Iberian crix nix pix

New Lunas pic, others receive poor reviews

SAN SEBASTIAN, Spain — The film expected to receive the most acclaim at the San Sebastian Intl. Film Festival, Bigas Lunas’ sumptuous costume drama “Volaverunt,” instead received a drubbing Sunday from Spanish critics.

“It’s inexplicable that the man who made a work as exquisite and precisely directed as ‘The Chambermaid and the Titanic’ would grace us now with a panoply of luxurious faces so disjointed and clumsy,” wrote Angel Fernandez-Santos in Madrid daily El Pais.

“A whodunit without interest, because it didn’t matter who the assassin was,” Ricardo Aldarondo concluded in San Sebastian’s influential El Diario Vasco.

Whether the local critics were trying to prove to the hefty contingent of foreigners here that Lunas’ nationality was immaterial to their assessment of his picture is a matter of debate, but the scathing treatment the pic received was all the more surprising after the warm reception given to the genial director and his cast, including Penelope Cruz, Aitana Sanchez-Gijon and Jordi Moya, during a packed press conference Saturday.

“I’m disappointed and surprised,” festival director Diego Galan told Daily Variety after reading Sunday’s reviews. “Of course, until now we’ve only seen the Spanish write-ups. But it’s rare that critics are united in a negative sense.”

The critical punches from local reviewers are unlikely to put a dent in the tale of palace intrigue’s B.O. when it opens in Spain next month. A public deeply interested in the country’s convoluted history is eagerly awaiting the ornate $8 million production set in the lavish court of King Carlos IV.

Cruz already has her eyes firmly set on her next project, Ted Demme’s “Blow,” which she begins shooting in January, playing the cocaine-addicted girlfriend of drug trafficker Johnny Depp. Cruz also stars in Pedro Almodovar’s “All About My Mother” and Billy Bob Thornton’s “All the Pretty Horses.”

Critics at the fest, a 190-film marathon that began Sept. 16 and wraps Saturday, were also largely unenthusiastic about John Stephenson’s “Animal Farm” and Carlo Gabril Nero’s “Uninvited,” both in the fest’s Open Zone section. But they seemed enamored of Portuguese director Antonio Pedro Vasconcelos unassuming “Jaime.”

One of the stars of “Uninvited,” Vanessa Redgrave — mother of its director — received a standing ovation Saturday when she received the Donostia Award, a lifetime-achievement laurel also bestowed this year on Anjelica Huston and Argentinean actor, director and writer Fernando Fernan-Gomez.