51ST SAN SEBASTIAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL - 9/18/2003-9/27/2003
MONDAY, SEPTEMBER 22, 2003

We awaken to the first bad weather of the festival and arrive at the Teatro Principal for the first feature of the day quite soaked.

La Flaqueza del Bolchevique (The Weakness of the Bolshevik) (Zabaltegi)
The Weakness of the Bolshevik Another one of the very best of the fest is, unfortunately, not competing.  "The Weakness of the Bolshevik" could be described as a Spanish 'Lolita,' but the dynamics of its older man/teenaged girl relationship are far more sympathetic.

Stuck in Madrid traffic on a Monday morning, Pablo Lopez (Luis Tosar, "Mondays in the Sun") gets annoyed with talk radio and inserts his favorite heavy metal cassette, crashing into the rear of the car in front of him during his momentary attention lapse.  He's further aggravated by the other car's driver, Sonsoles (Mar Regueras), and when he gets to his office he attempts to call her, giving her maid a story about sexually transmitted disease to get her on the phone. His boss introduces him to an auditor from their London office, Eva Morales (is that last name relevant?), who is given weird initial impressions when Pablo repeatedly leaves the office while his assistant Alba appears in over her head.

Pablo learns that Sonsoles has filed for an injury claim and really goes ballistic, following her when she picks up her younger sister at school.  Indicative of their emotional states, the camera pulls back to reveal that Pablo's bumper is still damaged where Sonsoles has already has hers fixed.  Pablo's inner turmoil is further expressed when Eva succeeds in getting him out of the office for a drink.  He describes them both as 'morons' for continuing with jobs they both find distasteful, caught up on a treadmill of 'success,' while others actually enjoy living their lives.  Leaving Eva, Pablo calls Sonsoles from a pay phone and spews out vile threats.

Pablo leaves work again the next day to observe Maria in her schoolyard.  Noting the girl's direct putdown of a pot smoking classmate, he approaches her as a cop.  And then something amazing happens.  This young teenage girl, Maria (Maria Valverde, looking like a softer, riper young Tatum O'Neal), touches Pablo to the core.  She epitomizes the unrealized ideals he years for.  He genuinely enjoys conversation with her.  And Maria, more than intelligent enough to realize Pablo is no cop, continues to meet him, because, essentially, it is clear that theses two are soulmates. Pablo's connection to Maria will collide, though, with Sonsoles's need to retaliate against her unknown harasser.

Director Manuel Martin Cuenca achieves beautiful performances from his two leads while maintaining an uneasy tension, first with Pablo's volatile anger, then with his conflicted attraction to Maria (it should be noted that Pablo is shown to be chivalrous in his treatment of Alba - there is no inherent ill will towards women in this man, in fact the opposite is true.  His poor judgement with Sonsoles springs from a general put upon frustration).  The yearning violin score which seems so inappropriate in the early, almost comedic, stages of the film, gradually comes into focus, its initial off kilter effect falling into place with Pablo's psyche.  The film's title springs from an early conversation between Maria and Pablo, when she asks him if he is a socialist.  He replies that he is a Bolshevik because 'Socialists want to take everything from the rich, Bolsheviks want to shoot the rich and the poor.'  Instead of using Pablo's fake names, Maria calls him 'my Bolshevik.'  This was not only the best Spanish film of the fest, but the best Spanish language film overall.  A-

Robin:

“The Weakness of the Bolshevik” begins with uptight businessman, Pablo (Luis Tosar), stuck in traffic and searching for a rock CD. Thus distracted, he rear ends another car and the woman driver, miffed by the inconvenience, snaps at Pablo and really gets under his skin. He decides to harass the woman for her nastiness and starts to make obscene phone calls and follow her around. He sees her picking up a teenaged girl from school and he follows the youngster but soon forgets his plans of harassment in “The Weakness of the Bolshevik.”

Pablo plans to use 15-year old Marie (Maria Valverde) to get back at the woman driver, her sister Sonsole, and stops her in the park, claiming to be a cop checking into drug dealing at her school. With this pretext, he arranges to meet Marie again and a funny thing happens  - he begins to genuinely like the girl and he forgets his plans against the girl’s sister. Meanwhile, Sonsole figures out who her tormentor is and seeks the help a real cop to “take care” of Pedro. Worlds are about to collide in an unexpected and shocking way.

