Gauls victorious at San Sebastian

Golden Shell goes to Dupeyron pic

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — With the Golden Shell going to director Francois Dupeyron’s “C’est quoi la vie?,” French pics scored top prizes in the official and new director competitions as well as in the audience polls at the 47th San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, which wrapped Saturday.

A dramatic reflection on the disappearance of rural life and on the land’s powerful allure, Dupeyron’s film also earned Gallic stage vet Jacques Dufilho, 86, the Silver Shell for best actor –the first award of his long, distinguished career — for his role as the grandfather of the story’s farm clan.

Meanwhile, Laurent Cantet’s wrenching drama of father-son, employer-worker conflicts in a French industrial town, “Human Resources,” won the $160,000 new directors award for best first or second feature in the competition or Open Zone section.

The awards were presented Saturday in the fest’s newly unveiled main venue, the $65 million Kursaal Center. The only hiccup in the slickly designed ceremony was the now traditional interruption of Basque nationalist protesters, who stormed the stage waving banners.

The Silver Shell for best director was awarded to China’s Zhang Yang and to Michel Deville. Yang won for “Shower,” a drama about the modern world’s abandonment of traditional culture that centers on a father and son in a rundown Beijing bathhouse; Deville won for his complex story of a village doctor afflicted by the suffering of his patients, “Sachs’ Disease,” which also landed the jury’s screenplay award for the French helmer and co-scripter Rosalinde Deville.

Sony takes ‘Shower’

Sony Pictures Classics closed a deal during the fest with Amsterdam-based outfit Fortissimo Film Sales for acquisition of all North American rights to “Shower,” plus certain other territories including Australia and New Zealand. Rights for other key territories, including the U.K., are being negotiated.

The special jury prize went to Portuguese dysfunctional family drama “Jaime,” by Antonio-Pedro Vasconcelos, which deals with the illegal exploitation of children for low-cost labor.

While the announcements of the top prizes were all well received, a chorus of boos and jeers from the press corps met the announcement of the Silver Shell for best actress to Spanish thesp Aitana Sanchez-Gijon for her role as the sexually liberated Duchess of Alba, who meets a mysterious death in Bigas Luna’s poorly regarded erotic costume drama, “Volaverunt.”

Given the San Sebastian tradition of hostile reactions, in particular to Spanish honorees, competition jury prexy Bertrand Tavernier anticipated the response. “As Winston Churchill said, ‘A jury is the worst of systems, but so far nobody has found anything better,’ ” he offered.

Screened in the noncompetitive Open Zone sidebar, Tavernier’s latest feature, “Ca commence aujourd’hui,” was voted most popular film by fest audiences, winning $31,000 toward promotion and release costs for Spanish distrib Vertigo Films.

Other main competition plaudits included the jury award for best cinematography to Alfredo Mayo for Gracia Querejeta’s Spanish family melodrama “By My Side Again,” which also earned a special mention for the quality of its acting and direction. The cast of Colin Nutley’s Swedish-Finnish co-production “Under the Sun” also rated a special mention.

Querejeta’s father and producer Elias Querejeta was one of many Spanish industryites heard griping about the lack of laurels heaped on his fellow countrymen by Tavernier and his jury.

“I really admire Bertrand Tavernier for his efficacy and probity,” said Querejeta with more than a hint of irony. “There was a great harvest of prizes for French-language films.”

Fipresci likes ‘Fruit’

While English-lingo entries came away empty-handed from the official awards, Australian director Christina Andreef’s idiosyncratic comedy-drama about survival and family, “Soft Fruit,” which Fox Searchlight will release in the U.S., won the Fipresci international critics prize. A special mention went to U.S. director James Marsh’s portrait of violence through history, “Wisconsin Death Trip.”

Director Lawrence Kasdan won the Spanish Circle of Film Writers’ award for his scripting of “Mumford.” But despite expectations, both Sigourney Weaver, in Scott Elliott’s “A Map of the World,” and Peter Mullan, in Mike Figgis’ “Miss Julie,” went unrewarded when acting kudos were handed out.

The youth jury cast its top vote for Anjelica Huston’s “Agnes Browne,” with the actress-director on hand during closing weekend to introduce the Irish tale and accept San Sebastian’s award for career achievement.

A 20% increase was registered in ticket sales this year, with the total number of admissions estimated at 180,000. Fest organizers partly attribute the boost to the move into the Kursaal. While the controversial building has sparked debate over the dramatic changes it brings to the resort town’s beachfront skyline, the venue has allowed for greater public participation in Spain’s premier film event.

(John Hopewell contributed to this report.)