September’s 69th San Sebastian Festival has announced its first nine Competition contenders led by Palme d’Or winner Laurent Cantet (“The Class”) and English auteur Terence Davies (“Sunset Song”) but packed out by six female directors.
Two at least are already sparking anticipation: Lucile Hadzihalilovic, a French genre auteur backed like Palme d’Or winner “Titane” by Wild Bunch; and “As in Heaven,” the debut feature of Denmark’s Tea Lindeburg, which is generating good word-of-mouth.
The Competition features the first Netflix Original to contend for San Sebastian’s Golden Shell, plus three first features, the latter a sign, like last week’s Cannes Festival, of a new generation of filmmakers breaking through to rapid foremost fest attention.
San Sebastian’s national Competition titles, both films and series and traditionally featuring some of the strongest Spanish titles of the year, are announced at the end of July.
First 2021 San Sebastian Film Festival Competition Titles
“Arthur Rambo.” (Laurent Cantet, France)
“A film that reflects on the dangers of social networks and the difficulties of not falling victim to their power,” Cantet told Variety. “Arthur Rambo” is based on a true story. It turns on the fall of rising star Karim D, a hot young Parisian novelist whose prestige is suddenly destroyed by the discovery of old Twitter hate-messages written under the alias of Arthur Rambo. Playtime handles international sales.
“Benediction,” (Terence Davies, United Kingdom)
A biopic by one outsider, Davies, of another, Siegfried Sassoon, one of the most brilliant of 20th century English writers, a WW1 hero, poet and pacifist and a homosexual whose fictionalized memoirs described both his true passion for fox-hunting and the foibles of England’s upper classes. Jack Lowden (“Dunkirk”) and Peter Capaldi (“The Thick of It”) play Sassoon in youth and later years. Produced by Michael Elliott of EMU Films, which backed Steve McQueen’s “Small Axe” film series, and sold by Bankside.
“Camila Comes out Tonight,” (Inés Barrionuevo, Argentina)
A first big berth at a major festival for Argentina’s Inés Barrionuevo who burst through to acclaim with her 2014 coming-of-age feature debut “Atlantida” and won a Silver Biznaga at Spain’s Malaga Festival for last year’s teen love drama “Las Motitos.” Another teen portrait, here of a liberal young girl who transfers to a traditionalist private school in Buenos Aires. “Camila” is produced by Aeroplano Cine (“Re Loca,” “Fase 7”).
“Blue Moon,” (Alina Grigore, Romania)
Romanian actor-turned-director Alina Grigore makes her feature debut with the story of a young woman subjected to a dehumanizing upbringing. Irina struggles for access to higher education and to escape a dysfunctional family when a sexual encounter with an artist convinces her to push back against the violence amidst which she was brought up. Gabriela Suciu and Robi Urs produce the film for InLight Center, co-produced by Atelier de Film, Forest Film, Unfortunate Thespians, Smart Sound Production and Avanpost.
“Fever Dream,” (Claudia Llosa, U.S., Chile, Spain)
The first Netflix Original in San Sebastian competition and the latest from Berlin Golden Bear winner Llosa (“The Milk of Sorrow,” “Aloft”). A strong Spanish-Argentine cast – María Valverde, Dolores Fonzi, Germán Palacios and Guillermo Pfening – take on the adaptation of Samanta Schweblin’s novel of the same title. Set in a rural community, the film “will portray the love and fear surrounding motherhood through a complex feminine prism,” Llosa said before shooting.
“As in Heaven,” (Tea Lindeburg, Denmark)
A period drama, based on Marie Bregendahl’s classic Danish novel “En Dødsnat,” “As in Heaven” unspools over a 24-hour period at a 19th century farmhouse. Lise is the eldest of eight siblings, the first in her family to go to school and has an exciting future ahead of her. That day, however, her mother goes into a complicated labor and at times it looks as though the girl might have to grow quickly into the woman of the house. Produced by Motor, it’s the feature debut of Tea Lindeburg, creator of the Danish Netflix series “Equinox.”
“Earwig,” (Lucile Hadzihalilovic (United Kingdom, France, Belgium)
Whether backing Pascale Laugier’s 2008 “Martyrs” or Alexandre Aja and Julia Ducournau (“Raw,” now “Titane”), or launching recent new genre labels, Wild Bunch has battled for 15 years for genre to be taken seriously by France and the rest of Europe. After the Cannes triumph of “Titane,” could “Earwig” be the next to pop? The third feature from Lucile Hadzihalilovic whose 2015 “Evolution” won San Sebastian’s Special Jury prize, “Earwig” is a “mesmerizing fable of long-repressed secrets and awakening memories from the mysterious and oneiric world of Lucile Hadzihalilovic,” Wild Bunch says. More specifically, it is set somewhere in Europe, mid-20th century, where Albert is employed to look after 10-year-old Mia, changing her ice dentures several times a day.
“Fire on the Plain,” (Zhang Ji, China)
Celebrated cinematographer Ji Zhang’s feature debut, “Fire on the Plain” turns on two childhood friends who are unceremoniously reunited after 12 years apart. One, now a successful detective, is investigating the murder of a taxi driver which leads him back to the other and a long-kept secret between the two. The film will premiere across China in December of this year.
“I Want to Talk About Duras,” (Claire Simon, France)
A fiction film very close to documentary plumbing the relationship between French writer Marguerite Duras and her last partner Yann Andréa, 38 years her junior, turning on an interview Andrea, played by Swann Arlaud, gave to journalist Michèle Manceaux (Emmanuelle Devos) in 1982. François d’Artemare at Paris-based Les Films de l’Après Midi (“Noura’s Dream”) produces, Luxbox sells.