MADRID — Claire Denis’ “High Life,” Kim Jee-woon’s “Illang: the Wolf Brigade” and Naomi Kawase’s “Vision” feature among the first seven titles competing for the San Sebastian Festival’s top Golden Shell.
Also making the main competition cut, confirmed on Friday by San Sebastian, are Valeria Sarmiento’s “The Black Book” and three directors on many critics’ to-track lists: Austria’s Markus Schleinzer, Argentina’s Benjamín Naishtat and Switzerland’s Simon Jaquemet.
Around 10 competition contenders remain to be announced, including the big Spanish titles which often take major prizes. For the moment, however, many of the first titles paint the picture, sometimes via genre, of a world shook to its foundations by highly convulsive or dramatic times. Whether the tremors of the French Revolution (“The Black Book”), a rioting future Korea facing reunification, relationships, highly human characters or even humanity is threatened, by the build of covert police violence (“Illang,” “Rojo”) , the need for spiritual renewal (“Vision”), or the end of the human race (“High Life”). These are times when not just government but humanity is being tested, some of the foreseeably most-prominent titles at San Sebastian seem to saying.
Denis (“Beau Travail,” “White Material”) – pretty much a legend, a Directors’ Fortnight co-winner last year for “Let the Sunshine In” but still one of Europe’s great movie mavericks – will present “High Life,” which was not ready for Cannes, she has explained. It marks a step up in budget, and her first English-language and sci-fi film, starring Robert Pattinson in a deep space father-daughter relationship drama.
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One of Korea’s trinity of big name international directors, with Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho, Kim’s “Illang: the Wolf Brigade” recasts Japanese anime “Jin-roh: the Wolf Brigade,” written by “Ghost in the Shell’s” Mamoru Oshii, into a live-action full-bore testosterone thriller set in an alternate-history future Korea. Warner Bros releases July 27 in Korea.
A strong arthouse play from France – Marion Slot’s Slot Machine produces, Haut et Court distributes in France, Wild Bunch handles world sales – “Vision” returning Kawase to her hallmark theme and setting of nature, unspooling in the forests and Yoshino Mountains of her native Nara province in Japan. The drama stars Juliette Binoche as a journalist in search of a rare herb which appears once in 997 years, but is capable, it’s said, of unlocking humanity’s potential.
An adventure tale set in the late 18th century, Sarmiento’s “The Black Book” follows a young orphan and his Italian nurse as they are pursued across Europe. Freely adapting “The Black Book of Padre Dinis,” by “Mysteries of Lisbon” novelist Camilo Castelo Branco, it is lead-produced and sold worldwide by Paolo Branco’s Alfama Films.
Sarmiento, Denis, Kawase and Kim all debuted last century, Jacquemet, Naishtat and Schleinzer this decade.
Set in 1975 against a wave of political violence, often perpetrated by covert police agencies, “Rojo” is directed by Argentina’s Naishtat (“History of Fear,” “The Movement”). A film noir, with moody ominous atmospherics, it turns on Claudio Mora, an upstanding lawyer attacked outside a restaurant by a stranger who pulls a gun, then shoots himself but doesn’t die. Fatefully, Mora abandons the still living stranger in the nearby desert – and begins to discover a whole world of subterfuge, corruption and life-endangering violence beneath the placid surface of provincial Argentina. In a Latin American dream cast, “Rojo” stars Dario Grandinetti (“Talk to Her”) and Pablo Larraín regular Alfredo Castro.
Playing San Sebastian’s New Directors section, Swiss Simon Jacquemet’s first feature, “War” delivered a questioning, sometimes brutal vision of a no-future Swiss youth, proving one of the 2014 San Sebastián Festival’s talent discoveries. “The Innocent” sees a woman on deeply conservative religious faith challenged by the reappearance of her former lover, after 20 years in prison.
The second feature from Austria’s Markus Schleinzer – whose 2011 debut, “Michael,” the portrait of a pedophile, impressed critics – “Angelo” is set in the 18th century but as relevant today- and especially, some would argue, in Austria – a study in xenophobia as a young African, a manservant to Austrian nobility, raises its hackles when he marries a young Austrian servant. Austria’s ruling elite are more comfortable viewing him as a exotic outsider, never one of its own.
The highest-profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world, the San Sebastian Festival runs Sept. 21-29.
FIRST 2018 SAN SEBASTIAN MAIN COMPETITION TITLES
“Angelo,” (Markus Schleinzer, Austria, Luxembourg)
“The Black Book,” ( Valeria Sarmiento, France, Portugal)
“High Life,” (Claire Denis, France, Germany, UK, Poland, USA)
“Illang: The Wolf Brigade,” (Kim Jee-Woon, South Korea)
“The Innocent,” (Simon Jaquemet, Switzerland, Germany)
“Rojo,” (Benjamín Naishtat, Argentina, France, Germany, Netherlands, Brazil)
“Vision” (Naomi Kawase, Japan, France)