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San Sebastian: ‘The Motive,’ ‘Handia,’ ‘Life and Nothing More’ Make Competition Cut

Marking a sea change for Spanish fiction, Movistar +’s big TV series ‘La Peste’ hits Festival's Official Section

MADRID — “Marrowbone,” the awaited directorial debut of Sergio G. Sanchez, screenwriter of “Jurassic World 2” director J.A. Bayona’s “The Orphanage” and “The Impossible,” will screen at this year’s San Sebastian Festival, the highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world.

As will Florida-set “Life and Nothing More,” Spaniard Antonio Mendez Esparza’s follow-up to Cannes Critics’ Week winner “Aquí y Allá”; “Fe de Etarras,” Netflix’s second original movie in Spain, and Aitor Arregi and Jon Garaño’s anticipated “Handia,”  a flagship of new Basque cinema.

San Sebastián’s Perlas, a fest standouts section, closes with Fernando Leon de Aranoa’s “Loving Pablo,” announced yesterday as Venice-bound and a true-event tale of Pablo Escobar’s love affair with a TV presenter. Javier Bardem plays Escobar, Penelope Cruz his unlikely lover.

“Handia,” “Life and Nothing More” and “The Motive,” directed by Manuel Martin Cuenca (“Canibal”), vie in San Sebastian’s main competition for its top Golden Shell award.

They feature among a total of 15 Spanish theatrical features now set for multiple sections at San Sebastian and announced by San Sebastian director José Luis Rebordinos on Friday.

Running Sept. 22-30, apart from standout movie titles, this year’s San Sebastian Festival may well also be remembered for its full embrace of high-end TV series.

For the first time ever, a TV drama, “La Peste,” will form part of San Sebastian’s Official Section. The Festival will world premiere its first two episodes. “La Peste” is not just any series either, but the biggest of all original series productions greenlit by Movistar + , the pay TV arm of Telefonica, as the Spanish telco drives harder and faster into original drama production than any other telecommunications player in Europe.

A historical procedural set in a rambunctious, grimy and plague-ravaged Seville in 1587, “La Peste’s” production by Atipica Films, one of Spain’s most prominent film production houses and direction by Alberto Rodriguez – whose two latest films, “Marshland” and  “Smoke & Mirrors,” have competed at San Sebastian – is just one example of how Movistar + has looked to Spain’s film sector to create most of its original series.

“La Peste’s” selection at San Sebastian is just one sign of how Spain’s film establishment has warmed to Movistar +s drive into premium TV series creation, and the emergence of an international market for foreign-language TV fiction. A brace of Spain’s most iconic film production houses are now focusing more on TV fiction projects than cinema. Project announcements may be multiple at San Sebastian.

“The times are changing. We want to be part of the future and a springboard for titles which affect it. Nowadays many TV series have cinematographic levels,” said Rebordinos.

He added: “Distribution is evolving. Some titles at San Sebastian will have theatrical releases, other on TV, others most probably on VOD platforms.”

A milestone for Spain, “Fe de Etarras,” which world premieres at San Sebastian, is Spain’s first ETA comedy, produced by Netflix and Spanish media group Mediapro, and directed by Borja Cobeaga, co-scribe of the “Spanish Affair” movie series whose first two installments earned $118 million at Spanish theaters. It weighs in as dark humored satire, capturing a rag-tag ETA terrorist cell awaiting its first mission during the 2010 World Cup.

Starring Javier Gutierrez (“Marshland”), “El Autor,” the sixth movie from Martin Cuenca (“Canibal”), turns on a unimaginative would-be novelist encouraging reality to surpass fiction, to inspire his first novel.

Otherwise many of the top films among 20 Spanish titles announced by San Sebastian director Jose Luis Rebordinos on Friday plumb, in a vertiginous world, the dynamics of two of the last surviving social redoubts: Families, couples.

Madrileñan Esparza Mendez’s follow-up to Cannes Critics’ winner “Life and Nothing More” narrates a conflictive single mother-troubled son relationship in Florida.

Narrating the fated life of Basque giant Miguel Joaquín Eleizeki (1818-1861), whose brother parades him around Europe as the tallest man on earth, “Handia,” directed by “Loreak” helmer Garaño and writer Arregi, shows how the pursuit of fame and money rides the siblings’ relationship.

Godfathered by Bayona, “Marrowbone” turns on a 20-year-old who, with his three younger siblings, is haunted by a sinister presence, while they hide the death of their mother. Produced by Telecinco Cinema, the company behind all of Bayona’s films, the psychological thriller stars Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Witch”), George Mackay (“Captain Fantastic”), Mia Goth (“A Cure for Wellness”) and Charlie Heaton (“As You Are”). Universal Pictures Intl. handles distribution in Spain.

In “Morir,” a San Sebastian Special Screening from Fernando Franco, whose “Wounded” won a Special Jury Prize for best actress for Marian Alvarez, a couple confronts the pressures of one partner’s impending death. Alvarez co-stars.

In “Saura(s),” Spanish director Felix Viscarret, whose “Four Seasons in Havana” won a best TV series Platino Award last Saturday, profiles Spanish directorial legend Carlos Saura, whose feature production now stretches back nearly 60 years. This is not, however, via a direct interview about his films but capturing Saura in conversation with his seven children. Expect not only a greater sense of not only Saura’s human dimension but also – for those who don’t know him – unexpected large sense of humor.

