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Moreau Presides at 54th San Sebastián Fest

“Help Wanted: Mature, well-known movie actresses to preside over juries at major film festivals. Temporary work, well paid, five-star hotel accommodations with many extras and fringe benefits. French or English speaking preferred. Under sixty need not apply”.

While I did not actually see this ad anywhere except in my mind’s eye, this seems to be the year in which such a theoretical ad might have been circulated in the cinema “trade papers”.. With legendary French actress Jeanne Moreau here to preside over the current festival jury, that makes it three-out-of-four in 2006 as far as top film festival juries being presided over by French speaking top movie stars are concerned. The others were Berlin in January, where French-speaking British actress Charlotte Rampling ruled over the judgement roost, and Venice, earlier this very month, where Catherine Deneuve cut a high profile figure during her eight day jury-duty stint on the Lido. Of the Big Four euro film festivals this year, only Cannes did not have a jury president who might have been responding to the imaginary help-wanted ad above. So much for peculiar statistics.

To get down to the business of just what sort of films the Moreau led jury will be deliberating over, the “Official Selection” of the 64th Donostia competition line-up looks like this: …”Copying Beethoven” by famed Polish woman director Agnieszka Holland/ “The Tiger’s Tail• by John Boorman/ “Directoren for det Hele” (The Boss of it all) by the mournful dogmatic Dane, Lars von Trier – to cover the big names first. There are four Spanish entries, one each from Japan and Korea, “Forever” a whimsical documentary from Holland about the cult of the famous dead in Paris’s Pere Lachaise cemetery; “Border Post”, a Yugoslavian entry dealing with friction on the Albanian border in 1987, two French entries, one American “indie”, one from the UK, and two from former winners of San Sebastian awards in the very recent past. Carlos Sorin of Argentina was accorded the FIPRESCI best film prize in 2004 for his heart warming comedy about a simple man and his special dog, “Doggo”, while Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi won the Golden Concha, grand prix award the same year for his extremely powerful “Turtles Can Fly”, about life in a displaced persons camp on the Iraq-Iran border just as the current Iraq war was getting started. Both of these directors share a preference for working with non-professional actors and both of these films, first unveiled here in Donostia, travelled far and wide on the festival circuit during the past two years. I am personally most interested in seeing what the new works by this pair of unusual directors from vastly different parts of the world will look like and whether they will again pick up new acclamations.

Besides Mme. Moreau, a Nouvelle Vague fetish figure whose unforgettable films include such permanent landmarks as “Jules and Jim” (1962) and “Les Amants” (1958), another well known actor on this year’s official competition jury is Swiss-German Bruno Ganz who has worked with many top European directors and was most recently seen as Adolph Hitler in “The Downfall”. The composition of film juries – whether they are heavily laden with actors, directors, writers, or whatever, and from what countries – obviously has some effect on the way the prizes end up being doled out and would probably make an interesting doctoral dissertation on group psychopathology. (Can it be an accident that Cannes is noted for awarding putrid American films, but also for seating pulp-fiction minded Beetle-brows like Quentin Tarantino in their jury pews?).

In any case, in an opening statement to the press, festival director Mikel Olaciregi (on the job since 2001), made it clear that he was very pleased to have a personage of Jeanne Moreau’s immense stature in the film world sitting at the head of his jury. Moreover, he added, “with the intelligence and special experience that Jeanne brings to this jury we can expect to see some interesting results.” On the subject of big name movie stars invited to glamorize the scene Olaciregi said that (although we have had our share of them in the past…) the way things are these days, with so many festivals now competing for star power, and all kinds of big money floating around out there, San Sebastian cannot hope to compete with festivals like Berlin and Venice in this department. They have star budgets available to them that we simply do not, and it is impossible for us to meet the exorbitant—in some cases totally ridiculous -- demands that certain stars impose for the privilege of having them lend their presence to a festival.. For example, we were first in line to get the new Nicole Kidman picture “Fur”, (a biopic in which Kidman plays the part of the once famous photographer, Diane Arbus), however, her handlers demanded that we supply them with a private jet to fly her (and them) in from whatever point on the globe she happened to be in at the time – an offer we had to refuse, No thank you.. The new Rome film festival, however, in search of a glamorous personality to lend credence and cachet to their first time outing, was willing to fork up the ante. So they get the Kidmans while we have to focus more on the quality of the films we present and rely on the presence of lesser known filmmakers and performers who accompany their films to Donostia to drum up audience interest.

The opening gala itself had more musical numbers than usual and was MCd by the exceedingly popular Spanish actress, blonde Marisa Paredes (59), protagonist of several Almodovar films among many others, whose elegant figure in a red business suit with strings of pearls at the neck -- as she points a revolver straight at You – adorns this years official festival poster and festival tote-bag, succeeding Alfred Hitchcock who was the festival’s pictorial fetish last year. Jeanne Moreau (we won’t mention her age, but she was born in 1928) also made a most elegant impression on stage in a gossamer floor length white gown, where in spite of her rather diminutive form she seemed to soar up to the rafters. Jeanne is still quite a bundle of energy and looks less world-weary now than she did back in her glory days with Truffaut, Malle and Antonioni, when she came to symbolize the entire ennui of post-war Europe at the mid-point of the century just past.

As usual. this being after all Spain, the festival will be very strong in the area of presenting new Spanish language films from all over the world, and the “Zabaltegi” (open space) section, somewhat similar to Berlin”s Panaorama , is the one to watch for unheralded surprises. The opening night gala film, “Ghosts” by Brit Nick Broomfield, was quite well rreceived. This is a semi-documentary treatment of the lives and problems of a group of illegal Chinese immigrants to England, based on a true story. The principal characters are played by real formerillegal immigrants from China who draw on their own life experiences to give passionate and authentic performances. The issue of illegal immigration is currently a big issue and a major social problem in Spain with hordes of hungry African boat people surging in to the prosperous peninsula through the porous southern shorelines Immigration is very much on peoples’ minds here and is the topic of several other films in the festival.

The annual retrospective of important oldtime Hollywood directors, which has now become kind of a fixture at this festival, is devoted this year to one of the kings of thirties comedy, Ernst Lubitsch. Forty-eight titles going all the way back to Lubitsch’s silent period in Berlin (where he started out as an actor) and hitting all the high points from “Ninotchka” to “To Be or Not to Be”, via “Desire” (1936) which pits auto designer Gary Copper against jewel thief Marlene Dietrich in what, if it is not the funniest picture ever made, can still be physically dangerous, because when I saw it a couple of years ago in Berlin during a centenary Dietrich celebration, I was laughing so hard I was crying, and literally fell out of my seat at one point, ending up as a helpless heap of giggling-jiggling bones in the aisle. My colleague Laszlo Kriston of Budapest, Hungary’s foremost Old Hollywood flickophile, clued me in this morning as to the Lubitsch retro, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Laszlo doesn’t check in with 40 Lubitsches to his credit before the week is out – which would probably qualify him for the Donostia book of records!
By Alex Deleon, Donostia, Euskal Herria
(NOTE: Donostia is the Basque name of San Sebastian, Euskadi = “Land of the Basques”)

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