San Sebastian: ‘Smoke & Mirrors,’ ’May God Save Us,’ ‘La Reconquista’ Make Competition Cut

Spanish festival unveils all of its 13-pic Spanish film lineup

May God Save Us
Courtesy of Latido Films

MADRID — Two of Spain’s most anticipated titles of the year – Alberto Rodriguez’s true-life Spanish espionage expose “Smoke & Mirrors” and Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s serial-killer procedural “May God Save Us” – will world premiere in main competition at the 64th San Sebastian Festival.

Also competing at the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world: Romantic dramedy “La Reconquista,” a first big fest bow for Jonas Trueba, an engaging, audience-friendly arthouse auteur..

Starring Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones, Spaniard Juan Antonio Bayona’s “A Monster Calls” will celebrate its European premiere at San Sebastian, screening out of competition, as announced last week.

Presented Thursday in Madrid, the 11 Spanish features selected for this year’s San Sebastian invite several off-the-cuff conclusions. First, eight are world premieres: The large spread of fresh films from Spain remains one of San Sebastian’s biggest lures.

Again, Spanish producers used to think thrice before premiering at San Sebastian: A negative critical backlash could killed a movie. But those fears have faded of late as Spanish movies have won big time at San Sebastian – Carlos Vermut’s “Magical Girl” best picture and Alberto Rodriguez’s “Marshland” best actor in 2014, Cesc Gay’s “Truman” best actor last year. “Marshland” and “Truman” went on to fulsome box office and international sales.

San Sebastian’s 2016 Spanish movie line-up at least raises the question of whether Spanish producers now prefer to roll the dice of selection at Berlin or Cannes, or make the the one-two play of selection or a market screening at Toronto followed by a big berth one week later at San Sebastian.

Last, critics often lament the passing of a social-issue art cinema in Spain which flowered with its dramatic transition to democracy in the 1970s and lasted well into the ‘90s.

Presenting San Sebastian’s line-up Thursday, fest director Jose Rebordinos stressed how it represented the heterogenous energies now coursing through Spanish filmmaking.

“La Reconquista,” Jonas Trueba’s fourth feature in six years, returns to his central theme: The not-so-young looking to gain (2013’s “The Wishful Thinkers”), retain (2015’s “The Romantic Exiles”) or here regain a sense of fulfilment through love. In “La Reconquista,” a man and woman try to reignite the first love they experienced together when they re-meet 15 years later.

From the Basque Country’s Txintxua Films, producer of “Amama,” which played San Sebastian competition last year, Koldo Almandoz’s “Sipo Phantasma” (Ghost Ship)  is a creative film essay and a fiction-documentary hybrid, taking in cruises, “Nosferatu,” and Florence Balcombe, the wife of Bram Stoker.

Beyond these titles, however, seven of the nine new Spanish titles presented Thursday in Madrid pack some kind of social or political focus or sometimes scathing criticism of the Spanish establishment. Spain’s social issue cinema is alive and well, at least at San Sebastian.

Distributed in Spain by Warner Bros., and pre-sold by Film Factory to France’s Ad Vitam and Italy’s Movies Inspired, “Smoke & Mirrors” turns on Francisco Paesa, a real-life ETA arms-dealer, gigolo, thief and Spanish secret agent who abets a masterplan by a former head of Spain’s Civil Guard to smuggle out of Spain $9 million purloined from public coffers. The skullduggery may be thrilling: The film cannot but be an indictment of state countenanced corruption in Spain.

A big step up in ambition for Sorogoyen from his admired low-budget solo debut “Stockholm,” buzz on “May God Save Us” is that this is a harrowing Madrid procedural – not just in the murders, the case’s length and characters’ emotional dysfunction but the opposition two cops encounter from their own police chief who refuses to admit the possibility of a serial killer on the loose during the Pope’s 2011 visit to Madrid. “Nothing’s happened here,” he says in a trailer. Latido Films sells world rights. Warner Bros again distributes in Spain.

Of Special Screenings, Diego Galan’s “Manda huevos” forms a companion piece to “Barefoot in the Kitchen,” Galan’s Goya Award winning docu-feature portraying the representation of women down the decades in Spanish cinema. “Manda huevos” takes up the depiction of men. Jo Sol’s “Vivir y otras ficciones,” another Special Screening, takes in the sexual desires of special needs persons.

Horizontes Latinos, a Latin American showcase, and Perlas, a fest hits sidebar, frame two minority co-productions, Brazilian Eliane Caffé’s “Cambridge Squatter,” about Sao Paulo homeless, and Chilean Pablo Larrain’s “Neruda.” 2016 Cannes’ biggest critical and commercial hit from Latin America, “Neruda” captures the months the Nobel Prize winner spent on the run from his own government over 1946-48 as he forged his reputation as both a poet and as a political legend,  symbol of persecuted freedom.

San Sebastian will also world premiere “Kalebegiak,” a 12-part omnibus feature vignette of San Sebastian in its year as Cultural Capital of Europe. Given the directors involved in the project, which include Imanol Uribe, Julio Medem, Daniel Calparsoro and Gracia Querejeta, “Kalebegiak” is unlikely to be totally hagiographical. One observational short, “Our Walls,” part of which appears in “Kabegiak,” examines the lot of women.

“‘Kalebegiak’ poses 15 looks over convulsed recent history in Europe, focusing on issues such as inmigration, inequality and injustice,” said Pablo Berastegui, general director of San Sebastian 2016.

As announced Tuesday, San Sebastian’s New Directors competition, one of its major sections, features “Maria (y los demas). Produced and distributed by Avalon Films, and starring Barbara Lennie (“Magical Girl”), Nely Reguera’s debut centres on a woman who has spent her life caring for her family and. suddenly, at the age of 35, has no reason for not living for herself. The broadly allegorical title is another buzzed-up feature at this year’s San Sebastian, which has become the most significant platform for new Spanish films in the world.

The 64th San Sebastian Festival runs Sept. 16-24.

This year’s festival will be dedicated to Josetxu Moreno, founder of Golem, one of Spain’s top art house distributors and exhibitors over the last 35 years, Rebordinos said Thursday.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this report  



“May God Save Us,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen, world premiere

“La Reconquista,” Jonas Trueba, world premiere

“Smoke & Mirrors,” Alberto Rodriguez, world premiere


“A Monster Calls,” Juan Antonio Bayona, European premiere


“Manda huevos,” Diego Galan, world premiere

“Vivir y otras ficciones,” Jo Sol, world premiere


“Maria (y los demás),” Nely Reguera, world premiere


“The Cambridge Squatter,” Eliane Caffe, world premiere


“Ghost Ship,” Koldo Almondoz, Spanish premiere

“Caminan,” Mikel Rueda (short), world premiere

“Our Walls,” Maria Elorza, Maider Fernandez, (short), world premiere


“Neruda,” Pablo Larrain, Spanish premiere


“Kalebegiak,” multiple directors, world premiere