Helmer Manuel Martin Cuenca has crafted a compelling story, co-scripted with Lorenzo Silver, that does not take a conventional path. Things start with Pedro, angry at Sonsole, striking back at her like a petulant child. He thinks himself very clever as he insinuates himself into Marie’s life but is unprepared for the intelligence and maturity of the teen. As their friendship grows, Marie figures out who he really is and a chaste romance of sorts develops. The kindred spirit between these two skirts the sexuality issue and a very nice relationship develops. But Pedro gets careless and forgets his original intentions, opening the door to Solones’s revenge.

Luis Tosar And Maria Valverde have great chemistry and are convincing in their roles. Tosar’s Pedro changes in ways he would never expect as he is charmed by the 15-year old. She, too, is intrigued by this older man who shows such interest in her. You never get the feeling that Pedro would ever do anything wrong and their chaste romance is delicately handled.

But, the best-laid plans often go awry and this is what happens to Pedro. “The Weakness of the Bolshevik” is a universal film and could be set anywhere. The treat is the interplay and relationship between the Tosar and Valverde. I give it a B+.


Not completely dried out, we discover Danena Taberna for a hot cup of tea and return again for the friendly atmosphere and good food.

Histoire de Marie et Julien (The Story of Marie and Julien) (Official Selection)

The Story of Marie and Julien French master Jacques Rivette ("Va Savoir") delivers another of his slow, meditative films with "Histoire de Marie et Julien," carved into four segments.  'Julien' begins with Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz, "The Iron Man") running into Marie (Emmanuelle Beart, "8 Women") in a park.  The two actors are stilted, theatrical.  She raises a knife.  In the second scene, the duo meet more naturally on a rainy street.  Each says they've just had a dream about the other and agree to meet. Julien, who repairs and restores antique clocks, then meets with Madame X (Anne Brochet, "Tous les Matins du Monde") to blackmail her for trafficking in fake antiques.  Julien works on his clocks with his inquisitive companion Nevermore, a cat, and tells the cat that there is nothing upstairs for it to be interested in.  He has dinner with Marie who is living in a short-term, furnished apartment, but when he awakens in her bed the next morning he discovers she has checked out and his home has been ransacked.  He suspects a connection with Madame X.  A mysterious phone calls tells him he can find Marie at a local hotel.

As the film enters the 'Julien et Marie' segment, things continue to be unsettling.  Marie moves in with Julien and begins ridding his home of his ex-lover's things.  She finds Julien's blackmail items, including a picture of Madame X with another woman, hidden in a clock and becomes obsessed with the empty room upstairs and begins to make it over, taking great care with the placement of objects.  She scratches herself and tells the cat not to tell Julien she didn't bleed.  She meets with Madame X, who appears to almost recognize her, then meets the other woman from the photo, Adrienne, around the corner.  Adrienne gives her a letter.  Marie turns hot and cold with Julien and tells him something awful will take her away from him.

'Marie et Julien' begins to answer some of the questions, making connections between the blackmailer and his victim via the women at their sides.  Julien begins to look into Marie's background (they had only met once before and felt an immediate attraction before their meeting at the film's beginning) in an attempt to find the answers that arrive in 'Marie.'

Rivette's glacial film creates a unique world of dulled Parisian blues and grays, exemplified by the fabulous production design and art direction (Christian Lambert and Manu de Chauvigny) of Julien's old, cold house.  Julien's space is dominated by the presence of his clockworks, delineated from the corridors leading to the other domestic niches (kitchen, that room upstairs, bedroom).  There is no score, only the haunting tick tock of clocks which presage the sound of a stylus repeating at the end of a record album which accompanies a revelatory event.  For all the film's technical accomplishment and mood drenching atmosphere of mystery, however, the lack of warmth in the characters (Julien, is, after all, a heartless blackmailer while Marie is never anything but excessively odd) keeps this 'eternal' love story from having any emotional payoff.  It is both intriguing and ultimately unsatisfying.  B-

Robin:

Julien (Jerzy Radziwilowicz) is a clockmaker in his 40’s living a lonely life a year after the woman he loved, Marie (Emmanuelle Beart), disappeared without a trace. Now, he is involved in a blackmail scheme centered on the mysterious Madame X (Anne Brochet), a trafficker in fake and stolen antiques, when Marie reappears on the scene. The beautiful young woman has a detached, ethereal air about her as the two rekindle their past relationship and Marie begins to construct a room that explains it all in “The Story of Marie and Julien.”

