SAN SEBASTIAN — Isaki Lacuesta’s “Between Two Waters” won big at San Sebastian Saturday night, taking its top Golden Shell, the second time the Catalan director has won the award, after 2011’s “The Double Steps.”
Otherwise, the big winner of the night was Benjamin Naishtat’s covert violence thriller “Rojo,” which took director, actor (Dario Grandinetti) and cinematography (Pedro Sotero).
This year’s edition saw a a hugely-raised Hollywood star quotient, a half score or more of A-list talent hailing into town to tub-thump titles: Bradley Cooper (“A Star is Born”), Ryan Gosling (“First Man”), Alfonso Cuarón (“Roma”), Robert Pattinson (“High Life”), Chris Hemsworth (“Bad Times at the El Royale”), John C. Reilly (“The Sisters Brothers”).
As Venice becomes ever more an Oscar platform, movies will now hit San Sebastian three weeks later, often off Toronto, their stars in tow, to capitalize on and push their potential Academy Award glory.
But the biggest triumph on Saturday was Lacuesta’s, for a sometimes near-documentary style fiction of two gypsy brothers’ attempt at closure on a troubled past. As yet off most foreign critics’ radar, the Andalusia-set drama, reprising characters and actors from Lacuesta’s first fiction feature, “The Legend of Time,” topped a “Diario Vasco”’s Spanish critics’ poll by a large head, eliciting sometime rave reviews.
The film “invites the audience to experience in an intimate and highly verosimile fashion the life and the world off the protagonist achieving a compassionate social portrait, said main competition jury president Alexander Payne, presenting the award to Lacuesta.
In “Rojo,” set in an Argentine province in 1975 against a expanding wave of political violence, often perpetrated by illegal police squads, Grandinetti plays a seemingly upstanding lawyer gradually embroiled in homicide, subterfuge and corruption.
“The complacency and corruption of pre-coup Argentina is laid bare in chilling, absurd style,” Variety said in a glowing review.
San Sebastian’s Special Jury Prize went to “Alpha, the Right to Kill,” an atmospheric drug trade thriller from Brillante Mendoza. It “covers familiar ground, but does so with a potent, purposeful stride,” Variety opined. “There’s a bone-weary resignation to its worldview that underlines its simple moral point all the more effectively,” it added.
Pia Tjelta won best actress for “Blind Spot,” the helming debut of Swedish actress Tuva Novotny (“Annihilation,” “Borg / McEnroe”), focusing on the struggles of a mother to understand her teenage daughter’s crisis, while tragedy strikes the whole family.
Best screenplay was split by Paul Laverty, writer of Iciar Bollain’s “Yuli,” which depicts the life of Cuban dance sensation Carlos Acosta, and Louis Garrel’s “A Faithful Man,” sold by Wild Bunch, a family drama toplining Lae•titia Casta, Lily-Rose Depp and Garrel himself.
Outside competition, the coveted Horizontes Latinos award went to Argentine actress María Alché’s first directorial feature, “A Family Submerged,” starring Mercedes Morán as a middle-aged woman struggling with loss. The New Directors winner was “Jesus,” from Japanese director Hiroshi Okuyama, a Christain school-set fantasy drama.
A “masterfully mystifying event-horizon nightmare,” Variety announced, Claire Denis’ first English-language and sci-fi film, “High Life,” starring Robert Pattinson, won San Sebastian’s Fipresci Award, given by the Intl. Federation of Film Critics.’
Judged a small gem by some critics who caught it at sneak peek pre-fest screenings, Celia Rico’s feature debut, “Journey to a Mother’s Room,” a mother-daughter relationship drama, won the festival’s Youth Award, given to the best first or second film in any section at the festival. It also received a special mention from the New Directors jury.
The Audience Award for best film in Perlak, a best-of-the-fests showcase, went to “Another Day of Life,” a caustic, high-energy chronicle of journalistic Ryszard Kapuściński’s life-changing reaction to the horrors of the 1975 Angola Civil War.
Made with a documentarian’s eye for detail and bigger-picture social trend, Koldo Almandoz’s first fiction feature ‘Deer,’ about a second-generation Maghreb immigrant befriending a marshlands poacher, won the Zinemira best Basque film award.
New York and Vietnam-based Ash Mayfair scooped the TVE Another Look award for “The Third Wife,” her New Directors’ player, which turns on the pregnant third spouse, aged 14, of a 19th century lord of the manor, taking in same sex, unrequited and illicit love, sexual abuse and heartbreak in a tragic patriarchal society.
Brief but impassioned, the gala ceremony pointed up a building source of tension across the movie world: National industries are by-and-large left of center, but governments are often moving to the right.
