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October 12, 2001 2:00 AM
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FESTIVALS: San Sebastian Strong on Spanish, Short on Fanfare

FESTIVALS: San Sebastian Strong on Spanish, Short on Fanfare

by Damon Wise




(indieWIRE/ 10.12.01) -- The San Sebastian Film Festival has it tough, following so hard on the heels of Venice and Toronto. Vying for premieres in the most crowded four weeks of the festival calendar, San Sebastian has often opted to avoid direct competition with its main rivals by programming impressive sidebars and retrospectives to create a deceptively rich and busy festival. For this reason, movie stars in particular are deliberately courted by the festival, and many are drawn to its beautiful seafront setting.


Sadly, the sickening terrorist attack on Manhattan marred this year's efforts with the brute suddenness of a sharp punch to the stomach. Following the likes of Julie Andrews, Warren Beatty and Glenn Close, who all sent heartfelt messages of apology, many of the American invitees reluctantly cancelled their flights, shifting the focus to an underwhelming lineup of movies that seemed to decline in quality while the festival fought gamely to regain its energy.


Without support from Close and co-star Dermot Mulroney, Rose Troche's "The Safety Of Objects" seemed strangely vulnerable in its opening slot. A multi-stranded tale of dysfunction in suburbia, uniting several families in a fragmented storyline reminiscent of Rodrigo Marquez's underrated "Things You Can Tell Just By Looking At Her," Troche's film split critic. But though it's too long, and definitely too self-conscious in its complexity, Troche's film is a warm, sophisticated piece of filmmaking that sits well within production company Killer Films' remit. Turning her back on the aggressively gay-themed films expected of her (after "Go Fish"), Troche has created an equally subversive film that objectifies heterosexuality with the same detached curiosity with which the straight world views the gay world. A subtle reading, perhaps, but then this was a festival where such subtleties mattered.


Once up and running, the festival was a daunting creature to keep up with. Aside from the main competition, there was the "Zabaltegi," the parallel Official Selection, and "Made In Spanish," an exhausting lineup of Spanish-language films drawn from the whole Latin globe. Finally, the two retrospectives -- one devoted to Frank Borzage and the other ("Sucedio Ayer" or "It Happened Yesterday") looking back through facts and fictions of the 20th Century -- were sufficiently strong to lure crowds away from the official selections.


Looking back, there were few standouts in the competition, although the press nevertheless booed when jury head Claude Chabrol awarded the Golden Shell for best film to Orlando Lubbert's "Taxi Para Tres" ("Taxi For Three"). A deft Chilean black comedy about a cab driver who is reluctantly recruited by two robbers on a spree, Lubbert's film was badly received by local critics who unexpectedly cheered the special prize awarded Jos&etilde; Luis Guerin's much more audacious "En Construccion." Some two years in the making, this quirky, verit

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