Film Scouts Diaries

1995 San Sebastian Film Festival Diaries
Film Scouts on a Sea of Sangria IV

by Karen Jaehne

San Sebastian, Sept. 24

SANGRIA SOAKED, THE MORNING AFTER you cross the finishing line of a festival, you look back at its shape and size and moments and stars and judge it against others. San Sebastian had flare.

The festival was well-balanced and respected its primary mandate: to provide a forum for Spanish-speaking films and filmmakers from all over the world. It was not surprising to hear Gregory Nava, fresh in from Hollywood to show his MY FAMILY, tells the San Sebastian crowd, "The future of the United States is in Spanish!" For Gregory Nava is here precisely because he represents a filmmaker with the power to use the Hollywood apparatus to tell Hispanic stories.

Nevertheless, contrary to Gringo intent, Robert Rodriguez' DESPERADO is seen here not as authentic Hispanic tradition, but rather Hollywood kitsch. The desperado is to the Hispanics what the vampire is to the Balkans--somebody else's fantasy imposed on your reality. Still, DESPERADO was not shunned. Nor was the indeterminate nationality of A WALK IN THE CLOUDS (which belies its Hispanic story for the sake of international co-production actors). It offered a way of congratulating Alfonoso Arau for his overwhelming success with LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE. They even invited A LITTLE PRINCESS to do honor to its Spanish-speaking director, Alfono Cuaron. It would seem that 1995 was a year like no other for Hollywood Hispanica.

But don't get the idea there's only Spanish-speaking fare. No, international films are available from India to Norway. In fact, a German film managed to achieve the Superior Silliness Award by circulating the following back-handed blurb: "The director is able to combine external emptiness with internal emptiness to achieve a unified whole...." (Mr. Jenkins skipped the cinema of holiness.)

Festivals are programmed according to something I call the ZOO THEORY: One of each. After 15 years of fests, you get the hang of it. Thus, San Sebastian had:

a big epic in BRAVEHEART;
a Laura Ashley movie (not Merchant-Ivory) in CARRINGTON;
a mega-star vehicle in BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY;
a midnight screening of erotica in LA PASION TURCA (Turkish Passion);
a gay and lesbian film - one of each!
TOTAL ECLIPSE with Rimbaud getting kinky with Verlaine, and GAZON MAUDIT or MY WIFE HAS GOT A GIRLFRIEND with Victoria Abril getting it on with the French actress/director Josianne Belasco;
and a bit of political controversy by showing:
PRIEST --but the Catholics didn't raise an eyebrow, and KIDS --folks nodded and said, "What do you expect in a country with no religion?"

Little thrills courted us to love Spain and Spanish: a documentary by the great Carlos Saura called FLAMENCO and full of just that. And a screening of Tomas Guttierez Alea's film shot in Cuba since " or "Chocolate" or GUANTANAMERA. It's weaker, but any cineaste worth his aste wants to see Alea's encore, especially since it's a road movie running the length of contemporary Cuba and starring the same actors.

It's odd how a theme will emerge from a festival and in San Sebastian '95 it was alcoholism. Alcoholism ran through these movies like murders through film noir. Victoria Abril had a serious drinking problem, Almodovar's heroine was doing a bad job trying not to drink, Margaret of the Museum came from a whole family of drunks, DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS follows Denzel Washington through some of the best watering holes in southeast L.A., and Agnieska Holland's TOTAL ECLIPSE is about the poets who turned drinking into an art form--Verlaine and Rimbaud. You don't want to know the rest, do you?

And there should be one party that makes you think these people know the meaning of the word ENTERTAINMENT. This year, that event was a sit-down,five-course dinner in a Big Band-style nightclub created for the event with a big band and hosted by the Rupert Murdoch of Spain, JESUS POLANCO, and Canal Plus. We were serenaded by the beautiful and talented singer Luz Casal. And as we entered, a lovely aerialist swung from the ceiling of the tent doing things that made any lapse in small-talk quite permissible. It began at midnight and ended at dawn. We gasped when they gave us our little remembrance tokens for the evening--silver cigarette cases and/or silver flasks. Emma Thompson and Catherine Deneuve both glowed like the trophies the festival had offered San Sebastian. The only thing we didn't get was a bullfight! But enough critics were there to provide the bull....

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