DONOSTIA ZINEMALDIA 2011

Right, let me tell you how I started attending San Sebastian Film Festival. It’ll be short, I promise. For me it started four years ago, two years after my family. My younger sister, Paula, started thanks to some friends of hers and then she sort of passed it on to us!

During the year, the organisation sends updates on movies taking part in the festival, new sections, awards, people attending, retrospectives, etc. Two weeks before the opening, the film schedule is published online so you can plan your own programme. It’s like juggling three or more balls: films, venues, hours. You don’t want your films to overlap, the venues to be far away from each other or to have so many films listed that you won’t have a moment to go to the loo, eat something or have a cigarette! Now comes the tricky part. The Sunday previous to the opening day tickets come out for online shopping and this is the jungle, every man for himself! I’ve been quite lucky and have managed to get tickets for the screenings I wanted. However, sometimes you have a change a complete day in order to watch that one film you’ve been longing to watch because it turns out the director/actor/writer is coming and, of course, you just have to see them!

Once you have purchased all your tickets you have to get to the city. As for accommodation (in our case a rented apartment), hotels, hostels and such types need to be booked very early, sometimes, two months in advance. So, get yourself to the beautiful San Sebastian and head to the Kursaal, one of the main venues of the festival and one of the most impressive sights of the city. Find a machine, swipe your card(s) and there you have all your tickets! Now, something you should know is that the organisation keeps a 15-20% of the tickets to be sold on the day of the screening. So, this is another chance to catch some film you forgot, some other someone told you is great or the sleeper of the festival.

The festival is totally integrated in the city. Everybody, and I mean everybody, lives it. Shops, bars, restaurants, people. Decorations in shop windows, exhibitions in museums, events in shops and such. Many people come to the city for the festival, but no only from the film industry; journalists, bloggers, cinema students, film fans, curious people, tourists. The atmosphere engulfs you and drifts you away from everything else. For example, when I am there for the festival the only newspaper I tend to read is the festival newspaper (free and available everyday in shops, festival venues, cinemas and some bars), written in Basque, Spanish and English. I forget there is a completely different world outside the city limits and I just go to the cinema, go for walks, pintxos, ice creams and sweet things and start all over again. I always discover new actors, directors, places, stories and people, above all people. It is frequent to see Hollywood stars buying fruit or having pintxos in the old part of the city or getting to the hotel by limo or sometimes even their own motorbike!!People wait for the film stars outside their hotels or the cinemas but once that is over, fans don’t crowd their idols and they can go out for walks and enjoy the city.

For me it is a wonderful experience every year, moving, enriching, exciting and sometimes, pricey but something I wouldn’t like to miss for the world.

 

Et maintenant on va oú? (Where do we go now?) directed by Lebanese film director Nadine Labaki, tells the story of a village where Lebanese Muslims and Christians live in community. This coexistence sometimes is peaceful and other times is not. We never know the name of this village that is connected to the world by means of a quite rudimentary bridge and where land mines were once planted but have not been removed. They do not even have a TV signal until some of the young villagers manage to set up a TV set for the whole town to watch at night. The people of the village are also religiously separated, the church and the mosque are separated by just one house. And, whereas they live happily most of the time, the men of the village tend to argue and sometimes get to the point of fighting. When these violent episodes start to take place, the women of the village decide it is time for them to act. Thus, they come up with plans and schemes so the men forget about violence and differences in religion. These schemes come to show the unwavering commitment of these women to protect their community from violence and religious war. The director, Nadine Labaki, is also the main character of the film and through whose eyes we see the action developing. She is alluring and, for me, a captivating presence on the screen. The music, composed by Nadine’s husband, is gorgeous and memorable. It has the capacity of turning beautiful moments into unforgettable ones. This is Labaki’s second film as a director. Caramel (2007) also took part in San Sebastian Film Festival and won three awards on that occasion.

