Lineup shows pics' shift toward mainstream

VALLADOLID, Spain — Mona Achache’s “The Hedgehog,” Diego Rafecas’ “Paco” and Arantxa Aguirre’s “Of Heart and Courage” were early highlights at the 54th Valladolid Festival, which opened Friday.

Once a classic arthouse launchpad, Valladolid also delivered further proof of the slow slippage of European specialty fare — from both new and established directors — toward the cinema mainstream.

Fest, in its second year under Javier Angulo, also pulled down a clutch of little-seen or unseen pics, increasing its international relevance.

In one of its earliest foreign sallies, “Hedgehog,” like “Paco,” played to sustained warm applause, a relative rarity at Valladolid. Both look like early frontrunners to take Valladolid’s top Golden Spike.

Set in a rich Paris district and the kind of anti-bourgeois drama that French middle-classes love, “Hedgehog” turns on the unconventional relationship between a precocious 11-year-old girl, her frumpy concierge and a new Japanese neighbor.

Already sold to a swathe of territories, “Hedgehog” will be released by Spanish distributor Alta Films on around 80 copies, 12 subtitled, the rest dubbed, playing both arthouses and multiplexes, Alta acquisitions head Enrique Gonzalez Kuhn said at Valladolid.

An emotive character-driven rehab drama with a strong ensemble cast led by Norma Aleandro, “Paco” takes its name from a protagonist and killing low-grade cocaine derivate to which he’s addicted. Pic world preemed at Valladolid.

A hit in Montreal and screening in Valladolid’s docu sidebar, Arantxa Aguirre’s docu-feature “Of Heart and Courage” tells the human story of choreographer Gil Roman’s titanic attempt to not only maintain but also renew the Bejart Ballet Lausanne after the death of ballet legend Maurice Bejart in 2008.

“It’s not a film about the world of art. It’s about people — something we all can understand,” Aguirre said at Valladolid.

“Courage,” which sparked a lively Q & A, was indeed enthusiastically understood by even professedly balletphobe spectators.

Meanwhile, back in competition, Marc Recha turned in his most accessible film to date: “Petit Indie,” a shocking coming of ager set in a marginal Barcelona barrio.

And Valladolid regular Salvador Garcia Ruiz (“Mensaka,” “El otro barrio”), also in competition, opens up with “Paper Castles,” an art student menage-a-trois tale film that mixes high-brow reflections on creativity with unblushing sex scenes between three buff thesps.

Capping this drive toward accessibility, Valladolid opened with “Looking for Eric,” the nearest Ken Loach has come to a crowdpleaser.

The drift toward the mainstream may to a large extent be a question of generations.

“I grew up watching Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Clint Eastwood. Cinema must be popular art,” said Recha, who’s previously been pigeon-holed as an exquisite minimalist.

“She’s a director who’s not in love with her images or words,” “Hedgehog” star Josiane Balasko said of Achache, born in Paris in 1981, drawing an unspoken contrast with some trad Gallic auteurs.

Beyond “Courage,” early Valladolid sidebar highlights included Juanma Bajo Ulloa’s rock lifestyle homage “Historia de un grupo de rock”; Adolfo Dufour’s “Septiembre del 75,” about Xose Humberto, one of the last Spaniards executed under Francisco Franco’s dictatorship; and “Black Sheep,” Mexican first-timer Humberto Hinojosa’s handsomely shot rural dramedy.

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