Streaming Spotlight - San Sebastian Shell winners

This week we're focusing on films that took home the top prizes in Spain

by Amber Wilkinson

Alfredo Castro in Rojo
Alfredo Castro in Rojo Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival
Today marks the start of the 68th edition of the San Sebastian Film Festival in northern Spain. To celebrate, we're casting an eye back across the festival's history to select some of the festival's Golden Shell and Silver Shell winners for our Streaming Spotlight.

Vertigo, Amazon Prime, Netflix

HItch's tale of a detective (James Stewart) who becomes obsessed with a woman who bears eerie similarities to another whom he failed to save, took home the Silver Shell for directing at the festival in 1958. Both Hitchcock and Stewart attended, what was the international premiere of the film and the director would do the double the following year when he won the Silver Shell again for North By Northwest. Everything in Vertigo is exquisitely crafted - from the costumes to its sense of melancholy and its central performances from Stewart and Kim Novak - as Hitchock slowly unfurls the psychological suspense. Stewart also shared the Silver Shell for acting with Kirk Douglas, for The Vikings. Perhaps surprisingly, Hitchock lost the Golden Shell for best film to a Polish comedy Eve Wants To Sleep, directed byTadeusz Chmielewski.

The Spirit Of The Beehive, AppleTV, from £3.49

It had been almost two decades since a homegrown director won the Golden Shell, when Biscay-born director garnered the honour in 1973 for his film that is still widely regarded as one of the greatest Spanish films ever made. Filled with symbolism and allegory - a necessary device for filmmakers during the Franco years -  this story about a young girl whose world view is irrevocably changed by viewing James Whale's Frankenstein, sees the real world and the realm of imagination blend between one another. Fans of Guillermo del Toro will no doubt see the influence on his work here, as the director himself has admitted it "is one of those seminal movies that seeped into my very soul". Articulating both the realm of childhood imagination and the repressive Franco regime, Erice's film also boasts impressive visual poetry.

Badlands, Amazon, GooglePlay and other platforms, from £3.49

Nicholas Ray was on the jury in 1974, the year that Terrence Mallick's debut won the Golden Shell. Based on the true story of the Starkwater Fugate killings of 1959, the film charts the passionate romance that flares between 15-year-old Holly (Sissy Spacek) and the charismatic and rebellious Kit (Martin Sheen, who won the acting Silver Shell for his trouble) that will lead to a murderous spree. Directed with a looseness that drinks in the landscapes and a mood that avoids sensationalism, Spacek, who was just 14 at the time, is remarkable as the film's unreliable narrator.

Miller's Crossing, Amazon, Microsoft and other platforms, from £2.49

Joel and Ethan Coen's Prohibition-era mob tale, won the Silver Shell in 1990 - Golden Shell honours went to Montxo Armendáriz's Letters From Alou. The brothers had enjoyed a box office hit with their previous outing [filmRaising Arizona[/film], but this is an altogether more complex and ambitious tale of moral ambiguity. Gabriel Byrne is the enigmatic heart of the film, trying to work the angles as best he can, with excellent support from Albert Finney as mob boss Leo and Coens' regular John Turturro. Like much of the Coen's output, there is an endlessly twisting narrative, that also offers a sort of commentary on itself.

Neds, Amazon, GooglePlay and other platforms, from £2.49

Although Peter Mullan's tale of growing up in Seventies Glasgow is not autobiographical, it's evident that many of the moments featured in the film are close to his own experience. This isn't a film about kids who are born bad, but one that shows instead how baby steps and society's unwillingness to help can turn youngsters who are naturally quite sweet into something altogether more broody and violent. The writer/director captures the allure of gangs as a place of belonging as much as an opportunity to fight with others and his film is also laced with a surprising amount of humour. Neds was awarded the Golden Shell and Conor McCarron - magnetic in his debut performance - won the Best Actor Silver Shell in 2010. Read what Mullan told us about the film here.

City Of Life And Death, Amazon Prime

Jennie Kermode writes: One of the most harrowing films you're ever likely to see, not least because it's rooted in real testimony, Lu Chuan's striking black and white dramatisaton of the Rape of Nanjing has attracted its share of criticism but largely for the right reasons. The film, which won the Golden Shell in 2009, doesn't show us the worst of what happened in the city because it doesn't need to, understanding that more would trigger the defensive reflex of disbelief and still giving viewers quite enough to make sure they never forget it. It shows us the human side of Japanese soldiers and does not portray them all as monsters, any more than it portrays all the Chinese civilians as heroes or even as innocents - because of this, it's easier to relate to both the suffering and the guilt, and to understand the dehumanising effect of conflict on this scale, as reason becomes meaningless, instinct takes over and everybody starts behaving more like an animal. It also complicates one of the West's favourite heroes. Again and again, we are invited to get attached to people only to see them die. Lu leaves his audience feeling brutalised as well, as he explores the terrifying disconnect between the wills of individuals and crowds, the madness that overtakes us when we start seeing numbers instead of people.

Rojo, Amazon, GooglePlay, Curzon and other platforms, from £1.99

The winner of the Golden Shell in 2018, Benjamin Naishtat's Rojo is a darkly comic genre thriller set on brink of the Argentine dictatorship that would lead to more than 30,000 disappearances. Small town lawyer Claudio (Dario Grandinetti - who won the Silver Shell for his performance) find himself in a restaurant face-off with an apparently unhinged stranger (Diego Cremonesi) - a situation which later escalates and leads to a night-time trip to the desert. The idea of the middle-classes closing ranks and choosing what to see and what not to see runs deep in the film, as Claudio finds himself under scrutiny from aChilean detective (Alfredo Castro, channelling his inner Columbo) investigating a disappearance. Shot by Pedro Sotero with the Seventies firmly in mind, there's a jaundiced feel to this film that reflects the state of the nation in the period. Read our interview with Naishtat.

We're staying in Spain for our short this week, with animation Decorado, directed by Alberto Vázquez, whose Birdboy: The Forgotten Children screened at San Sebastian in 2015.

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