San Sebastian ably fends off Roman event

SAN SEBASTIAN — This year’s San Sebastian Film Fest, which wrapped Sept. 30, snared an impressive 12 competition premieres from top directors. But festgoers were wondering whether the San Sebastian was feeling the heat from the inaugural RomeFilmFest.

The ambitious, deep-pocketed Italian event opens Oct. 13, and it could prove competitive in persuading pics to preem in Rome.

For the moment, San Sebastian retains its place as the most prominent post-Toronto fall fest, with competition entries such as Tom DiCillo’s ribald paparazzi comedy “Delirious” and John Boorman’s touching identity thriller “The Tiger’s Tail” going down very well.

Fest saw a stronger stream of biz than normal and days of dazzling late-summer sun. Its inauguration escaped Gordon, a tropical storm, which obligingly turned left into the Bay of Biscay.

DiCillo’s witty, offbeat and upbeat “Delirious” lived up to its title, toplining a rat-faced Steve Buscemi as a excruciating loser paparazzo in a star-struck New York City.

Set in contempo Dublin, Boorman’s moody “The Tiger’s Tail” turns on a real estate shark who’s assailed by a double. Burly Brendan Gleeson memorably conveys both the property developer’s blarney and his boyishness.

Carlos Sorin’s “El camino de San Diego,” a mockumentary-style tale about an Argentine who worships Diego Maradona, proved another competish standout.

With international specialty pics increasingly seeking a more mainstream approach, these entries seem to reflect an accessible and humorous approach with a subtle social message.

Other hits in the eclectic competish ranged from “Forever,” Heddy Honigmann’s engaging docupic about Paris cemetery Pere Lachaise, to Bobcat Goldthwait’s sexual misdemeanor comedy “Sleeping Dogs Lie,” retitled from its Sundance bow as “Stay.”

Latter played well at San Sebastian. But then Spaniards hardly bat an eyelid at outre sex — think Almodovar — even if it concerns, as in Goldthwait’s pic, a girl orally pleasuring her dog.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s rumbustious samurai revenge drama “Hana” also drew upbeat buzz.

Of Spanish-lingo competition entries, Antonio Chavarrias’ gritty, sharply edited “Celia’s Lives,” about a working-class barrio murder, worked best as a whodunit. Nervily shot handheld-style, Victor Garcia-Leon’s grubby father-son comedy “Vete de mi” charmed Spanish crix.

Playing in fest’s Zabaltegi section, Judith Colell’s cross-cutting “53 Days in Winter” proved an impressive calling card. Crix also warmed to student love triangle “Proibido Proibir,” from Brazil’s Jorge Duran.

And TCM in Spain presented memorable docupics about two of Spain’s greatest auteurs: Fernando Mendez-Leite’s “The Producer,” plumbing the work and style of unflagging producer Elias Querejeta, and Luis Alegre and David Trueba’s “La silla de Fernando,” which captures the grand old man of Spanish acting, Fernando Fernan-Gomez, in candid and remarkably literate conversation.

The RomeFilmFest probably will deprive San Sebastian of standout Italian pics. It might steal star power. But, however big it grows, Rome is unlikely to dent San Sebastian’s hard-won status as the biggest Spanish-lingo art pic showcase in the world.

(Deborah Young contributed to this report.)

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