MADRID — New offerings from top auteurs and two awaited films by famed screenwriters mark the first announcement of films in competition at the 45th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival.

Event, which will as usual also boast some of the strongest films from the Spanish-speaking world ready by late September, is the third under sole director Diego Galan. During his tenure, the festival has consolidated as a launching pad into Spain’s vibrant theatrical film distribution market, beating rivals to an increasing number of big draws, such as the European preem this year of David Fincher’s “The Game,” which will close the fest Sept. 27. Opener on Sept. 18 is P.J. Hogan’s U.S. hit “My Best Friend’s Wedding.”

Comedy for the road

Another attraction will be Claude Chabrol’s “Rien ne va plus,” a comic road movie packing off stars Isabelle Huppert and Michel Serrault in a caravan that travels across France. Pic had been tipped for Venice.

“Rien ne va plus” will be vying for the fest’s competitive Golden Shell with Alan Rudolph’s comedy “Afterglow,” toplining Julie Christie and Nick Nolte, and “Mrs. Dalloway,” an adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s novel helmed by Marleen Gorris, whose “Antonia’s Line” won a foreign-language film Oscar.

San Sebastian will also unveil Mark Peploe’s long-awaited romantic adventure drama “Victory,” which received a preview at the Cannes market, plus “Firelight,” the first film directed by acclaimed scripter William Nicholson (“Shadowlands,” “Nell”).

The festival could just miss out on two of the big Spanish films of the year, Bigas Luna’s romancer “The Chambermaid on the Titanic” and Alex de la Iglesia’s Tex-Mex road movie “Perdita Durango,” both of which are currently due for delivery in October.

But it will still feature many of the strongest Spanish-language titles available. These include “The Color of the Clouds,” by Spanish vet Mario Camus, a story of love and social solidarity set in rural Northern Spain; and the father-son drama “Martin (Hache),” from Argentina’s Adolfo Aristarain, who won the Golden Shell in 1992 with “A Place in the World.”

Venezuela will be repped by Roman Chalbaud’s “Pandemonium, the City of Hell,” a colorful tale of a down-and-out poet; while Argentina’s Marcelo Pineyro, who scored huge home-turf hits with “Tango Feroz” and “Wild Horses,” will compete with a denunciation of local violence and corruption, “Ashes of Paradise,” which looks likely to consolidate his reputation for getting under the finger-nails of Argentinian society.

Helming nod prized

Apart from standouts from earlier fests, packaged in the large Open Zone sidebar, the other highest-profile films at San Sebastian are increasingly those competing for the New Directors cash prize of $170,000. The festival announced three local candidates last week: the black social comedy “En la puta calle,” by Enrique Gabriel; the homosexual-themed “Amor de hombre” by Yolanda Garcia Serrano and Juan Luis Iborra; and sex romp “Atomic,” by David Menkes and Alfonso Albacete, who stirred waves at last year’s San Sebastian fest with their “More Than Love, Frenzy.”

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