Notes on a Great Festival

in 51st Gijón International Film Festival

by Carlos Oroño

It’s worth remembering that this prestigious Spanish festival is a great opportunity to see once and again international productions which are now in the frontline of filmmaking. The selection is wide and, on top of the different genres offered, we also find new trends that somehow give life to the core of today’s issues.

We have seen films that tackled, with accuracy and wisdom, social themes intertwined with physical tales. There are many different examples. Iranian cinema, which came to worldwide prominence largely thanks to the patient and elaborate work of director Abbas Kiarostami,  finds here a mirror to look at itself from a profound vantage point. The film The Past (Le Pasée) by Asghar Farhadi is tender and melancholic, both in its conflictive characters’ lives as well as in the reality where they dwell. In a different tone, Henri, written and directed by Yolanda Moreau, stabs the dagger in its most beloved characters, as in the relationship of the main character with what he is left with after becoming a widower and how he gets into trouble because of his relationship with a disabled person. The film uses dignity and smoothness to show relationships outside its characters’ common lives.

Also, Gabrielle by Louise Archambault hides a conflictive universe where the characters see their lives altered and play normal. The personality of the young lead actress (Marielle Marion Rivard) shines as she gives life to the main character. The solid and not sordid mixing of characters and situations is worth noting.

Gigris by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is about the adventures of a young man with physical problems, who is involved with the mob and discovers love and the risk of living until he finds a happy ending with his girlfriend. The film’s vision of Chad is unsettling and depressing at times.

The South African film Little One by Darrell James Roodt shows another abhorrent social conflict taking place in very undeveloped countries: the tragedy of rape, in this case of a six-year-old. The statistics are clear and scary.

The Amazing Catfish (Los Insólitos peces gato) is a family drama shot in Mexico by Claudia Sainte-Luce, winner of the FIPRESCI prize in Toronto. The unity of a family around a worrying reality is watched with finesse and comic eyes.

A Promise by French director Patrice Leconte, responsible for the successful The Hairdresser’s Husband (Le Mari de la coiffeuse, 1990), dwells in the literary world and leaves cinema behind at some points, with two actors playing with their characters as if they were puppets. In spite of its predictability, the film has the Leconte aroma.

Blue Ruin is the well-drafted product of an agitated adventure film as seen from a homeless’ point of view in the midst of a satanic vengeance. American director Jeremy Saulnier acts with a strong pulse and gives the film power and a frantic nature.

There are Polish films with social themes and formal black and white beauty. One of them is Ida by Pawel Pawlikowski, which reminds us of the films of the French master Robert Bresson because of its ascetic tone, elaborate cutting and the tortured lives of its characters. Les Apaches by Thierry de Peretti shows without concessions the world (or part of it) of disoriented young people, at least as far as their goals and achievements are concerned.

The Longest Distance (La Distancia más larga) by Claudia Pinto Emperador is a Venezuelan-Spanish co-production with a cast including the excellent actress Carme Elías, but the story is not so well rounded up.

These are just some notes on this great Gijón Film Festival which, as usual and thanks to the work of well-trained people, becomes an artistic event that goes beyond its borders.

Edited by Steven Yates