San Sebastian Film Festival: Day Three

Carancho, Cirkus Columbia, Lucia, Post Mortem and a Rita Hayworth pintxo

by Amber Wilkinson

San Sebastian is bidding to be the European City of Culture in 2016, with T-shirts and posters advertising the fact almost everywhere you look. I'd say, given the amount of cultural events they have for a city that is comparatively small, they must be in with a decent shout. Hell - as I discovered today - even some of the tapas references film.

I realise that sounds slightly odd, but it's true - there is a pintxo named after Rita Hayworth or, more specifically, after her character Gilda in the film of the same name. It's hard to imagine what Hayworth would have thought of being named after a pimiento, anchovy and olive pintxo - but it's probably better than a being immortalised as a sausage on a stick. I gather that the reasoning behind it is that the snack is a complex mix of flavours - sour, salty, fiery - reflecting the various facets of the onscreen character. I haven't tried one yet, but I'll make an effort to give one a go at some point and report back.

My film slate for the day certainly offered a range of flavours, too, stretching from Latin America to Bosnia Herzegovina on the brink of war - although it's fair to say that of all of them . The day began in Argentina, with Pablo Trapero's tense thriller Carancho, that comes filled to the brim with matters of mortality and questionable morality.

Suso (Ricardo Darin) is an amublance-chasing "vulture", whose consoles traffic accidents victims with one hand, while claiming their compensation for them and ripping them off with the other. But though he may appear to have the upper hand, in fact his strings are, in turn being pulled by his company bosses.

When, one night he bumps into paramedic Lujan (Maria Gusman) over the body of the latest road victim, they fall for one another but, inevitably, she has troubles of her own.

This is thrusting, gritty, pacy thriller - read the full review here.

The same, however, cannot be said for Lucia, unfortunately, which is as 'typical' festival film as I've seen all week. What I mean by that is that although there are admirable aspects to it - and it's easy to see why it was selected - it is unlikely to ever garner a wide audience. The titular character is a poor Chilean, whose life with her father is examined in the wake of the death of General Pinochet. Not a great deal happens in terms of narrative, but Niles Atallah shows a good eye for framing and subtly explores the gap between the haves and have nots in the country and the wounds left by the dictatorship.

The most interesting aspect of the film is the mix of techniques. Still photographs are used in certain scenes to give a sort of 'flip book' stop-motion effect, which lends them a sense of heightened reality. Rather too slow moving and subtly structured in terms of its message to hook an audience not already familiar with the ins and the outs of Chile's sociopolitics, it nevertheless has enough going on to suggest better films to come from Atallah.

The subject of Chile's brutalised populace is also the theme of Pablo Larrain's latest film, Post Mortem, which is filled with similarly strong meditations on oppression, obssession and amorality as his last first Tony Manero. Alfredo Castro again takes on the leading role as Mario, an isolated civil servant, whose job is to write down post mortem notes. The action, set against the 1973 coup against Allende, charts his obsessive crush on past-her-prime cabaret dancer Nancy (Antonia Zegers) taking in a fair chunk of national horror along the way.

Larrain proves again that he is a master when it comes to examining amorality. He observes his characters rather than judging them, inviting us to consider that the actions of society and state as a whole have horrific implications for the individuals within it. A gripping and emotionally consideration of the casual evils that men do.

Similar themes concerning the impact of national upheaval on individual lives are explored in Danis Tanovic's Cirkus Columbia, although he uses satirical humour to question what causes neighbour to fight against neighbour.

His story is set in small-town Bosnia-Herzegovina just before the 1992 war gets into full throttle. Divko (Miki Manojlovic, in the sort of role Walter Matthau would have loved) has returned to his hometown after a 20 year absence, forced on him by communist rule. Now the Reds are out, he returns with his pockets full of German cash, a trophy girlfriend and a mind full of thoughts of revenge against those he believes wronged him all those years ago.

Chief on his list is his estranged wife Lucija (Mira Furlan), who he ousts from her house along with his son Martin (Boris Ler).While much of the domestic drama is played for laughs, there are dark clouds here and Tanovic points to parallels with between the everyday and the bigger socio-political scene. There is a sense of the futility of revenge and of its cyclical, bitter aspect, which takes its toll both on the giver and the receiver. By sweetening the pill with some well-judged comedy, he gives his film a universal appeal and I wouldn't be in the least surprised to see it get a foreign language Oscar nod when the time comes.

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