Chinese pic takes top honors at San Sebastian fest

“City of Life and Death,” from Chinese writer-director Lu Chuan, won the Golden Shell at the San Sebastian Film Festival.

“Life’s” widescreen black-and-white camerawork drew the cinematography kudo for d.p. Cao Yu.

Chuan’s stirring account of the 1937-38 Nanjing massacre was always a frontrunner at San Sebastian, where at least half of the fest’s competition contenders found a fanbase.

That, given the poor showing many films have seen at festivals this year, made the 57th edition of San Sebastian at least a fairly solid edition.

For many attendees, two events will stand out: Brad Pitt and Quentin Tarantino tubthumping “Inglourious Basterds” and the press and public enthusiasm for Juan Jose Campanella’s romantic thriller “The Secret in Their Eyes,” Argentina’s foreign-language Oscar candidate.

Remarkably, “Secret” went home empty-handed. Mohammad Rasoulof’s “The White Meadows” and Bruno Dumont’s “Hadewijch” also missed out on plaudits.

Main kudos were spread over more talked-up movies.

Gallic auteur Francois Ozon nabbed a special jury prize for sibling bonding tale “The Refuge.”

All three Spanish competition contenders took major prizes.

Pablo Pineda and Lola Duenas won actor and actress for crowd-pleasing romantic comedy “Me, Too,” about a man with Down’s syndrome — played by real-life DS sufferer Pineda — courting a scatty non-DS woman (Duenas).

Spain’s Javier Rebollo took director for “La mujer sin piano,” about a hemmed-in hausfrau.

A take on the toll the past has on the present, “The Damned,” from Catalan helmer Isaki Lacuesta, scooped San Sebastian’s Fipresci Award.

Of Latin American films at a fest that has made Spanish-language cinema a core draw, Adrian Biniez’s “Gigante” added to its Berlin grand jury prize, winning the Latinos Horizontes award. Argentine Israel Caetano’s dysfunctional family chronicle “Francia” drew a special mention.

Other Latin-American standouts included Chilean Cristian Jimenez’s quirky satire “Optical Illusions” and “Norteado,” Mexican Rigoberto Perezcano’s good-humored U.S.-Mexico border tale.

The fest, the ninth under Mikel Olaciregui, showed signs of belt-tightening: The event was reduced from 10 to nine days; its opening party was by invitation only.

Nine-day fest closed Saturday with Rodrigo Garcia’s warmly received maternity drama “Mother and Child,” which brought Naomi Watts to San Sebastian, a coup for a usually low-glam event.

(Jonathan Holland contributed to this report.)

WINNERS OF THE 57TH SAN SEBASTIAN FILM FESTIVAL

INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION JURY

GOLDEN SHELL
“City of Life and Death,” (Lu Chuan, China)

SPECIAL JURY AWARD
“The Refuge,” (Francois Ozon, France)

SILVER SHELL, BEST DIRECTOR
Javier Rebollo, (“La mujer sin piano,” Spain-France)

SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTRESS
Lola Duenas (“Me, Too,” Spain)

SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTOR
Pablo Pineda (“Me, Too)

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY
Cao Yu, (“City of Life and Death”)

BEST SCREENPLAY
Andrew Bovell, Melissa Reeves, Patricia Cornelius, Christos Tsiolkas (“Blessed,” Australia)

OTHER MAIN PRIZES:

KUTXA NEW DIRECTORS AWARD
“The Day God Walked Away,” (Philippe Van Leeuw, Belgium)

TCM AUDIENCE AWARD
“Precious” (Lee Daniels, U.S.)

HORIZONTES AWARD
“Gigante” (Adrian Biniez, Uruguay)

GAZTEA YOUTH AWARD
“The Children of Diyarbakir,” (Miraz Bezar, Turkey-Germany)

FILMS IN PROGRESS AWARDS:

FILMS IN PROGRESS INDUSTRY AWARD
“La vida util,” (Federico Veiroj, Uruguay)

TVE AWARD
“Norberto Apenas Tarde,” (Daniel Hendler, Uruguay)

CASA DE AMERICA AWARD
“Puzzle,” (Natalia Smirnoff, Argentina)

CINEMA IN MOTION AWARD
“In the Sands of Babylon,” (Mohamed Al-Daradji, Iraq)

8TH INTL. FILM SCHOOL MEETINGS PANAVISION AWARD
“Segal,” (Yuval Shani, Tel Aviv University, Israel)

OTHER AWARDS:

FIPRESCI INTL. FEDERATION OF FILM CRITICS’ PRIZE
“The Damned,” (Isaki Lacuesta, Spain)

TVE OTHER LOOK AWARD
“Precious”

SIGNIS AWARD
“City of Life and Death”

Jonathan Holland contributed to this report

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