Goya winner and rising star upsets status quo

If a cinema star’s been born this year in Spain, it’s director Jaime Rosales.

His second film, Cannes Un Certain Regard player “Solitary Fragments,” entered January’s Spanish Academy Awards as a rank outsider and won picture and director prizes. The amazement on producer Jose Maria Morales’ face as he stood to accept the top Goya was a moment of unquestionably unstaged emotion.

“Fragments” grossed a redoubtable E678,000 ($1 million), helped by those awards, and Rosales was on Spaniards’ film map.

Now the extremely tall, and extremely intelligent, 38-year-old is back, only 10 months later, with a world preem in Competition at San Sebastian: “Bullet in the Head,” a tragedy about a seemingly normal man who’s an ETA terrorist.

Based on a real atrocity that unfolded in January, “Bullet” will hardly fly under the fest radar. “Bullet” turns on Ion, who seems nothing out of the ordinary: He has breakfast, meets lawyers, meets a girl at a party, they spend the night together, and the next day he drives to France with a friend. At a roadside cafe, they bump into two Civil Guards. After a brief altercation, Ion shoots one dead in the head.

ETA’s spent 40 years pressing for Basque independence. San Sebastian’s a Basque country city. But it’s “Bullet’s” style, not subject matter, that may stun at San Sebastian.

“Like a wildlife documentary,” Rosales comments, “Bullet’s” lensed totally in long shot, occasionally zooming in on action. There’s no music nor audible dialogue: That’s a metaphor. The ETA problem, says Rosales, is that “nobody listens to anybody else.”

“Bullet,” he goes on, attacks two myths: “that ETA terrorists are monsters 24/7″ and “that they’re liberating angels of a nation subject to unbearable pressure.”

The film’s an absurdist tragedy. What’s most absurd, Rosales argues, is that the murders are “bad for everybody, but still go on happening.”

“Bullet” draws on two traditions.

One is Spain’s edgy auteur cinema, which has a vibrant home base in Catalonia. Rosales manages his Fresdeval Films production label out of Catalan capital Barcelona.

Barcelona’s enlightened middle-class has always patronized avant-garde art. Offbeat films find ready, if numbered, devotees. Catalonia’s ICIC film board runs an Auteur Cinema fund for “innovative” films; Catalan pubcaster TVC, Spain’s most forward-thinking state broadcaster, backs niche pics.

“The ecology of Catalonia permits a pretty efficient balance between producers and directors,” says Pere Roca, head of TVE’s Culture Channel.

Rosales’s an economist — he studied at Barcelona’s prestigious ESADE — and a producer: He’s teamed with Mexico’s Carlos Reygadas (“Silent Light”), another admired left-of-field aesthete, to produce Carlos Serrano Azcona’s San Sebastian Films in Progress entry, “El arbol.”

“Bullet” will bow in Spain Oct. 3 on 20-30 prints. “The film has stylistic risks. But we’re hoping to platform out,” says Morales.

How will San Sebastian auds bite “Bullet”? Julio Medem’s fest player, the 70 talking heads doc “The Basque Game,” an attempt at debate across the political spectrum, stirred a media maelstrom. But that was in 2003.

“Before, there was far more ambivalence about ETA. Now the overwhelming mass of people condemn it,” producer Angel Amigo, a former member, observes.

Rosales seems sanguine about San Sebastian. “My film supports moderation. Its ideas are positive. People need that.”

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