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DISPATCH FROM SPAIN: Star-studded San Sebastian is lean on discoveries

DISPATCH FROM SPAIN: Star-studded San Sebastian is lean on discoveries

As the 56th edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival in the north of Spain came to a close, French comedy “Louise Michel,” a third feature by Benoit Delepine and Gustave Kervern, the comic duo behind “Avida” (2006), captured much of the buzz here. Produced by Matthieu Kassowitz, “Louise Michel” is roughly a crazy assassination plot in an absurdist (and actually cross-dressing) comedy about working class mishaps.

In the film, a group of recently laid off women hire a hitman to take revenge on their previous employer. There’s a lot of miles to go, as the story revolves around three mishandled assissination attempts. The film is somewhat less hilarious than the duo’s directorial debut, “Aaltra” (2004, played Rotterdam, Telluride, and Chicago), yet isn’t short of humor either: the audience howled with laughter at certain points. Structurally speaking, the film isn’t much more refined than a series of loosely connected comic skits. In this anarchistic comedy, ripe with black humor, the ingredients are stupidity, awkward behavior and the built-in absurdity of society. The ground rules are for the gags are: the crazier, the merrier.

“Of course we were greatly inspired by Kaurismaki and Roy Andersson. In an imaginary country, at an imaginary festival that we are actually doing on a French channel, we always give prizes to them. But they are too constructed, way too scripted for us. We always leave space for improvisation, for the moment and the place to influence the scene,” the directors told indieWIRE. One such example concerns the ailing old man who is hired to carry out the killing. He wears that cone device that dogs have around their neck so that they won’t pick on or bite a wound. “The actor in [that] case was so bad, we didn’t know what to do with him. We called up the emergency vets, and asked for a piece like that to cover his face. It turned out, the only one they had in store, was for a giraffe! So we got that, put it on, and then he was able to deliver the lines without disturbing the movie by his lousy acting.”

Characteristically, Delepine and Kervern showed up at their press conference with a big, nasty piece of ‘jamon,’ (Spanish for ‘ham’) humorously offering it to the journalist who asked the most interesting question. (No word on whether it was awarded to any of them.)

Cannes comes to San Sebastian

Cannes chief Gilles Jacob traveled to the seaside resort town to accept an award at the fest. His half-hour short film, a nostalgic reflection on the favorite movie moments of his life with autobiographical intertitles, however, was whistled out by some at the press screening. The “Louise Michel” duo took a jab at Jacob while at the same time crediting him for getting them to San Sebastian: “Cannes turned us down. They’re always looking for the next nouvelle vague piece and have the notion that a comedy necesssarily devalues their festival,” Delepine criticized.

Local films fared less well in the competition. Jaime Rosales‘s Basque terrorist drama, “The Bullet in the Head,” the most anticipated movie of the festival, turned off many by the almost wordless treatment of its subject. The other Spanish competition entry, “Camino,” with its 140 minute length already had a self-important air about it. A shamelessly sappy melodrama about a dying teenage girl who falls in love, goes way over the top with its zealously religious tone (and characters) – so much so, that not even the occasional witty tidbits and sparkling fragments of dialogue can balance it off.

Jonathan Demme‘s second take on his eternal musician hero in “Neil Young The Trunk Show” also sports a second monogram, “Scenes from a Concert.” No contrived premise involved with this film, the audience simply engaged with the spirit of the performance instantly with plenty of applause and whistling after songs.

The Oscar-winner Jonathan Demme enjoyed ethusiastic audience reaction throughout the week whenever he appeared in public. He was also hailed here two years ago when he presented “Neil Young: The Heart of Gold.” “I first heard his music in the late ’60s. His songs so very often are about what someone of his age is thinking about in the process of getting older. And because I’m exactly his age, these songs always had a very strong resonance for me,” commented Demme when explaining what motivaed him to take up the Neil Young topic once again.

Fassbender talks shop

“Instead of auditions now I go to lunches. Everyone takes me out and wants a piece of what they perceive to be the ‘Michael Fassbender Product’ that could make money in the next year. That’s what they hear. That’s pretty cool, having that power,” the sexy and mischievously smiley Irish actor told indieWIRE while sipping a bloody mary which was to serve as his real wake-up call at 11am, having just gotten out of bed just 10 minutes before.

In my estimation, his work in “Hunger” is definitely Oscar-worthy, as is Mickey Rourke‘s in “The Wrestler” – my two great bets for the male category (mark my words!). When asked about the start of the awards season, Fassbender appeared far removed from that area of speculation. “That needs madness to think of it. I just wanna ride the wave till I’m on,” said Fassbender. On Wednesday he left San Sebastian to start rehearsals with Quentin Tarantino for “Inglorious Bastards,” with an Oct. 13 shooting date looming. He was more than willing to spread advance word on the project, despite the fact, that actor Daniel Bruehl was not even allowed to confirm to me whether he signed on during a conversation earlier this month in Toronto. “It’s pretty much Quentin Tarantino style, the dialogue, that rapid sort of response,” Fassbender explained. “I play Lieutenant Hiccox, an English guy who is posing as a German soldier.” Does he get killed? “I can’t tell you that!”

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