Yesterday (Saturday), the Jury for the Official Selection at the San Sebastián Film Festival, presided over by Christine Vachon, presented the Golden Shell for Best Film to Dans la maison (In the House) and the Jury Prize for Best Screenplay to its director, François Ozon. The film premiered in Toronto, where a few other San Sebastián award-winners screened, so we’ll have ourselves a neat little roundup here. But first, the Ozon, which also took the International Critics (FIPRESCI Prize) for Toronto’s Special Presentations section.
“To its credit, the protestations against the middle-class that crop up with wink-nudge frequency in François Ozon’s latest seem entirely disingenuous,” writes John Semley for Cinema Scope. “Adapted from Juan Mayorga’s play The Boy in the Last Row, Dans la maison casts Ernst Umhauer as Claude, a sixteen-year-old creative writing prodigy obsessed with his classmate’s (Bastien Ughetto) seemingly ‘perfect’ family and Fabrice Luchini as Mr. Germaine, the (too) deeply invested literature teacher pushing him to explore his perverse desires so that he may get off by proxy in grading his assignments, co-conspirators in gumshoe perversion…. In scene that defines the film’s modest ambitions of middle-brow self-awareness, Germaine and his wife (Kristin Scott Thomas) line up at the cinema to see Woody Allen’s Match Point (2005). As their back-and-forth bickering is shushed by the theatre’s more devoted patrons, Ozon’s camera tilts up to the stream of light cast by the projector, equating Allen’s pleasant-enough date-night popcorn romance with his own film.”
“In many ways, this is exactly the sort of film Woody Allen has been trying to make lately, but has come up short,” writes Ronald Bergan at the House Next Door. “Ozon also plays a perilous game by turning the film on itself. The director summed it up well in the press notes: ‘I saw it as a chance to speak indirectly about my work, the cinema, inspiration and its sources, what it is to create, what it is to be an audience.’ At one stage in the film, Luchini says, ‘The ending of a story must catch the audience by surprise, and yet make them think that that it is the only ending possible.’ In the House almost lives up to that ambition.”
Time‘s Richard Corliss: “Luchini, who has epitomized droll wit ever since his screen debut 42 years ago in Eric Rohmer’s Claire’s Knee, is at 61 perfect as a pedagogue, and failed novelist, enthralled by the world that is being experienced or invented by a gifted young writer. He allows Umhauer, 21 but passing easily for a precociously poised 16, to seize control of a grownup’s life and this seductive puzzle-box of a film.” The Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney reminds that, in Ozon’s Swimming Pool, “a parched crime writer’s creativity is reinvigorated by her proximity to a sexually uninhibited younger woman”; Dans la maison is “perhaps his strongest work since the 2003 drama.” On Friday, by the way, Marcus Seibert will be talking with Ozon at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Cologne.
San Sebastián’s Special Jury Prize goes to Pablo Berger’s Blancanieves, and Macarena García’s split the Silver Shell for Best Actress (we’ll get to the other half in a moment). Gonzalo de Pedro Amatria for Cinema Scope: “Berger takes the Snow White tale and rewrites it, mixing low culture with visual references out of high culture (of cinema, specifically). There are references to Jean Vigo, Abel Gance, and Carl Theodor Dreyer, among others, but the film is not just a postmodern compendium of quotes: it’s a search into the past to find the forces that led to the cinema of the present. Minus the political overtones of another great homage to old cinema—Miguel Gomes’s Tabu—Berger’s film is more a tale about envy, love and death, mixing comedy with a great sense of visual spectacle, than it is a reflection about history and cinema.”
“It is a full-bodied, visually stunning silent film of the sort that might have been made by the greatest directors of the 1920s, if such details as the kinky sadomasochism of the Evil Stepmother could have been slipped past the censors,” writes Roger Ebert. At Twitch, Jason Gorber notes that “Kiko de la Rica’s photography is often stunning,” while the Hollywood Reporter‘s David Rooney nods to “Alfonso de Vilallonga’s sumptuous, flamenco-inflected score.” All in all, a B+ from Boyd van Hoeij at indieWIRE. Spain’s sending this one into the Oscar race.
