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San Sebastian: live from the fest closing week end

Friday's competition program opened with “BOMBON, The Dog”, an Argentine film by Carlos Sorín who won a jury prize here two years ago with “Minimal stories”. This director works characteristically with non-professional actors who appear in his films under their real names. “Bom-Bon” is the name of a docile white mastiff who shares the lead with a gentle man from Patagonia by the name of Juan Villegas. Juan, after losing his job in a remote desert gas station, held for twenty years, acquires this unusual dog (a white mastiff called "dogo", native to Argentina) whereupon he decides to become a dog aiser and “expositor” – he will prepare his canine protégés for dog shows, but, at the moment his only rep is his close friend Bombon the "dogo". This rare reed is highly sought after for stud services in the outlying southern provinces of the country. One problem: Bombon is a virgin and doesn’t know what to do when enclosed with a female in heat. Following a most amusing insemination fiasco, he finally escapes from his kennel and learns the fine art of stud service on his own with a lovely black bitch in a brickyard. This is a gentle, beautiful film, set in a region of Argentina similar to the more arid parts of the american Southwest, and is a welcome change from the violence misery and cruelty that has contaminated all other Latino entries I have seen so far. “Bombon” will undoubtedly score big on the festival circuit and will, hopefully, find commercial outlets as well.

Next on the agenda today was "Turtles Can Fly", an extremely powerful film by Kurdish-Iranian director Bahman Ghobadi. The titles is a bit misleading because, though a turtle does appear for about two seconds near the end, the subject is the abject misery of pitiful war orphans, Kurdish Children, some of them badly mutilated, in a squalid tent camp on the Turkish border where they are fleeing from Sadam's persecution on the eve of the American Invasion. The running time is only 95 minutes but it felt more like 95 hours watching the unbearable suffering and incredible resilience of these beautiful kids, growing up much too fast as victims of war in a situation where death is the common denominator and survival all that really matters.
The central figure is called "Kak Satelite" because he is a provider of satelite TV sets and acts as a part time interpreter of CNN for the adults,
although his English is so limited that his interpretations are mostly imagination. "The Americans are coming any day" is a message of hope he
repeats over and over again, but the whole area is sewn with minefields and
sudden death lurks at every turn. One of the kids is armless but fights
with his head to protect his little sister who is, incidentally, an incredibly beautiful child of eleven with the face of a mature movie star, and has already been raped by marauding Iraqi soldiers. The Americans finally arrive, but whether this will only bring more death, destruction and misery is a very moot question. The film is beautifully shot and these kids are definitely not pofessional thespìans but are rather living out their reality before the cameras. Ghobadi, who is a master at handling kids, gave them a few basic ideas and told them to run with it. The story they "made up" is composed of such grim realities that it is almost too disconcerting to sit through, while at the same time brilliantly engaging. If this one doesn't take the big prize tomorrow, I for one, will be very much surprised.

Though expectations were high for the two out-of-competition Hollywood specials, "Silver City", the latest John Sayles indictment of political corruption in high places, and "Hole in the Floor" a slick melodrama starring Bridges and Bassinger, both turned out to be big disappointments.
The Sayles piece, while loaded with brilliant actors such as Chris Cooper in
the role of a most amusing Puppetlike GW Bush figure, Richard Dreyfuss as a
terminally sleazy campaign manager, Darryl Hannah and Kris Kristoffersen in smaller but incisive byplayer roles -- the picture itself falls apart under the weight of too much script and not enough cohesiveness. Are we supposed to be more appalled the heartless megabuck developers manipulating the media to get the right puppet in office, the life threateening working conditions in exloding mine shafts (explosions of water no less), the dumping of hazardous nuclear waste, or all the dead fish in the lake at the end -- or what? And that mysterious corpse fished out of the lake at the beginning -- does it actually relate to the political messages we are supposed to be receiving, or is it merely an excuse to give listless, wimpish, "private investigator" Danny Huston something to investigate, as he is, after all, basically the main character... For me the only truly sparkling sequence in the film was a cameo by a certain actor by the name of "Ferrer" who is a no-nonsense call-in radio host and the spitting image of José Ferrer, one of the most unforgettable Hollywood character actors of the 50s (Cyrano De Bergerac, Toulouse Lautrec, the Turkish officer who rapes pretty boy Peter O'Toole in "Lawrence of Arabia“) -- eeeerie resemblance in both face and voice, the only difference no hair on top ... Good reason, this is his son Miguel!

