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San Sebastian: Alejandro Amenabar on Ethan Hawke, Emma Watson, ’Regression’

Amenabar’s latest world premieres at Spain’s San Sebastian Festival

SAN SEBASTIAN – “Ethan Hawke is an American but with one foot in Europe,” director Alejandro Amenabar said of the co-star in his genre-bucking “Regression” at a press conference in Spain’s San Sebastian Fest, where “Regression” world premiered Friday, opening the festival.

By the same measure, Amenabar could be described as a European with one foot in the U.S. While “Regression” received mixed reactions at San Sebastian – Twitter comments and Spanish reviews varying but sometimes frontally negative, early international reviews more positive, the Friday press conference respectful with final applause – Amenabar was treated at San Sebastian as a big star.

Without Hawke or Watson in attendance, every single question at the press conference, save two, targeted the Spanish-Chilean director. His name was a Twitter trending topic in Spain, and his opinion was sought out at the conference on extraneous matters – U.S. composer James Horner, for example (as a composer, Amenabar said he felt nearer to John Williams).

Sold out worldwide by FilmNation, “Regression” stars Hawke as a cop in 1990 small town Minnesota to whom a man confesses that he has abused his own daughter, though he can’t remember the act. Hawke’s cop calls in a psychotherapist who hypnotizes the culprit, then the family grandmother. Their regression suggests that the town hides a satanic cult.

Meanwhile, ritual satanic abuse reports in other parts of the U.S. start hitting the news. But, being Amenabar, this isn’t of course the whole story.

When it came to talking about real-event-based “Regression,” Amenabar turned to genre to explain his film: “It started off as a horror film, became a psychological thriller and ended up as a drama,” he said Friday.

“Regression” “takes elements from U.S. thrillers from the ‘70s, films by Pakula, Lumet, dry austere thrillers with an air of realism,” he added.

Apart from “The Sea Inside,” as Amenabar recognized on Friday, Spain hardly enters his films. “Thesis” was nominally set there, but could have happened most anywhere. Part of “Open Your Eyes” was set in the distant future, “The Others” in Channel Island Jersey, “Agora” in the distant past – fourth century Alexandria.

Hanging over Amenabar, at least in Spain, is the mystique of a filmmaker who has directed Nicole Kidman, Rachel Weisz, now Hawke and Watson, won an Academy Award for ‘The Sea Inside,’ and scored nearly $100 million at the U.S box office with “The Others,” which was co-produced by Tom Cruise, who then remade “Open Your Eyes.”

Not many Spanish directors can trade anecdotes about Hawke – “he was an ally” and how Emma Watson managed to cry take after take in “Regression”: “She’s intelligent, committed, beautiful. To cry she said ‘I think about sad memories and if I don’t manage to cry, then I cry out of frustration.’”

“Regression”, Amenabar concluded, “is about fear, error, and evil, which is in everybody.”

World premiering at San Sebastian, and with no specific U.S. release date from TWC-Dimension, the strategy for “Regression” is “to bow in Europe and see what happens here,” Amenabar said. Backed by Telecinco Cinema, the highly successful film arm of Mediaset España, Spain’s biggest broadcast group, “Regression” can certainly expect a powerful bow in Spain when it opens Oct. 2 via Universal Pictures International (UPI).

Some Spanish critics hated “Agora,” Amenabar’s prior pic It still went on to gross $29.6 million in Spain. “Regression” will then roll out over major territories in Europe, Mod Producciones’ Fernando Bovaira, Amenabar’s longtime producer, said at the Friday press conference.

Powerful distributors – Tobis in Germany, Metropolitan FilmExport on Oct. 28 in France – handle “Regression” in Europe. That will be the platform for a roll-out worldwide.

Emilio Mayorga contributed to this article

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