Hot U.S. indies buzz at San Sebastian fest

'Things,' 'Friends,' 'Gods' rep States

MADRID — Peter Berg’s “Very Bad Things,” Neil LaBute’s “Your Friends and Neighbors” and Bill Condon’s “Gods and Monsters” will represent the U.S. in competition at the 46th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, organizers announced Wednesday.

Also included in Spain’s leading film event, which runs Sept. 17-26, is the European premiere, out of competition, of Bernardo Bertolucci’s intimate chamber drama “The Siege.”

Based on a short story by James Lasdun, the English-language film stars David Thewlis and Thandie Newton and centers on the love of a lonely pianist for his African housekeeper. “The Siege” began shooting in Rome as an hourlong telepic but evolved during production into a full-length theatrical feature.

The competition kicks off with opening-night film “Your Friends and Neighbors,” marking director LaBute’s return to San Sebastian after his debut feature, “In the Company of Men,” screened last year in the non-competitive Open Zone sidebar. The darkly comic exploration of contemporary relationships stars Amy Brenneman, Aaron Eckhart, Nastassja Kinski, Jason Patric and Ben Stiller.

‘Bad’ presentation

“Very Bad Things” stars Cameron Diaz, Christian Slater, Daniel Stern and Jon Favreau in a black comedy about a group of young men whose friendship crumbles after the bachelor party from hell. Ian McKellen stars as legendary horror film director James Whale and Brendan Fraser plays the gardener who fuels his suicidal obsession in “Gods and Monsters,” which premiered at Sundance earlier this year.

For Diego Galan, fest director since 1995, the competition lineup confirms San Sebastian’s core philosophy of discovering talent.

“We’ve tried not to play with ‘marked cards,’ selecting films which are backed up by a director’s reputation but where it doesn’t matter if they’re good or bad so long as the director’s famous,” he told Daily Variety.

France is present with two competition entries — Olivier Assayas’ drama “Late August, Early September,” with Mathieu Amalric and Virginie Ledoyen, and “A la Place du coeur,” Robert Guediguian’s Marseille-set drama about a young black man accused of rape by a racist cop. Guediguian’s “Marius and Jeanette” was one of the hits of the 1997 Open Zone lineup.

Local entries

As always, Spanish-language cinema is amply represented in competition. In addition to previously announced national entries — Fernando Leon’s “Neighborhood” and Gerardo Herrero’s “South Frontier” — three films from Latin America have been selected.

Argentine director Alejandro Agresti brings the playfully titled “Wind With the Gone,” which looks at the influence of film on a remote Patagonian hamlet in which Angela Molina plays the only sane inhabitant; Mexico’s Carlos Carrera weighs in with “The Spell,” a tale of forbidden love that mixes realism, magic, melodrama and passion; and Peruvian Francisco Lombardi, who won San Sebastian’s best director prize in 1996 for “Under the Skin,” returns with “Don’t Tell Anyone,” adapted from Jaime Bayly’s novel about a confused teenager.

Other competition entries include “Don,” Iranian helmer Abolfazl Jalili’s story of a drug addict’s 9-year-old son, and “After Life,” Japanese director Hirokazu Koreeda’s first feature since his acclaimed “Maborosi,” about the dead looking back over their lives and recalling their happiest moments.

Peter Howitt’s “Sliding Doors” officially closes the fest, playing out of competition. The fest will also stage a special screening outside the Official Section of Peter and Bobby Farrelly’s hit comedy “There’s Something About Mary.”

Additional titles are expected to be announced in the coming week, plus the name of this year’s international Premio Donostia recipient for career achievement.

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