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San Sebastián Film Festival: Happy Hoffman and a hold-up

US actor receives Donostia prize and presents his directorial debut, while a Franco-era farce mixes heist high-jinx with politics.


A scene from ¡Atraco!'.

A scene from '¡Atraco!', which is loosely based on a real-life, Franco-era hold-up.

The 60th San Sebastián Film Festival drew to a close on Saturday evening, with triumphs for French film Dans La Maison, which took the Golden Shell, Blancanieves, The Dead Man and Being Happy, Foxfire and Fernando Trueba, for El artist y la modelo.

Macarena Garcia and Katie Coseni shared the Silver Shell for Best Actress, for Blancanieves and Foxfire while the Zinemaldia jury awarded the Best Actor prize to José Sacristán for his performance in The Dead Man and Being Happy. A Special Jury Prize was also awarded to Blancanieves.

A second 60th anniversary Donostia Prize (following on from Oliver Stone’s) was also awarded to Dustin Hoffmann, who presented his directorial debut The Quartet, starring Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly.

Collecting his Silver Shell for Best Director, Fernando Trueba (whose entry El artista y la modelo was pure cinematic art) lamented the fact that “Dustin Hoffman had to come all the way from New York to remind us that cinema is art and culture”. (An emotional Hoffmann had thanked Zinemaldia for his award, saying: “You are a community of people who honour and respect this art form.”)

Trueba ended his speech with the words “viva el cine libre.”

It’s uncertain whether Dustin Hoffman was fully aware of the recent cuts to Spanish culture or the hiked-up cost of going to the cinema. Nevertheless, the opening words of his acceptance speech offered food for thought, given the current climate: “There are very few religious places left for us today. In this age of internet and iPhones… a (movie theatre) where we can all be together, to watch something together, to me has always been a very special place.”

Director François Ozon, collecting the Golden Shell for Dans La Maison, dedicated his award to Spanish filmmakers “who I are know are having a bad time at the moment”.

“In times of recession,” continued Ozon, “it is wrong to take money away from creators. This is not the way to solve the financial crisis. This film (Dans la Maison) is about the love of film, and the need for cinema… the world needs cinema and the world needs Spanish cinema.”

Other awards included the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay, which also went to Dans La Maison, and the prize for Cinematography, for Bahman Ghobadi’s Rhino Season. Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack received the Jury’s Special Mention.

Hold up!

Also showing out of competition this year was Hispano-Argentine production ¡Atraco! (or Hold-up).

Set during the height of the Franco years, in 1956, ¡Atraco! is loosely based on a real-life hold-up said to have taken place in a prestigious jeweller’s on Madrid’s Gran Via.

Cleverly disguised as a farce, it is in fact a well-structured screenplay with a central story that is dark and ultimately moving.

In it, diehard Perón-supporters Merello and Miguel travel from Argentina to Madrid with Uruguayan passports in order to recover gems belonging to the late and beloved Eva Perón.

Worried by the interest Franco’s wife has shown in Eva Peron’s jewels (residing at the jeweller’s until they can be pawned to pay for General Juan Perón’s exile in Spain), and the fact that Carmen Polo is notorious for not paying, the two men conspire with the proprietor to recover the gems by staging a robbery. All without telling the general, of course.

As in all good comedy pairings, Merello and Miguel (played by Guillermo Francella and Nicolás Cabré) are chalk are cheese and the first hour plays heavily on their personality clash, Miguel’s romantic aspiring actor the perfect foil to Merello’s jaded old bodyguard.

After the robbery has been staged is when the real drama begins, however, and the multiple layers of ¡Atraco! are slowly revealed thanks to well-drawn characters, each with their own interesting subplot.

Initially there are the obvious jokes about the common language that divides South Americans from Spaniards, and the men’s hilarious attempts at playing convincing Spanish military (with lots of swearing involved). The film also makes sport of the men’s loyalty to Juan Perón (who allegedly helped Franco during his war campaign) as well as poking fun at the Spanish dictatorship.

In the end, however, the true face of fascism rears its ugly head as Merillo and Miguel become victims of their own patriotism.

‘¡Atraco!’ goes on nationwide release in Spain on October 19.

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Published: Oct 1 2012
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Films
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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