Veteran Franco helmer Jacques Rivette takes on an odd sort of ghost story that is, perhaps, a bit more ambiguous than it should be. Things don’t quite make sense as Julien dreams of his long lost Marie trying to kill him. He is involved in a scam, for some reason, in providing forged documents for a collection of fake antiques for Madame X. When Marie returns, suddenly and without explanation, Julien accepts it willingly as he takes on a large-scale clock repair job. An idyllic life, of sorts, is regained but the wistful Marie is troubled.

She commandeers a spare room in Julien’s rambling home and, very particularly, begins to furnish and appoint the chamber. You get the impression that things are getting otherworldly as Madame X’s sister’s story and Marie’s story become intertwined and the mysteries begin to unfold. What transpires is a moderately intriguing tale that is a little too ethereal, especially Beart’s performance which seemed far too mannered.

This is a movie, though, that I could not get my arms around and I always felt like an outsider looking in, not given an emotional hook into the story. It is lovely to look at, gorgeously photographed by William Lubchansky, and Julien’s home is a character unto itself. But, the film never stirred my core.

I give it a C+.

Histoire de Marie et Julien press conference (Jacques Rivette, actress Emmanuelle Beart, actor Jerzy Radziwilowicz)
Emmanuelle Beart     Jacques Rivette     Jerzy Radziwilowicz
While the film was cold, the press conference which followed actually got a little heated. Asked about the excessively long time to tell this story and if the feeling of real time was the intention and how the script came about, Rivette replies 'I cannot answer these questions.´ The press conference immediately grinds to a halt.  The moderator flails about looking for the next question - silence on both sides.  Finally someone asks how it was to work with the cat in the film and Rivette (hard to tell whether amused or disgusted) defers the question to Radziwilowicz, who ´worked with him the most,´ then proceeds with 'Jerzy had to act with the cat, you´ve had to direct a cat, cats are genuine movie stars.  They only do what they want to do.'

warning - story spoilers ahead...
Asked whether his creation of time and space was intentional, a good, leading question that Chabrol would have enthused over, Rivette again says he can´t answer the question.  'You´re talking as a critic and I just wanted to tell a story.´ He does reveal that this was based on a true story about a woman who committed suicide under similar circumstances (yet he couldn´t say how the script came about earlier!). Beart was asked about working with Rivette twelve years ago (in "La Belle Noiseuse") and says he has been 'an essential point of reference,´ that the two films are very different and that she doesn´t exactly feel more mature as an actress but does feel freer to try things.  Finally, someone asks Rivette to comment on the current state of European cinema.  He waves his hand and replies 'I´m not even going to address that issue.´ Some boos come from the back of the press audience as the conference concludes. Rivette and his stars walk by the journalists' wine reception outside the conference, all in serious discussion.

The Human Stain The Human Stain (Zabaltegi) - click link for review

Ojos Que No Ven (What the Eye Doesn't See) (Official Selection)
What the Eye Doesn't See This Peruvian film follows six stories and twelve characters in Lima set against the 2000 scandal in which videos showing presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos bribing high-ranking officials where broadcast, bringing down the presidency of Fujimori.  Director Francisco J. Lombardi (Peruvian submission for Best Foreign Language Oscar "Fallen from Heaven") and screenwriter Giovanna Pollarolo keep us abreast of the political developments as a background for the adversity, comedy and panic their characters face.

Don Lucho (Carlos Gassols) baits his friend Don Victor (Jorge Rodriguez Pax) with his pro-Fujimori remarks as they watch events unfold on television from their hospital beds.  Victor is visited by his beautiful granddaughter Mercedes (Melania Urbina), worried because her father has been taken away to jail. Her father has sent her to lawyer Peñaflor (Gustavo Bueno), who pays the girl lip service while attempting to flee the country.  Elena (Patricia Pereyra), concerned about the safety of her husband, a forensic scientist working unearthing bodies from an unmarked burial site connected to the scandal, is hit by a car driven by General Revoredo (Gianfranco Brero), who brings her to the hospital and sticks around to see if she intends to file charges.  Elena loses her baby and is unaware of television broadcasts reporting the murder of her husband.  Vain television anchorman Gonzalo (Paul Vega) begins to withdraw from his colleagues when his makeup artist, Angelica (Tatiana Astengo), notices a blemish on his cheek which rapidly gets worse.  Angelica's boyfriend Chauca (Carlos Alcantara), fearing retribution for the shady secret missions he has been an accomplice on, promises to marry her if she'll leave for a new life in Argentina and drags her from a fancy reception to depart immediately.  An idiotic government clerk, Rodolfo (Sandro Calderon), becomes puffed with self importance when he becomes protector of the 'vladi-videos' and pursues his landlady's disdainful, selfish daughter Eva (Jackelyne Vasquez).

