San Sebastian 04

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By Juan Manuel Freire

From Allen to Zabaltegi.

The 52nd San Sebastian Film Festival ran from September 17 through 25, 2004, and Juan Manuel Freire sent fast and furious dispatches to GreenCine Daily.

September 18.

Two years ago, Lucas Belvaux surprised us with his notable Trilogy - three films involving the same characters and touching on the same basic storyline and approached from the framework of three different genres, the comedy, the thriller and the drama. Woody Allen's Melinda and Melinda - its world premiere also opened the San Sebastian Film Festival yesterday - plays a rather similar game. It tells the same story from two one points of view, one tragic, the other comic, and goes even further by juxtaposing the drastically contrasting results instead of reserving an individual film for every mood. The challenge results in a perfect and enchanting jam of two types of films Allen has made before - intimate, sad, Bergman-inspired drama and neurotic romantic comedy. It?s the best Woody Allen in ages and it deserves universal acclaim. Word of mouth.

September 19.

Two unique gems were on offer on the restless second day of screenings in San Sebastian. The competition section presented an unlikely pretender in the form of the one-of-a-kind pop-porn film Nine Songs from the maverick British director Michael Winterbottom. It's been widely regarded as a shocking film in which a couple has sex, goes to some gig, then has sex, goes to some gig and so on. Such a plot summary, though not entirely unattractive, doesn?t do justice to a true cinematic challenge, a pure and perceptive depiction of these two people's lives. We are permitted see everything - the little, dumb words, the ridiculous dances, the dialogue of the eyes, and also, yes, the sex, in all its spiritual and carnal strength, all its life. We?re permitted to see everything invisible and visible. Everything. And when the end comes, the pain is almost unbearable.



San Sebastian's Zabaltegi section is reserved for discoveries from other festivals, and one of the highlights is a co-production from New Zealand and Great Britain, In My Father's Den. Writer-director Brad McGann's film was recently hailed at Toronto and it's easy to see why. It?s sweeping, liquid cinema, navigating back and forth in time with the fluidity of Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter, showing a great care for framing and creating a trance-like sense of hypnosis. And the story is not just an excuse for aesthetic exploration, but a dense, hot-blooded account of a group lives held as prisoners to the past - and eventually victims of it. Imagine Mystic River set in Twin Peaks and you're almost there. I didn't want the movie to come to an end. Emotional bliss.

September 21.

The latest surprise from Zabaltegi section has come in the form of an adult tale starring almost exclusively young girls. Lucile Hadzihalilovic's Innocence is not a perfect movie - it's even more pretentious than Mike Figgis's latest outings, and it's overlong, and derivative. But Hadzihalilovic's unusual film - apparently, she and agent provocateur Gaspar Noé are an item - arouses a sense of risk, even danger sadly missing in the vast majority of selections at the festival, and that's something to appreciate.

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