In "The Door in the Floor", Bridges is a writer and illustrator of childrens' stories and the filandering husband of Kim Bassinger. They live in style on outer Long Island but the marriage is into a trial seperation after the death of both their teenage sons in a crash which occurred before the film began. We will find out that indirectly, daddy Bridges was sort of responsible for the accident and when a bashful, virginal college student (also a budding writer) comes to live in and help out for a while, Kim is so -- er -- flattered, to find him beating his meat over her undies, that she decides to introduce him to the real thing -- big Time! Their surviving child, little Ruthie, four, is another one of these amazingly beautiful children, a kind of Charlize Theron in miniature (where do they find these kids!), but she keeps having bad dreams and upsetting everybody's applecart. This is another film which, in spite of top drawer production values, suffers from overscripting and fumble-jumble -- trying to say too much in its given time, and I guess, just plain flimsy direction. What else when you've got such good actors to work with? In any case, a soppy, sloppy disappointment, although there are some redeeming sex scenes and one hilarious chase sequence -- Bridges pursued with mayhem on her mind by one of his beefy nude models with a wicked looking meat cleaver after he humiliates her once too often. Definitely dis-recommended except for Bassinger fans, because she is xlnt as usual, all the way, in what is otherwise a limper that can´t decide whether it's a comedy or a tearjerker, or both, or neither. The Spanish title is "Una Mujer Dificil" = "a difficult woman" , which is very misleading because there's nothing difficult about Bassinger, it's just everything else that's hard to swallow.

The fourth and final film of the day was "House of Flying Daggers", by Zhang Yimou... a phantasmagorical costume drama and martial arts love story beautiful to look at but devoid of any sense after the absolutely dazzling first half hour. Zhang, who started out as a cameraman then turned director, has been the leading light of the Mainland China cinema for nearly twenty years with countless internationaally acclaimed films, many on the verge of inacceptability by the Communist censors (Raise the Red Lantern, Yellow Sorghum, etc.) but has of late become not only respectable, but big box-office mainstream as well. This one, too much in the tradition of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" and starring the same porcelain complexioned leading lady (Michelle Yeoh), starts out with an extended double dance sequence as dazzling and colorful as the best of Bollywood, then segues into a star-crossed lovers love story with endless flying weaponry battles in glorious magic bamboo forests which put one somewhat in the mind of Quarantino's "Kill Bill, II". Some of the acrobatic swordplay and whiz-bang archery is so exciting and clever that it actually aroused mid-stream applause for particularly bravura sequences, which is MOST unusual at a press screening of jaded professionals. However, this is San Sebastian and even the press is hanging looser than usual. Unfortunately, the martial arts shenanigans and camera wizardry went on and on, so far beyond the point of overkil,l that the end credits were greeted with only weak and scattered clip claps, the dazed gathering obviously exhausted and drained of all further energy. This is a film not to miss the first third of -- -- and then take a powder.

Getaway Day, Sat. September 25

At the „Hole in the Floor“ press conference on Saturday morning attended by director Tod Williams and star Jeff Bridges, some of the ambiguities of the film -- notably, the guilt feelings which provoke the breakdown of the marriage -- were explained away with an explanation by the young director (this is only his second film) that this is exactly what he was going after – ambiguity. -- (“I don’t like films that give you all the answers“) -- a motion which was seconded by actor Bridges. Sounds good on paper but does not change the fact that the flick was very flip-floppy and unsteady on its feet. Jeff, in ultra long hair tied in a bun and full scruffy beard in preparation for an upcoming new film, was his usual cordial, easy going, smiling self, but the sparseness of the press turnout and absence of any
penetrating questions obviously reflected the general lack of interest in
the film, which has in fact been chosen for the prestigious closing slot
gala tonight.

Mr. Bridges was the third Hollywood celebrity to be honored this week with a Lifetime Donostia award, attesting to the high drawing power of this primo A-class festival. The other two, as mentioned earlier, were Annette Benning and Woody Allen. Allen was also accorded the additional honor of a full retrospective of his works, extremely well attended by the Donastian ticket buying public. The overall program was literally jam-packed with bustling sidebars including a section entitled „Politically Incorrect“ with such enticing titles as John Waters mother of all bad-taste films, “Pink Flamingos“, Pasolini’s „Sodom and Gommorah“, „Alex Cox’s „Sid and Nancy“ and „Happiness“, Tod Solanz´s outrageous tale of homosexual child abuse in the bourgeois suburbs, plus „Dick“, a short film on women’s attitudes to the male appendage – 34 titialating titles in all. Another fascinating sidebar was a full retrospective of the oeuvre of Hollywood old-timer Anthony Mann, who
specialized in films noir and off-beat westerns. Even hard-to-please VARIETY
described this 52nd edition of the festival with the ords.“Pic debuts and
market power signal strongest fest in years“ ... and so the balcony is closed on „DONASTIA NAZIOARTEKO ZINEMALDIA, 2004. Hope to see y’all next year in this marvelous, user friendly beautiful Basque city on the Bay of Biscay.

Alex Deleon, San Sebastian (Donostia),
Saturday. September, 25, 2004

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