The feature debut of actor-turned-prized director Gustavo Salmerón which won best documentary at this month’s Karlovy Vary Festival, “A Lot of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle” profiles Salmerón’s larger-than-life own mother, her life wishes, summed up in the film’s title, her surreal collection of family memorabilia and her sense of life.

Channeling U.S. comedic drama such as “Louie,” and a second Movistar + Original Series, again from highly-regarded film directors and producers, here helmers Juan Cavestany (“People in Places”) and Alvaro Fernandez Armero (“The Art of Dying”) and Apache Films, headed by Enrique Lopez-Lavigne (“The Impossible”), “Shame” turns on a couple whose high ambitions outstrip their talents, to all-round chagrin.

Packing 15 theatrical features in all, San Sebastian’s 2017 Spanish movie line-up also underscores just how cosmopolitan at least higher Spanish cinema has become – in co-production and co-financing, above-the-line, settings, and issues.

“It is symptomatic of the richness of Spanish cinema and it’s connection to the world, that of the three films announced for competition, one is shot in Spanish, another in Basque and a third in English in the U.S.,” Rebordinos said Friday.

“Loving Pablo” is a Spain-Bulgaria co-production. “El autor” is produced by Spain’s Lazona Films and México’s Alebrije Cine y Video, the company behind Eugenio Derbez’s “Instructions Not Included.” Produced out of Spain and the U.S., “Life and Nothing More” stars Andrew Bleechington, Regina Williams, Robert Williams and Ry’nesia Chambers.

“Marrowbone” was one of Lionsgate’s fastest international pre-sales hits last year.

Based out of Mod Producciones,  Spain’s Fernando Bovaira, producer of Alejandro Amenabar’s “The Others” and Alejandro G. Iñárritu’’s “Biutiful,” co-produces Santiago Mitre’s political thriller “The Summit,” whose star, Ricardo Darin, receives a career-achievement Donostia Award at San Sebastian.

Demonstrating the admirable range of current Basque filmmaking, “Operación Concha,” a San Sebastian Festival-Set scam caper starring Jordi Molla (“Riddick,” “Elizabeth: the Golden Age”) is produced by San Sebastian’s Abra Producciones and Cancun’s Spline Producción.

Spain’s Septembro Cine has taken minority equity in Sebastian Lelio’s “A Fantastic Woman,” backed by Participant Media, another San Sebastian title and arguably the most talked-about movie at this year’s Berlinale, and upcoming sect-set coming-of-age drama-thriller “Princesita,” from 2012 Sundance best screenplay winner Marialy Rivas. Both are produced by Pablo and Juan de Dios Larrain’s Chile-based Fabula.

A rites-of-passage movie, with Western and crime thriller beats and set in Argentina’s Mendoza, Santiago Esteves’ “Rey’s Education” is produced by Argentina’s 13 Conejos and Spain’s Nephilm. Playing San Sebastian’s Horizontes Latinos, it returns to San Sebastian having swept last year both top prizes at its Films in Progress pix-in-post showcase.

Of other Spanish titles at this year’s San Sebastián Festival, “Holy Camp!” is a zany coming-of-age musical comedy set at a Catholic summer camp, adapting a stage hit and produced again by Apache Films.

As previously announced, “Alberto Garcia-Alex. La Linea de la Sombra,” a documentary take on the Spanish portrait photographer, screens in the festival’s New Directors major sidebar.

At last 11 of the total 18 Spanish titles revealed by Rebordinos are world premieres; eight are made in international co-production. A further Spanish title in Competition will be announced next week, said Rebordinos.

Emiliano de Pablos contributed to this article



“El autor,” (Manuel Martin Cuenca, Spain, Mexico)

“Handia,” (Aitor Arregi, Jon Garaño, Spain)

“Life and Nothing More,” (Antonio Mendez Esparza, Spain, U.S.)


“Marrowbone,” (Sergio G. Sanchez, Spain)

“La Peste,” (Alberto Rodríguez, Spain)


“Morir,” (Fernando Franco, Spain)


“The Summit,” (Santiago Mitre, Argentina, Spain, France)


“Alberto García-Alix, La línea de la sombra,” (Nicolás Combarro, Spain)

“Princesita,”  (Marialy Rivas, Chile, Spain, Argentina)


“A Fantastic Woman,” (Sebastián Lelio, Chile, Germany, Spain, U.S.)

“Rey’s Education,” (Santiago Esteves, Argentina, Spain)


“A Lot of Kids, and a Monkey and a Castle,” (Gustavo Salmerón, Spain)

“Shame,” (Juan Cavestany, Alvaro Fernández Armero, Spain)

“Saura(s), (”Felix Viscarret, Spain)


“Loving Pablo,” (Fernando Leon de Aranoa, Spain, Bulgaria)


“Fe de Etarras,” (Borja Cobeaga, Spain)

“Operación Concha,” (Antoni Cuadri, Spain, Mexico)


“Holy Camp!” (Javier Calvo, Juan Ambrosi, Spain)

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