Lombardi juggles his strands, "Magnolia" style, his characters making rich commentary on the state of their country at a given time.  Gonzales's skin cancer is an obvious symbol, but his story is handled subtly.  Elena and Mercedes's stories begin at opposite ends - one with a man who appears will do her harm, the other with one who will help, until they intersect in the middle and go off in opposite tangents, tragically for both.  Angelica and Chauca's road trip portrays the comedic desperation of small cogs caught up in something bigger, criminal escape for one, marital for the other, than they can achieve.  Rodolfo is pure comic relief, a pathetic bumbler with delusions of grandeur paired with the worst example of a nation's youth.  The hospitalized old men act as Greek chorus commenting on opposing political views, their ward a crossover point for many of the characters.  "Ojos que no Ven" is a beautifully directed piece of work.  B+

Robin:

As the 90’s drew to a close, the Peruvian government led by President Fujimori was brought to a crashing end when the infamous “Vladi-Videos” came to public light – clandestine surveillance videotapes of presidential advisor Vladimiro Montesinos bribing the very highest members of the Peru’s government, military, business and media. These tapes had an immediate effect and helmer Francisco J. Lombardi tells six of the stories of the personal impact of these recent events in “What the Eye Doesn’t See.”

Lombardi takes the original screenplay by Giovanni Pollarolo and interweaves a series of personal stories that are launched by events that take place in the political stratosphere of Peruvian politics. He examines the impact on two of the men that were directly involved on both sides of the bribery and scandal – a careerist army colonel Revoredo (Gianfranco Brerro), a recipient of bribes, and Montesino’s own lawyer, Penaflor del Aquila (Gustavo Bueno), who dispersed the ill-gotten monies. But these men’s lives are not the only ones impacted.

Director Lombardi uses the backdrop of the politically disastrous events caused by the release of the secret Vladi-Videos as he follows the lives of an eclectic cast of characters from every walk of life, but all impacted to varying degrees by the scandal.

The soon-to-be beleaguered colonel and bribing lawyer realize they need to leave the country or face arrest, conviction and the humiliation of prison but dame chance takes charge of things. A young, pregnant wife, Helena (Patricia Pereyra), is left alone by her forensic anthropologist husband (Miguel Iza) who is investigating a mass grave that may implicate the troubled government in cover-up and murder. She is near hysterics after receiving telephone death threats and put into shock when she is raped by a government–hired thug, Pareja (Ricardo Mejia). Dazed and confused, she runs along the highway and is struck by the colonel as he tries to get away. He brings her to the hospital for treatment (she loses her unborn baby) then takes her to his summer home, more out of guilt for his ill deeds than for any altruistic reason.

In another part of Lima, a frantic young teen, Mercedes (Melania Urbina), is trying to cope with two separate crises. Her aging grandfather, Don Victor (Jorge Rodriguez Paz), a diabetic, is about to lose his leg because of the disease and her father has been arrested without apparent reason. She seeks the help of lawyer del Aguila, who is taken by the pretty girl, and he agrees to help her, even as he makes plans to flee the country.

Other stories unfold as the tumult of the scandal consumes the country. The handsome TV news anchorman, Gonzalo del Solar (Paul Vega), outwardly show his brave and noble journalist face but is, in fact, totally self absorbed – mainly with his looks. His makeup woman, Angelica (Tatiana Astengo), is not-so-pleasantly surprised when her unlucky boyfriend, Chauca (Carlos Alcantara), insists they leave the country because of his own misdeeds while working for Pareja who, it so happens, is under arrest. There is hapless government clerk, the very geeky, neo-Jerry Lewis Rodolpho (Sandro Calderon) who harbors a major crush for the vain and nasty Eva (Jakelyne Vasguez) and, through circumstance, ends up working for the head investigator of the Vladi scandal. Wrapping up this large ensemble are Don Victor and his fellow patient, friend and political opposite, Don Lucho (Carlos Gassols).

Lombardi does a fine job in moving his players about the screen, juggling the complicated and interwoven story lines and making it all coherent and clear. He mixes the docu-drama events of the Vladi-Videos as their release brings down a government and the multiple, often intertwined stories of his characters. The acting is first rate across the board with some stories carrying more weight than others. Everything ties up neatly, in the end, and I came away both entertained and educated in another country’s recent and controversial history. I give “What the Eye Doesn’t See” a B+.



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