 

Take This Waltz directed by Sarah Polley is the story of Margot (a sweet Michelle Williams) who is married to Lou (a fantastic Seth Rogen), a cookbook writer. They have a comfortable marriage when suddenly Margot meets Daniel (Luke Kirby), a neighbour from across the street, and sparks fly. She is looking for some affection from this guy as well as some kind of excitement in her everyday life. The chemistry between them is revealed through some racy scenes and other tender moments. So, she is torn between her loving and nerdish husband and the sexy neighbour that excites her and shows her a peek of the unknown. I found Margot and Lou quite believable but Daniel lacked some emotion sometimes. Michelle Williams gives a wonderful performance of a woman who does not know what she wants and does not want to hurt people in the process of getting it. She shows very well a reluctance to fall in love with Daniel; it does not matter what she does or thinks, eventually she falls in love with him. I think the film portrays very well the lack determination and decisiveness in Margot and how what she does affects everybody around her and not only her husband, even though that was not what she wanted.

 

 Shame (Steve McQueen). Right, the word shame can have different meanings. For example, it could be disgrace or embarrassment, displeasure or even sorrow and regret. Taking all of these meanings into account, when one finishes watching Shame, they could choose their own meaning of the word. The film shows the life of Brandon (Michael Fassbender), a thirty something-year-old man living in New York. He has difficulty managing his sex life; he likes sex, he likes dirty sex, he even pays for it. Out of the blue, his sister Sissy (Carey Mulligan) moves into his apartment and into his life. Their relationship does not seem very brotherly, him being distant and cold and Sissy carefree and sometimes careless. Brandon’s life gets out of control in both personal and professional aspects. From my point of view, I think there is something hidden, unknown for the audience in the relationship between Brandon and Sissy; something that greatly affects Brandon and makes him behave the way he does. I have to admit that my opinion is quite divided. On the one hand, the story, although sombre and saddening, does not help me find out why the title of shame. Is it disgrace, displeasure or regret? Maybe all of them at the same time? Perhaps I have to choose as I suggested? I don’t know. On the other hand, Michael Fassbender gives a poignant, intense performance, sometimes perturbing. His eyes and the way he looks at people are distressing at times. He manages to go from sexy, interesting, professional and caring to bitter, troubled, miserable and remorseful. His performance here is awesome, it literally left me in awe, speechless.

 

Neil Young Journeys (Jonathan Demme) follows Neil Young in May early this year while touring in Toronto’s Massey Hall. Just like that Demme completes a documentary trilogy that started in 2006 with Neil Young: Heart of Gold and later in 2009 followed Neil Young Trunk Show. Young played two nights in this iconic venue and Demme captured these moments. He combines songs from the concert and excerpts from a sort of a road trip with Neil Young in a gorgeous 1956 Ford Crown Victoria through the rural town of Omemee, where the singer and composer spent some of his younger years. We can hear Neil telling anecdotes about people in the village, about his childhood, reminiscing about the past. The songs in the film belong to the album “Le Noise” but we could also hear some classics like “Ohio” and “I Believe in You”. On stage there was an acoustic and an electric guitar along with a keyboard. It was a great way of spending an afternoon and of starting to know Neil Young. When you see Neil driving that beauty and just telling stories, you feel like you have always known him somehow. He looks like an honest guy, someone you would like to have a drink with, someone who has lived a lot.

 

Albert Nobbs (Rodrigo García). Glenn Close plays this butler in 19th century Ireland who works in one of the best hotels of Dublin. One day, Albert meets Hubert Page (fantastic Janet McTeer), a painter temporarily working at the hotel who shows her there is a way of escaping the lie she has been living. Albert Nobbs is actually a woman disguised for years as a man. She walks like a man, talks like a man and dresses like one too. The hotel hosts different people and different stories take place there. For me, Albert’s story is a story of self-discovery and loving yourself. There are many other stories in this film, the most important of them being the one with one of the maids of the hotel and the handyman (played by Mia Wasikowska and Aaron Johnson). It reminded me of those old English films with many stories to be told, shot in a charming and cosy place. It was sweet, tender and funny at moments, warm and suddenly sad.

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