Driving rain fails to dampen spirits at fest

MALAGA, Spain — In weather terms, the 9th Malaga Spanish Film Festival started as a wash-out.

With Malaga deluged by driving rain, the mid-day Saturday press conference for Gerardo Herrero’s competition pic, the aptly named “Los aires dificiles” (Rough Winds), was brought to an early close by a power failure at the festival’s main Belle Epoque-style Cervantes Theater.

In film terms, Malaga has faired much better.

Bowing March 17, fest reached mid-way Tuesday with more hits than misses.

Spain’s biggest showcase for local films, Malaga offers a healthy mix debuts (Rafa Russo’s “Amor en defensa propia, Universal’s first production in Spain), second films (Sigfrid Mon-leon’s “La Bicicleta,” Roger Gual’s “Remake”), new pics from established directors (David Trueba’s fest opener “Bienvenido a casa” and Gerardo Herrero’s “Aires”).

“Bienvenido,” a telling but warm romantic comedy about a young couple’s disparate reaction to imminent parenthood, proved to be local critics’ favorite through Tuesday.

But pic faces some pretty stiff com-petition.

Raimon Masllorens’ “Sin Ti,” toplining Ana Fernandez (“Solas”) as a woman suddenly left blind by an accident, divided opinions.

Set on the blustery Cadiz coast, “Aires,” about a doctor seeking a new start in life, drew thumbs up from some critics.

Fest’s biggest surprise through Monday was served by the autobio-graphical “Un franco, 14 pesetas,” from actor-turned-helmer Carlos Iglesias, a quietly lyrical, sometimes comical but never cliched immigration tale of a Spanish factory worker finding work in a bucolic ’60s Swiss village.

Two upcoming pics at Malaga — Gerardo Olivares’ “La gran final” and Chema Rodriguez’s “Estrellas de la Linea — received an upbeat reception at Berlin. There’s a good buzz on the still-to-screen “AzulOscuroCasiNegro” from Daniel Sanchez Arevalo and Manuel Iborra’s “La dama boba.”

Outside the 14-pic competition, Carlos Molinero and Lola Salvador’s two-handed mockumentary “La niebla en las palmeras” played to strong applause. A studiously fictional portrait, forcefully-edited pic turns on Santiago Bergson, an imaginary Spanish scien-tist, photographer and French resistance fighter.

Set in Medellin, 1989, at the height of Colombia’s drug cartels, Colombia B.O. mega-hit “Rosario Tijeras” also drew admirers, especially for drop-dead gorgeous lede Flora Martinez who plays a gun-totting, coke-tooting sicaria, or hired assassin.

Malaga fest has grown steadily to boast a mini-mart Market Screenings, running March 23-25, and a Projects Forum.

At a Saturday Forum sesh, Bigas Luna, who gave Penelope Cruz her big break in “Jamon, Jamon,” unveiled Veronica Echegui, the 22-year-old femme lede in his long-mooted, raun-chy wannabe actress drama “Yo soy la Juani.” Euros 4 million ($4.8 million) pic is produced by Media Films, the production arm of indie distribber Manga Films, and Bigas Luna’s banner El Virgili Films.

It rolled Monday, shooting in Catalonia, Madrid and Los Angeles.

Pedro Perez, prexy of Spain’s FAPAE producers lobby, made his now-traditional Malaga Monday morning state-of-the-industry speech, calling on Spain’s two-year-old socialist government to launch a “third revolu-tion” for the Spanish film industry after keystone legislation in 1984 and 1994, passed by Spain’s PSOE socialists the last time they held power.

Perez’s current road map for reform takes in hiked tax breaks, a revamp of distribution-exhibition relations, and co-ordinated international promotion, he said.

Malaga Spanish Film Fest runs March 17-25.

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