Spanish sprocket opera underscores health of genre

SITGES — In now near-hallowed tradition, the 45th Sitges Film Festival opened Thursday with one of the biggest Spanish genre films of the year: Oriol Paulo’s “The Body,” from Barcelona’s Rodar y Rodar.

Spain’s opening slot wasn’t really playing to a home crowd. This century, Spain, and especially Barcelona, has produced multiple genre hits: “Pan’s Labyrinth,” “The Orphanage” and “Rec” are just three.

After “The Orphanage” and “Julia’s Eyes,” “Body” reps Rodar’s third Sitges opener, teaming Belen Rueda, one of the few Spanish actresses who can open a movie, and a Catalan first-time scribe-helmer, Paulo. A rising genre auteur, Paulo penned Guillem Morales’ “Julia’s Eyes,” produced by Rodar, Antena 3 Films and Universal Pictures Intl.

So expectations ran high.

Produced by Rodar and Antena 3 and a Sony Spain release, “Body” is peppered with flashbacks, clues and a big last act twist, as it tracks a police inspector (Jose Coronado) interrogating a shifty husband (Hugo Silva) about the body of his heiress wife (Rueda) disappearing from a morgue. At a Sitges press screening, “Body” left fan-boys yearning for gore. The “Hitchcock-style psychological thriller,” as Rodar producer Joaquin Padro put it, looks likely to play far better with general audiences.

Padro also confirmed Thursday details of Rodar’s next: “Who Killed Bambi?” The project is a kidnap imbroglio comedy helmed by Santi Amodeo, director of two quirky mid-decade dramas — “Astronauts” and “Doghead” — that is loosely inspired by Mexico’s “Matando Cabos.” David Castellanos’ Cinema Republic and Manuel Yebra’s Cienfuegos arranged the Spanish remake deal with Rodar.

Shooting January, “Bambi” reps “a move toward the mainstream,” said Padro. RTVE has pre-bought Spanish free-to-air rights.

Going forward, a market sensibility and TV support both look vital for Spain’s film industry.

Europe’s biggest genre meet, Sitges’ line-up is spangled by standout genre titles: “Looper,” “Holy Motors,” “Lords of Salem,” “The Cabin in the Woods,” “Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Berberian Sound Studio” and “Room 237.” Also, Sitges hosts a clutch of awaited world preems from Spain: “Body,” “Painless,” “Invader” and “The Forest.”

Multiple genre stars will attend, beginning with ’60s horror muse Barbara Steele (“Black Sunday”), who picks up a Time Machine award at Sitges’ opening ceremony tonight. Other honorees are Elijah Wood, at Sitges for remake “Maniac,” William Lustig, director of its original, Neil Jordan, who picks up a lifetime achievement award, Dee Wallace (“E.T.: The Extraterrestrial”) and writer-director Don Coscarelli (“Beastmaster”).

Spain and its film industry are staring down at a precipice of runaway public deficit, despite radical state cuts.

One narrative at 2012’s Sitges looks like being the rude health of genre production, especially Asian and U.S. Another will be Spain’s true-life horror story.

At Euros2.4 million ($3.1 million), Sitges’ 2012 budget is just 4% down vs. 2011, said fest director Angel Sala. Advance ticket sales were tracking 16% up on Tuesday. Amid so much horror, Spain’s horror fest looks like one institution that could well survive.

Fest runs Oct. 4-14.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this article.

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