As weekend one of the Sitges Film Fest started on a bank holiday, there was a lot more action the following morning after my hours-long binge on the creep fest from day one. Saturday, bleary-eyed and completely sleep-deprived, I made my way to the morning premiere of Blind Sun, a narrative look at the problematic control of the general institution of society, identity, and hidden yet rampant racism. And all of this against the backdrop of a miserable heatwave and a, let’s say, passionate Greek couple. This film (leave it to the French though the film also obviously had Greek backing and the director is from Beirut), not only reaches into the human element of things, it forces us to dig within and delve into empathy because, on a larger scale, it’s also talking about what is happening in our world right now. Absolutely stunning and its director Joyce A Nashawati is most certainly going places.
Argentinian director Gaspar Noe has never been one to shy away from things usually held as taboo and even pornographic, as evidenced with previous efforts like Irreversible and 2009’s mind-trip Enter the Void. This festival year, he comes armed with Love …in 3D. The film is an explicit look into the life of a film student and his ex whom he dated for a hot minute before he seemingly (accidentally) got another woman pregnant and the whole relationship fell flat. The sex scenes border on raunch and harken back to those directed by Michael Winterbottom in 9 Songs, for example. As the protagonist Murphy recounts his debaucherous life with his then ex (after a frantic call from her mother), we the viewer are given a peek into hedonism, Goe-style. More of a film for indoors alone…and perhaps nude. Moving on.
And now for something completely different....
There was a plethora of premieres being touted the first weekend. Everywhere one walked, he/she were confronted with throngs of people and queues the size of Texas. I found it rather easy to bypass the lines by marching to the front of line and then loudly whispering the 'F' word whilst pretending to be looking for my mate/spouse/what have you. Most people are too caught up in vapid conversations or impatient pacing that they don't even notice. Try it some time but please be stealthy and look smart doing it.
Next up that Saturday afternoon was Alena, a Swedish picture that had a nice premiere with its cast of characters onstage to introduce the film, and as soon as the started, a presence all too familiar crept up like a sore throat. I felt like I was watching a reinterpretation of King's Carrie...one much better than the last useless remake from last year. Alena is a lower class teenager who, after the suicide-death of her best friend, has been moved to an exclusive all girls' preparatory school, a somewhat exclusive and rather lacrosse-driven one at that. Without giving too much away, mix the bullying of Carrie, the experimental lesbianism of...well...a somewhat reality, and a dash of mistaken psychological identities and you get Alena, a truly decent haunting, high school tale.
I then made my way to The Retiro theatre and pulled my frustrated, New Yorker act again and peeled my way to the front. Brother doesn't do queues. Punto! The film The Brand New Testament was a comical piece of ingenuity that once again came from France by Jaco Van Dormael. Not only did it give the same all-too-know in the style of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Delicatessen, but the light-hearted portrayal given by protagonist Ea (Pili Groyne), a brilliant, little ten year old, is pure brilliance, especially considering the fact that she discovers that her father may indeed be God! Never one to sway away from fantasy mixed with certain real elements, Dormael has nailed this new version of modern man on the head, and when this is widely distributed, I will most certainly pimp this fine piece of comedic art cinema to the masses on my critic's blog here at Metropolitan BCN, A Bitter Life Through Cinema. The film breathed new life into the big award players at the festival.
Another beautiful facet of film fests is the new talent and directors that are amassed in one small area. Discovering new talent is exactly one of the primary reasons to be here or at any film festival, for that matter and yours truly just happened to have access to some decent moments due to that. Saturday night premieres also included the red carpet intro of Vulcania by Argentinian director Jose Skaf, a young yet long-time creator of film shorts. This being his first major motion picture just happened to coincide with the rewarding of the Sitges Grand Honor Award to Oliver Stone for his lifetime achievement, which took place just before the lights went down to screen Vulcania. Stone was gracious and smooth, said a grateful piece of his life and times he’s been to Sitges and then the lights went down. Simple and sweet.
The story gives the viewer an element of Shyamalan’s The Village and a nice dose of claustrophobia. In a small, withdrawn community, a group of townspeople are led by a strong-willed ruler and it soon becomes clear that nothing is what it seems. The acting by Miquel Fernandez (next to be seen in Marc Forster’s All I See is You opposite Blake Lively) is haunting. Fernandez has this gaze that is at once captivating, inviting and yet terrifying. Female lead Aura Garrido also gives an air of fear to us the viewer when it comes very obvious that it’s time to leave their 'safety net.' The film, though a bit slow, shows excellent promise for its director and two main actors and we’re sure to see more of them soon!
The Gift is the latest big-screen effort of Jason Bateman and Rebecca Hall. When couple Simon and Robin move to suburban L.A. from Chicago, everything seems hunky dory and life without children has never been easier. Enter in an old alum from high school, Gordo (played with creepy aplomb by actor/first-time director Joel Edgerton,) that they meet whilst shopping for home supplies and an unending barrage of weirdness ensues. The film itself is a testament to grit and human nature, and again gives a cinematic touch to the topic of bullying. It’s incredible how this issue which has long plagued societal norms is now getting so much attention on the big screen. Bateman gives a performance of an ego-laden everyman, but he plays it to such gusto that it’s hard NOT to think he may be a bit like that in real life. Always nice to see comedic actors stretching their legs a bit. Another creepy hit!
Lastly for the long holiday weekend’s big budget screening came infamous Eli Roth’s latest romp called Knock Knock. In it, we see Keanu Reeves playing a somewhat tame version of the actor he's come to portray in so many movies over the years. Frankly, it seemed as if his star was fading fast but if luck has anything to do with it, the tides may be turning in his favour. The film plot is simple: happy family man says bye to his wife and kids who are going away for the weekend on a nature adventure while he stays home to finish a project. THAT in itself already sounds fishy, but it's easily played off by Reeves, which might be most surprising than the craziness that ensues when the two gorgeous antagonists arrive, wet and messy, during a heavy rainstorm. What Roth excels at is making an audience feel for the characters, even if the feeling is sometimes that they get what they deserve. My personal feelings about the handsome director aside, this is fun thriller-making and probably the best thing he's done since Hostel.
Those are just a tad of the major releases being screened last weekend and early start of week. Because then the post-Pilar work week began and Tuesday's child was hardly full of grace as he came back to BCN visually-stimulated and eyesore. Next up, comes this week's new releases with some big stars. I'll be reporting from between the screens, red carpets and even from BCN. We'll also take a look at some great foreign flicks coming up, some documentaries and the fantastic macabre shorts that only Sitges Film Festival can offer in its lulling way!