+. 


As it is on our way back, we decide to stop and wait for Harvey Keitel's arrival at the Hotel Maria Cristina.  We give up on Harvey, but Charlize Theron returns all decked out from her red carpet appearance and poses for the photogs.  Hotel strikers begin chanting and general noise making in earnest in a roped off area across from the entrance.
                Charlize Theron at Hotel Maria Cristina         Strikers at the Hotel Maria Cristina


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