Crix cheer Allen, Stone at San Sebastian

SAN SEBASTIAN , Spain — Woody Allen and Oliver Stone dominated the first weekend of the 52nd San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, which has gotten off to its strongest start in years.

Opening San Sebastian on Friday, Allen’s world preeming “Melinda and Melinda” had Spanish critics worshipping at his altar: It “proved a brilliant inauguration” (El Pais), “knit with extraordinary intelligence and emotional complexity” (El Mundo); Allen, who received the fest’s first Donostia Award, “dazzled doubly with ‘Melinda and Melinda’ and his personal charm,” sentenced El Diario Vasco.

Stone’s 65-minute theatrical version of the HBO-screened “Looking for Fidel” also received an upbeat response. Some critics saw his first Fidel Castro docu, “Comandante,” an attempt to get at the person behind the persona, as soft-soaping the dictator.

But reviewers rose to the much more aggressive and tightly focused “Looking,” with Stone taking Castro insistently to task for executing three Cubans who hijacked a ferry and for arresting more than 75 political dissidents.

Both at San Sebastian, Allen and Stone were lionized by the local press like Hollywood stars. Stone was taking a break from what he described as “100-hour work weeks editing ‘Alexander.’ ” “I don’t really have any plans after ‘Alexander.’ I’ve been at it for three years,” he told Daily Variety.

Allen hung around the exquisite northern Spanish seaside resort with his family.

Meanwhile, fest’s sidebar Zabaltegi got off to a fast start with three standouts: Mike Leigh’s Venice Golden Lion winner “Vera Drake”; Jean-Luc Godard’s “Notre Musique,” which was presented with the Grand Prix of the International Federation of Film Critics (Fipresci) on Friday at San Sebastian; and Hubert Sauper’s “Darwin’s Nightmare,” a mortifying expose of ecological disaster in Lake Victoria, which is fast emerging as one of the most distinguished docus of the year.

One standout to date in San Sebastian’s other main sidebar, the Latino-themed Latin Horizons section, has been Ana Poliak’s “Parapalos” (Pin Boy), a resolutely fixed-framed low-budgeter about a boy who fixes the pins in a bowling alley.

Beyond “Melinda and Melinda,” San Sebastian’s official section has perhaps been the slowest to catch fire. Of fresh pics not at Toronto, Francois Dupeyron’s “Inguelezi” is a stylish and well-intentioned addition to the immigrant in Europe genre that failed to warm audiences.

Adolfo Aristarain’s “Roma,” a panoramic view of recent Argentine history through the eyes of a writer and romantic, was seen as a good, solid picture. Daoud Aoulad-Syad’s “Tarfaya,” about a Moroccan girl who wants to immigrate to Spain, is a stylized and very visual exercise that fails to ignite emotionally.

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