“Rojo” is the “synthesis of the work a director should make at a time when the right and fascism appear to be once more on the rise in the world,” Grandinetti said on stage in San Sebastian.
“News will be all over Argentine newspapers tomorrow that an Argentine film has won an important award,” Naishtat said.
But he added that he’d like to use the occasion to denounce Mauricio Macri’s government’s “improvised” film policies and the closure of Argentina’s Ministry of Culture a week ago. “Culture forms part of a people’s dignity. You can’t negotiate with that.”
The conflict between Argentine filmmakers and government is likely to rumble on.
Accepting his prize for “Yuli,” which depicts the life of Cuban dance sensation Carlos Acosta, Laverty, Ken Loach’s regular writer, protested against the “shameful” sanctions backed by the U.S. and Israel and no other country on Cuba, running now for 58 years. The U.S. and Cuba were “experts in the collective punishment of cicil population,” he added.
Louis Garrel reminded the audience of Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov’s continuing incarceration in a Russian prison, where he is on hunger strike, for allegedly plotting terrorist acts.
San Sebastian’s industry awards were announced Wednesday night.
WINNERS, 66th SAN SEBASTIAN INTL. FILM FESTIVAL, SEPT. 21-29, 2018
MAIN COMPETITION PRIZES
“Between Two Waters,” (Isaki Lacuesta, Spain)
SPECIAL JURY PRIZE
“Alpha, the Right to Kill,” (Brillante Mendoza, Philippines)
SILVER SHELL, DIRECTOR
Benjamín Naishtat (“Rojo,” Argentina)
SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTRESS
Pia Tjelta, (“Blind Spot,” Norway)
SILVER SHELL, BEST ACTOR
Dario Grandinetti, (“Rojo,” Argentina)
Paul Laverty, (“Yuli”)
Louis Garrel, Jean-Claude Carrière (“A Faithful Man”)
Pedro Sotero, (“Rojo”)
OTHER FESTIVAL PRIZES
“Familia Sumergida,” (“Maria Alché, Argentina)
HORIZONTES AWARD SPECIAL MENTION
“The Snatch Thief,” (Argentina, Uruguay, France)
KUTXABANK NEW DIRECTORS’ AWARD
“Jesus,” (Hiroshi Okuyama, Japan)
“Journey to a Mother’s Room,” (Celia Rico Clavellino, Spain, France)
AUDIENCE AWARD BEST PICTURE
“Another Day of Life,” (Raúl De La Fuente, Damien Nenow, Spain, Poland, Belgium, Germany)
AUDIENCE AWARD BEST EUROPEAN FILM
“Girl,” (Lukas Dhont, Belgium, Netherlands)
“Song for the Jungle,” (Jean-Gabriel Périot, France)
ZABALTEGI-TABAKALERA AWARD SPECIAL MENTION
“Those who Desire,” (Elena López Riera, Spain)
SPANISH COOPERATION AWARD
“Los silencios,” (Beatriz Seigner, Brazil, France, Colombia)
TVE ANOTHER LOOK AWARD
“The Third Wife,” (Ash Mayfair, Vietnam)
IRIZAR BASQUE FILM AWARD
“The Deer,” (Koldo Almandoz, Spain)
NEST FILM STUDENT AWARDS
“Summer of the Electric Lion,” (Diego Céspedes, Chile)
“Where the Summer Goes (Chapters on Youth),” (David Pinheiro Vicente, Portugal)
“The Girl with Two Heads,” (Betzabé García, U.K.)
FILMS IN PROGRESS
“The Sharks,” (Lucía Garibaldi, Uruguay, Argentina)
GLOCAL IN PROGRESS INDUSTRY AWARD
“Invisible,” (Ignas Jonynas, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine)
GLOCAL IN PROGRESS AWARD
“Invisible,” (Ignas Jonynas, Lithuania, Latvia, Ukraine)
EUROPEAN-LATIN AMERICAN CO-PRODUCTION FORUM AWARDS
“Hermano peligro,” (Pablo Fendrik, Argentina, Denmark)
EFADs-CAACI EUROPE-LATIN AMERICA CO-PRODUCTION GRANT
“La llorona,” (Jayro Bustamante, Guatemala)
EURIMAGES DEVELOPMENT CO-PRODUCTION AWARD
“The Jungle,” (Matthias Huser, Switzerland)
KINO ARTE INTERNATIONAL PRIZE
“Libertad,” (Clara Roquet, Spain, Denmark)
REC GRABAKETA ESTUDIOA POST-PRODUCTION AWARD
“Water,” (Elena López Riera, Switzerland)