Miguel Juan Payán was hoping his country would go for El Artista y la Modelo (The Artist and the Model), and the Silver Shell for Best Director has, after all, gone to Fernando Trueba. Ronald Bergan at the House Next Door: “The story of the film, shot in black and white for no apparent reason, is all in the title. An octogenarian sculptor, Marc (Jean Rochefort), hires a young Spanish girl, Mercè (Aida Folch), a refugee from Franco, to be his model. Bearing some similarities to Jacques Rivette‘s far superior La Belle Noiseuse, most of the film concentrates on the working relationship between the two protagonists and the contrast between Rochefort’s full, aged face and the sinuous curves of Folch’s nude body. Claudia Cardinale, as Marc’s wife, puts on a lovely, brave smile as she listens to the man describing her as once having had the most beautiful body in the world. Co-written by Trueba and Jean-Claude Carrière, this is very much a heterosexual male fantasy disguised as an existential statement on art and the state of the world.” The trailer:
Back to the other half of the Silver Shell for Best Actress. It goes to Katie Coseni for her performance in Laurent Cantet’s Foxfire: Confessions of a Girl Gang, “adapted from Joyce Carol Oates’s bestselling, 1950s-set novel about a band of proto-feminist teens whose rebellious exploits yield disastrous consequences,” as Jordan Mintzer notes in the Hollywood Reporter. “Not unlike his 2005 drama, Heading South, the director’s soft-touch realism and sharp eye for detail are both on display in this handsomely mounted and occasionally moving period piece, but the film is likewise mired by inconsistent anglais performances from a cast of newcomers, not to mention a two-hour-plus running time that ultimately overstays its welcome.”
Kiva Reardon, writing for Cinema Scope, finds that “while Cantet’s previous work with young casts (i.e. The Class) managed to cannily create a convincing sense of verisimilitude, Foxfire never hits that same faux-realist mark.” Ronald Bergan at the House: “Monotonous in its abrasive tone and simplistic in its attitude, it offers very little distance to or explanation for a group of adolescent girls behaving badly toward one-dimensionally conceived men.” At indieWIRE, Boyd van Hoeij finds it “dramatically repetitive and somewhat inert.”
The Silver Shell for Best Actor goes to José Sacristán for his performance in Javier Rebollo’s El Muerto y ser felix (The Dead Man and Being Happy). More on that one soon, as it’s screening at the New York Film Festival. Best Cinematography: Touraj Aslani for Rhino Season, “Bahman Ghobadi‘s haunting feature that crafts fiction from the inspiration of real-life Kurdish-Iranian poet Sadegh Kamangar.” John DeFore in the Hollywood Reporter: “Co-star Monica Bellucci may attract much of the attention Stateside, but the film’s ravishing aesthetic and multiple points of political interest will make it fascinating to many cineastes… As the film’s protagonist Sahel, a poet imprisoned during Iran’s Islamic Revolution, actor Behrouz Vossoughi surely drew upon his own experience of being removed from his culture: The actor, once a superstar in Iran, fled in 1978 and has been relegated to penny-ante American film and TV work since. Ghobadi himself has been exiled from the country since making the provocative No One Knows About Persian Cats in 2009.”
The Jury’s Special Mention: Ziad Doueiri’s The Attack, which screened at Telluride and “begins on a deceptively quiet note,” writes Stephen Farber in the Hollywood Reporter, “as Dr. Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), a Palestinian surgeon fully assimilated in Tel Aviv, is honored to be the first Arab ever to receive a coveted Israeli medical prize. He is eager to share the news with his wife Sihem (Reymonde Amsellem), but she is out of town visiting family members. Soon afterward, Amin is called to the hospital to assist the victims of a suicide bombing at a popular restaurant, which claimed 17 lives. But he is even more shocked when police inform him that the suicide bomber has been identified as his own wife. Hauled in for brutal questioning as a potential accomplice, Amin is quickly cleared of any complicity in the bombing, but then he must try to fathom his wife’s secret life as a terrorist.”
“The film adapts a novel by the Algerian writer, Yasmina Khadra, who publishes under a pseudonym,” note David D’Arcy at indieWIRE. “Shot in a thriller mode that accentuates melodrama, The Attack breaks new ground (certainly in Arab cinema) by confronting the role that ordinary citizens can have in the killing of innocents. The film doesn’t go much deeper in finding answers to why a privileged person would commit suicide under the influence of extremists, but it reminds us of the distance that can separate the closest of companions.” Ronald Bergan writes that The Attack “renewed my faith in narrative-driven cinema.” More from Alex Billington (FirstShowing, 8.5/10) and Eric D. Snider (Twitch).