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A heavy duty basque at San Sebastian

Wednesday was Basque Cinema Day and one of the important films which surfaced was a Spanish language film directed by a Basque director and set in the Basque country in and around San Sebastian-Donostia. The name of the picture is "La Casa de mi Padre" (My father´s house) and the subject matter is the tension between families and members of the same family in this part of the world due to ETA terrorism. The picture is beautifully shot in rich color and features some of Spain´s top actors, though lesser known in the west. (Carmen Gomez, Emma Suarez, and popular young star Juan Jose Ballesta). The young director, Gorka Merchán, born 1976, is a Basque native of Donostia-San Sebastian, and this is his second feature. The story line is about a successful Basque business man, Txomin Garay, who was once a star Jai-lai (pelota) player, but left for Argentina ten years earlier with his wife and young daughter when the ETA Troubles began getting too threatening. He now returns for a tentative visit to the prosperous family homestead where his estranged brother is about to die and his aged mother still lives. His wife, Emma Suarez, a good looking middle-aged woman, has her doubts about returning to this native danger zone, especially since her husband is regarded as a traitor to the Independence cause by many in the surronding town. Moreover, Txomin's young nephew, a rising jai-alai ace, ("Juanjo" Ballesta who has a kind of pugnacios Leonardo Dicaprio aura and charm) is also a dedicated member of the local ETA cell and is extremrely hostile to his uncle, warning him that it's not safe for him to hang around. However, the hostile youth falls in love with uncle Txomin´s daughter, now a 17 year old Penelope Cruz look-alike, and she with him. Love at first sight.
In a effort to win over the affection of the alienated nephew, the uncle starts giving him Pelota lessons and gradually gains his grudging good will. However the inevitable will finally happen. The father´s friend, a conservative journalist, is shot dead on the street in broad daylight, and finally, the father as well. While there are no surprises in this picture it is a carefully constructed romantic political drama, with great detailing of middle class life in the Basque country and engaging, very engaging --performances, all around. Juano Ballestos won a best actor award at Valladolid a few years ago while still in his teens, for his gripping portrayal of a Sevilla gang member, and looks to me like the next really big Spanish star -- much more talented than, say, Banderas, and more like an Andalusian James Dean. The film itself can be seen as a major contribution to the growing canon of national terrorism films (think Ireland, for example) as opposed to international Islamic terrorrism which is a different kettle of fish.

The Basque reception at the Hotel Maria Cristina in the evening was one of the major social events of the week and many prizes were distributed to various Basque personalities including one to elderly old Basque actress Maribi Bilbao, who is still sprightly and active, and extremely popular from a recent long running comedy TV series.


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