'Kingdom,' 'Year,' 'Song' prove early standouts

GIJON, Spain — Australia’s “Animal Kingdom,” Mexico’s “Leap Year” and Spain’s “Every Song Is About Me” made much of the early running at the 48th Gijon Film Festival.

David Michod’s feature debut, brooding crime family drama “Kingdom,” bore out its Sundance World Cinema Grand Jury Prize and Sony Pictures Classic’s U.S. pickup, proving Gijon’s biggest competition crowd-pleaser through Monday, sparking complimentary comparisons with “L.A. Confidential” among local scribes.

Australian-Mexican Michael Rowe impressed with “Leap Year,” a meticulously scripted and perfed Cannes Camera d’Or winner, famed for its sexual candor, but exploring, as Rowe outlined to Gijon’s press, machismo, urban solitude and parental abuse.

“Song” screened to big expectations: The romantic dramedy grabbed Gijon’s plum Saturday night berth, and marked both a world preem and the feature debut of Jonas Trueba, son of Academy Award-winning helmer Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”).

The Latido-sold title sparked repeated applause for its knowing, literary and style-blending account of the emotional aftermath to a terminated six-year relationship, played out in a quietly romantic, quaint old quarter of Madrid.

Running Nov. 19-27, Gijon’s 48th edition marks the 16th under director Jose Luis Cienfuegos.

Previously a desultory youth/kiddies fest, Cienfuegos rebooted Gijon in 1995 as a Spanish Sundance: Gregg Araki, Todd Haynes, Tom DiCillo, Hal Hartley and Todd Solondz have all visited Gijon, mostly for tributes.

Those days are gone. In 2010, three U.S. pics play Gijon’s main Official Section: Casey Affleck’s Friday fest opener “I’m Still Here,” Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” and Kelly Reichardt’s “Meek’s Cutoff,” already admired at Venice.

But Spanish-language films — four Spanish competition titles, three Latin America pics — command a far larger presence.

Several factors are at work: an established fixture, Gijon now has a far larger clout to attract local titles. Fest closes with spurned boyfriend comedy “No controles,” from Spain’s Borja Cobeaga (“The Friend Zone”), another world preem.

Also, Spanish and Latin American national cinemas have grown in breadth, developing their own species of indie filmmaking.

One of these — superbly shot, docu-feel fictions with minimal narratives — provided two highlights over Gijon’s first weekend: Mexican Pedro Gonzalez-Rubio’s competition chill-out movie “To the Sea,” a film, he said in Gijon, about the “lack of permanence,” in which a father and young son fish snappers, barracudas, laze and bond on Mexico’s emerald-watered Banco Chinchorro coral reef; and Spaniard Daniel Villamediana’s “The Life Sublime.”

Playing Gijon’s Rellumes sidebar, “Sublime” chronicles a young man following his grandfather’s footsteps to Cadiz, which is lensed with a photographer’s eye for line and color, as in a finale overhead shot of Cadiz’s multi-color rooftops, transformed seemingly into a delicately-toned abstract art painting.

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