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San Sebastián 2011. Awards and Notes

Among the winners are Isaki Lacuesta, Julie Delpy and Hirokazu Kore-eda.

Isaki Lacuesta's The Double Steps has won the Golden Shell for Best Film at this year's San Sebastián Film Festival. Ronald Bergan will be pleased. In his dispatch from the festival to the House Next Door, he calls it "the best film in the main competition. It was certainly the most original and a refreshing change from the well-worn linear narrative devices of the majority of films. After 2002's Cravan vs. Cravan, his profile of Arthur Cravan, the Swiss-born nephew of Oscar Wilde who achieved fame as both a Dadaist poet and boxer, Lacuesta has now turned to Francois Augièras, the eccentric French writer, painter and explorer, and sometime lover of André Gide. The film follows two parallel lines, one about a group of men trying to locate a mythical bunker buried in the North African desert containing paintings by Augièras, and the other about the artist himself, here played by a black African, though Augièras was white. The only white man in the film is the Catalan artist Miquel Barcelo, who's shown trying to recreate the paintings. Some of the film's perversity, folklorism, homoeroticism, and humor recalled the work of Apichatpong Weerasethakul." The trailer.

The jury of the 59th edition, presided over by Frances McDormand (the other members: Guillermo Arriaga, Álex de la Iglesia, Bent Hamer, Bai Ling, Sophie Maintigneux and Sophie Okonedo) has awarded its Special Jury Prize to Julie Delpy's Skylab. The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw: "This is a nostalgic period piece about a family party in 1979, inspired by Delpy's own memories: it was a time in which the French public became briefly convulsed by a spasm of anxiety over news reports that Nasa's Skylab research rocket, then descending to earth from its space orbit, was going to crash in western France…. Skylab has such enormous energy, garrulity and good-humor, an Italianate sensuality injected into a very French scenario. It's a film with a terrifically easy swing to it, meandering along and following its nose without any great need for a continuing narrative. It looks easy, but it very much isn't; a real and impressive success for Delpy." The press conference. Update, 9/25: More from Neil Young in the Hollywood Reporter. Update, 9/26: Joe Utichi talks with Delpy for the Guardian.

The Silver Shell for Best Director goes to Filippos Tsitos's Unfair World, which won a Work in Progress-Award last year at the Thessaloniki Film Festival. Screen's Fionnuala Halligan finds it to be "an odd attempt to marry the allegorical stylization of Giorgos Lanthimos with the visual sensibilities of, say, a Kaurismäki, but without any of the Finnish director's lightness of touch." The film also picks up a Silver Shell for Best Actor, Antonis Kafetzopoulos. The trailer.

The Silver Shell for Best Actress goes to María León for her performance in Benito Zambrano's The Sleeping Voice. Ronald Bergan found the festival's synopsis most unhelpful: "Hortensia is pregnant. She has been tried and sentenced to death, although the execution won't take place until she has given birth. Pepita, her sister, goes to the prison every day to ensure that she's given Hortensia's child to prevent them from putting it into an orphanage." Ronald Bergan: "The note says nothing about the stark evocation of the repressive life lived under Franco, and of the suffering of the women who dared defy it. As conventional as the film is, Zambrano manages to portray the film's heroines and heroes as real recognizable people, and allows the strong uncompromising story to move unencumbered by any flash flashbacks or unnecessary didacticism. It's also carried by two superb performances from María León and Penélope Cruz look-alike Inma Cuesta." The trailer. Update, 9/26: More from Deborah Young in the Hollywood Reporter.

Ulf Brantås has won the Prize for Best Cinematography for his work on Björn Runge's Happy End, "an effective, rather schematic piece of Swedish miserabilism," according to Ronald Bergan. "Like a Mike Leigh film without any trace of humor, it deals with five very unhappy people: a violent unemployed loser who beats up his wife, who works as a cleaner; a woman who abandons a suicidal young man; and his widowed driving-instructor mother…. It's been assumed that the title is ironic. Far from it, as four of the five characters do find freedom by the end, in a gradual subtle way." The trailer.


And the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay goes to Hirokazu Kore-eda's I Wish, " a lump-in-the-throat movie about a broken family." Peter Bradshaw: "Koichi (Koki Maeda) and Ryu (Ohshiro Maeda) are two brothers around nine or 10 years old. Their mum and dad have split up. The mother, Nozomi (Nene Ohtsuka), is a former housewife who has gone back to her hometown to live with her parents and gets a faintly demeaning job in a supermarket; the father, Kenji (Joe Odagiri), is a slacker musician whose band is going nowhere. Apparently to forestall arguments, and perhaps to delay any question of an irrevocable split, they have taken one child each on the understanding that this is not a permanent arrangement. Koichi has gone to live with his mum, Ryu with his dad. Sadly, the two boys talk together on the phone about what's happening in their lives, and one day they hatch a plan to meet up. With charm, delicacy and gentleness, Kore-eda simply shows the various things the boys do every day; with quiet brilliance, he also shows what's happening in the lives of their respective sets of friends…. Life just rolls along."

Ronald Bergan finds that I Wish "avoids sentimentality and constantly undermines the creeping feel-good element." The AV Club's Noel Murray caught it in Toronto, where it screened in the Masters program, and found it "not as imaginative as After Life, or as heartbreaking as Nobody Knows, or as keenly observed as Still Walking. It’s shallower, and cuter — a movie about kids that at times feels like it's more for kids. But I Wish is still amply Kore-eda-esque — full of life and heart."

Bob Turnbull: "Hirokazu Kore-eda has worked this realm before — this is a warm, human story of real characters facing real problems and dealing with them in both funny and sometimes heartbreaking ways. There’s less at stake here compared to some of his previous works, but the hopes and dreams of 7 kids still provide for very real moments of emotion and should be recognizable by just about anyone who remembers being on the brink of maturity — and being not quite sure what to do with it."

The festival has also posted a list of awards from other organizations, such as FIPRESCHI, which has gone for João Canijo's Blood of My Blood.

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