Malaga ends on a high note

Selection welcomed by audience, critics

MALAGA — The Malaga Film Festival, the world’s leading showcase for Spanish pics, headed into the final straight Friday with aud reaction enthusiastic and two thumbs up given by crix to a host of pics.

The biggest buzz in the early running was generated by Manuel Gutierrez-Aragon’s “Todos estamos invitados,” Nacho Garcia Velilla’s debut feature “Chef’s Special,” and Javier Gutierrez’s “The Fall,” another debut. Half of the competish pics were by first-time directors.

A crowd pleaser, comedy “Special” delivered plenty of spice and lively dialogue to a classic screwball recipe, here served up in the tale of a gay chef who slaves for a Michelin star, but is suddenly forced to take care of his son and daughter after the death of his former wife.

Javier Camara (“Talk to Her,” “The Secret Life of Words”) co-stars, which may help give the film traction as it bows via Warner Bros. on Friday.

“The Fall,” which screened in Berlin’s Panorama, is the first fruit of the production pact between Antonio Banderas’ Spanish shingle Green Moon and Antonio Perez’s Maestranza in Seville, which aims to nurture new Andalusian talent.

One of the most visually ambitious of Malaga competish films, the sci-fi thriller turns on a man who struggles for redemption as a meteorite hurtles toward earth. Local crix were upbeat.

“Well-shot, with a tremendously apocalyptic atmosphere,” said newspaper El Pais. “A brilliant thriller,” said another daily, La Razon.

In “Todos,” about a Basque terrorist who seems to have lost his memory, Aragon (“Maravillas,” “Your Next Life”) sets aside his fondness for magical realism and explores instead the fear and intimidation smothering everyday life in the Basque Country.

Auds applauded “Todos,” which opened Malaga. Critical reactions were mixed.

Other Malaga standouts included Xavier Puebla’s “Welcome to Farewell-Gutmann,” a drama about a mercilessly ambitious exec at a big pharmaceutical company.

Screening Thursday, Silvia Munt’s marriage-on-the-rocks drama “Pretextos” was being talked up as a possible competition winner.

So too was 81-year-old Jaime de Arminan’s “14, Fabian Road,” a perceptive rural revenge drama, after its press screening Friday morning.

In Malaga’s documentary section, “Old Man Bebo,” Carlos Carcas’ warm docu bio of Cuban Latin jazz pianist Bebo Valdes — his life, musical impact and, most movingly, importance to fellow musicians, family and friends — was generating huge buzz before its Friday night screening.

Malaga takes place just as Spanish filmmaking emerges from a creative and commercial slump. Alex de la Iglesia’s “Oxford Crimes” and Carlos Bardem’s “Mortadelo and Filemon: Mission Save the Planet” have taken local pics to a 20% share of the Spanish B.O. in the first quarter of the year, Pedro Perez, president of Spain’s powerful producers lobby, announced Thursday at Malaga.

Talking up the possibility of higher tax breaks for film production in Spain, he told Daily Variety that Santander and BBVA, Spain’s two biggest banks, had expressed an interest in launching private sector tax vehicles to channel the coin to the film biz.

But the Spanish industry is not out of the woods just yet and industry players are still apprehensive. “Crimes” and “Mortadelo” are just two films after all. During Malaga, Spanish Academy prexy Angeles Gonzalez Sinde slammed dominant local telco Telefonica for failing to tackle Internet piracy.

In other industry announcements, Cesc Gay, who won Argentina’s Mar del Plata fest with “Fiction,” presented his next pic, “V.O.S” (literally, “Subtitled Original Version”). Pic, which is in pre-production, is produced by Gay’s longterm producer Marta Esteban at Imposible Films.

Fest runs April 4-12.

Jonathan Holland contributed to this report.

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