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Jury pres Jonathan Demme meets the Donostia press

A special showing out of competition on Thursday, Day Seven of the fest at the gloriously renovated Teatro Victoria Eugenia was Jonathan Demme's new film "Rachel Getting Married", starring beauteous limpid-eyed dark haired Ann Hathaway in an uncharacteristically less-than-glamorous role as a recovering dope addict, and a host of unknowns supporting her act. Mister Demme, director of such megahits as "Silence of the Lambs" and "Philadelphia" is also president of the jury here this year and met the press following the screening of his latest work.

At the conference Demme stated that he is tired of making mass produced fully scripted blockbusters for major studios and would now prefer to make smaller, more personal films for his own satisfaction. "Rachel" is of this nature and was intentionally made in the manner of an independent film for Sony Classics. Other than Ann Hathaway there are no big stars in the film although Deborah Winger (remember her) has a supporting role as the mother of the two hassling sisters who compose the central conflict of this family drama. This is a small budget opus with a nervous camera, few if any retakes, much improvisation on the part of the actors, and one basic location, a big house in suburban Connecticut. The film is based on a screenplay by first time scripter Jenny Lumet (daughter of famous director Sydney Lumet) and it was the story, says Demme, which attracted him to the project.

Hathaway, who gave Merryl Streep a run for her money in "The Devil Wears Prada", almost running off with the pic, here, counter to her now well-established glamorous fashion plate image, plays a pretty raunchy recovering drug addict, raising hell at a family reunion structured around her plain-Jane older sister's upcoming wedding to a nice bland black man. I personally found the over-obvious well-intentioned interraciality and new-Age mentality of the film (pseudo Hawaiian-Hindoo marriage rituals, etc.) terribly cloying, and could not help wondering what the late-great social gadfly comedian Lenny Bruce might have done with this material. However, Anne Hathaway's powerful gut-wrenching hard edge performance (let's face it -- even as a derelict she's not too hard on the eyes) is almost worth sitting through the rest of the bitter-sweet sticky saccharine proceedings.

Demme said he does not expect the picture to break any box office records, but he thinks there is an audience out there for this kind of intimist family drama, and he does expect it will at least break even on cost. He added that it was a great pleasure working with Ms. Hathaway whom he sees as a great new talent. Since this is Spain it was almost inevitable that he would be queried about working with Antonio Banderas in "Philadelphia". At the time, said Demme, he was surprised that the studio would ask an actor known primarily for macho action films to come all the way from Spain to work with him, but once the role of a gay lover was agreed to, everything with Banderas was smooth sailing. Working with Meryl Streep (who is due in tomorrow to receive her Donostia award) said Demme, was a different story. The actrice has such a furiously creative imagination that every time he would ask her to do a retake of a particular shot, she would do the new take in a totally different style -- but still in keeping with the character she was portraying! He said it was fascinating to watch her go through these incredible paces, but after a while he just had to say, "Okay, Merryl, we'll just use this one ..."

As for presiding over a jury, the director said that he has been on quite a few juries here and there, but since he is himself quite a film buff, getting to watch some fifteen films in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and then being able to discuss them each day with a panel of professionals, was a most satisfying experience. Considering that Jonathan Demme is at the top of the A-list of Hollywood directors, he comes off (unlike many of his professional colleagues) as basically modest, the kind of gentleman you could easily have a friendly chat with if you happened to sit next to him on a plane.

A major accessory event linked with the ongoing Japanese Film Noir series was the world premiere of a monumental French documentary on the Japanese Yakuza film genre, "Yakuza Eiga: Une Histoire Secrete du Cinema Japonais" by hot-shot Parisian based documentarist Yves Montmayeur. The film is fresh out of the can, so to speak, having been completed only days ago. The English title will be "The Yakuza Film; A Secret History of the Japanese Cinema". Montmayeur shot the live footage interviews on a very tight two-week schedule in Japan for TV-ARTE, but was denied access to many of the leading stars of the genre because the front office bosses to not want to have international attention drawn to the well-known connections in Japan between organized crime syndicates and the film companies themselves -- something like trying to pretend that Frank Sinatra was really a boy scout at heart, or that Alain Delon secretely wanted to be a priest -- yeh-yeh. In spite of these limitations, Montmayeur, making shrewd use of archival footage and open-access film clips from various sources, has managed to mount an exceedingly penetrating social history of the post-war Japanese gangster genres pointing out, among other things, the continuity of the Samurai tradition in the Japanese Gangster code, the breakdown of this tradition as the gangs became more and more like the western Mafia, the Robin-hood like aura associated with these gangs which attracted young people to the movie houses in droves making the films tremendously profitable, and finally the pre-empting of the genre by woman and the emergence of female gangster stars! An interview with Yves Montmayeur is scheduled and further details on the making this most unusual documentary will come a bit later.

Also screened thursday was an exceedingly rare silent film, "Hijosen no Onna" (Dragnet Girl)
1933, by master Japanese director Yasujiro Ozu. While Ozu later became famous for his quiet studies of Middle Class life in Japan after the war, this is his one of his few early sorties into the potboiler gangster genre popular at the time, and features a very early starring role by a 22 year old cigarette puffing Kinuyo Tanaka, the iconic actress who would later became famous as the perennial star of many of Grand Master Kenji Mizoguchi's best known films. The picture was ably accompanied, incidentally, on electronic piano with sly sonic references to Beethoven's seventh Symphony!

Alex, Donostia.


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