Asian fare triumphs at Sitges

"Old Boy," "Breaking News," and "Three Extremes" win prizes

BARCELONA — Europe’s biggest fantasy film fest, the Sitges Intl. Film Festival of Catalonia wrapped Friday with three of this year’s standout Asian films — “Old Boy,” “Breaking News,” and “Three Extremes” — sharing top honors with “Code 46” and a clutch of Spanish productions, led by “The Machinist.”

Always the favourite, Park Chan-Wook’s “Boy” took best film, Johnnie To’s “News” won director, and “Extremes” make-up.

Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki won a special jury prize for his complete work, a nod towards competition title “Howl’s Moving Castle.”

A trio of creepy medium-features helmed by Fruit Chan, Takashi Miike and Park, “Extremes” excruciatingly disconcerting opening episode from Fruit Chan, about a woman eating dead babies as a cosmetic treatment, proved a festival talking point.

Michael Winterbottom’s “Code 46” played better at Sitges than Venice last year, taking best screenplay and soundtrack.

All four films have had major festival play, as has Brad Anderson’s “The Machinist.” Fully-financed by Barcelona-based Fil-max, the pic took best actor for Christian Bale and cinematography for Spaniard Xavi Gimenez.

With most competition titles cherry-picked from earlier fests, much of the international interest of Sitges lies in its clutch of world preems drawn largely from the local region of Catalonia.

Of the two competition titles, Eugenio Mira’s much-awaited feature film debut, the English-lingo black comedy “The Birthday” with Corey Feldman, drew large praise for its look, though its screenplay underwhelmed. Pic was awarded the best art direction for Javier Arvarino and Daniel Izar.

First-timer Guillem Morales’ “El habitante incierto” (An Uncertain Guest) split the critics, but won an applauded best actress nod for Catalonia’s Monica Lopez.

The presence of Catalan and Spanish pics was boosted by an enlarged Catala Audiovisual sidebar, and the launch of a well-run Sitges Sales Office allowed the small but growing number of acquisition and sales execs attending the fest to catch up with recent domestic titles.

Among more popular titles at the Sales Office’s video library were Silvia Quer’s deb, “Febrer,” a suggestive, if slow, contempo relationship drama, Nicolas Lopez’s Chilean-Galician “Promedio Rojo,” a spirited Spanish-lingo grossout comedy, and retro slasher “Rojo Sangre ” (Blood Red), with horror vet Paul Naschy as a spurned actor turned rabid assassin.

Director-actress Marta Balletbo-Coll delivers some deft jabs at Catalan cultural politics in the sapphic romancer “Sevigne.”

A Sitges special screening, romantic fable “Fragil” (Fragile) from Juanma Bajo Ulloa, a leading light in Spain’s ’90s new wave, (“Airbag,” “The Dead Mother”), played to applause and positive crits.

Further fest highlights included a special gala screening for Joel Schumacher’s “The Phantom of the Opera,”and post-screening pour in a candle-lit mock-medieval banquet hall.

Fest ran Dec. 2-11

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