Film Scouts Diaries

1995 San Sebastian Film Festival Diaries
Capsule Reviews From San Sebastian

by Karen Jaehne

San Sebastian, September 24, 1995


Aida Bortnik, who was nominated for an Oscar for The Official Story, wrote this script for Marcelo Pineyro to direct as a fast and poignant tale of Jose (Hector Alterio), who goes into a bank, puts a gun to his own head, and says, "Give me back the money your bank directors stole."

Taking its cue from S & L scandals of banks going under (only to re-open as a different bank while siphoning off the money from their bankrupt predecessor), the story moves quickly through the bank robbery, where a yuppie banker, Pedro (Leonoardo Sbaraglia), is taken hostage. We then find out Pedro was in on it and is sympathetic to victims of slimy bank practices--but he hadn't counted on being set-up by the bank itself. It seems that one of his fellow yuppies had put more than $15,000 in the drawer where Pedro had stashed just enough to pay off poor old Jose; indeed, they walk out of the bank with half-a-million. But the bank only kvetches about $15,000. You see, they want all their other money back without the media finding out. And they will do anything to stop our heroes. And their distortion of media coverage is very clever.

Paradoxically, the media manages the public relations of Pedro and Jose very well, as they hit the road, heading south through the vast terrain of Argentina. Along the way, they are almost robbed by Ana (Cecilia Dopazo), who gives them back the money when she sees how much it is--too much to risk, she claims. Then she joins them, and as they travel, we meet the working class and peasants who quickly transform them into a Robin Hood gang and help them out of some tight spots.

There is one of those magical cinematic moments when Jose goes from philosophy to felicity on a cliff overlooking the ocean. Why is this man dancing? When he is about to die? He reaches his goal--arriving at his ranch of wild horses in time to free them, as Pedro and Ana make for the border on horseback and....Jose relives that last waltz, that one triumphant moment of knowing he is in sync with all that surrounds him--the people, his life, his flight and his honor.

it's a helluva movie, well paced, well acted, with a rock 'n' roll soundtrack. WILD HORSES is artistically and technically refined; its subject matter is important; its story is both exciting and moving. It transcends Argentina or Spanish markets. it's about justice.


After winning the Camera D'or Prize in Cannes for ORIANA, Venezuelan born Fina Torres made this spunky sound and light show about a bride fleeing the altar in her wedding dress for Paris and the opera.

In a plot worthy of Mozart, both sublime and silly, Ana (Ariadna Gil of the angelic face) floats through a bizarre series of Parisian emigres. Her nemesis is the sex-bomb wicked step-sister who wants to be a video artist, played by the edgy, funny Arielle Dombasle. Ariadna persists in her dream and is "discovered" in a Paris-wide woman hunt for the woman who matches her voice by the Prince Charming opera director (Frederic Longbois), who wants her not for her maidenhood but for her talent in his upcoming opera.

It is deftly made, self-consciously comedic, very post-modern, but most important, it is layered as a multi-media masterpiece by the notable animation artist Eve Ramboz who did the effects for Prospero's Books. This is what people always imagined rock video could do for cinema. It manages to span opera and rock with feather-light footwork by delivering characters we adore, but not stereotypes. And the rhumba, tango, opera, and rock music is the tide on which everything rides. The rhythm drives the movie.

CELESTIAL CLOCKWORK is a worthy follow-up to Fina Torres' honor as the most talented new director at Cannes in 1985. It took ten years, but then it strikes me that it would take ten years to explain the pic to the fearful executives that separate artists and money.


Alberto Isaac is a Mexican with a lotta nerve. He wrote and directed this story of three women who escape their husbands and hearths and get to L.A. to start over. He starts it with one of the worst wife-beating scenes I've ever seen on camera. Then he turns it into a well-intentioned but, unfortunately, not well-executed tale.

In a very good performance as the leader of these insubordinate women we find Patricia Reyes Spindola as Ema. (what's with these impossibly long names?) The women have enough of their dunder-headed hubbies and decide, without much inner conflict, to hightail it to a bigger town. Then they move into jobs as B-girls, run by Rosa 4 (Margarita Isabel, a blowsy, old-fashioned Mexican star). she's the fourth Rosa to run her establishment and seems to be a sexist who likes turning the tables on men, using female wiles to screw'em. And our gals follow suit, although one of them is victimized by a young lothario who's milking her for money. But the other women make her see the light and she punishes him, and they all flee to L.A. (Like that, and like I say, not a lot of internal conflict.)

The idea is good but the psychology is simplistic. Its salsa feminism feels very retro, but I believe the performances are good enough for a lot of audiences (not the art, but perhaps the cable) to get past the artistic lapses and groove on the idea of uppity women.


Based on a famous Mexican novel by Jorge Ibarguengoitia, this is a pretty good movie. But not good enough to get beyond its market. Perhaps it would have been better had the Mexican director Robert Sneider done it from the beginning. But Hollywood got in the way, in the form of British director Graham Cottle whom Sneider replaced.

It hinges on a struggle over an inheritance and the family squabbles that occur in a beautiful hacienda in the hinterlands of Mexico when Marcos (Damian Alcazar) is hounded out of Mexico City as a terrorist. Lots of intra-family seduction goes on when Marcos joins his relatives and they find him an obstacle to taking Uncle Ramon's money.

it's a melodramatic comedy. Neither its starting point--the police coming after Marcos--nor its denouement--the poisoning of Uncle Ramon--is taken seriously. it's amusing, its pacing is lax, its a good insider look at bourgeois life in the Mexican heartland. But its not exciting as a movie. there's much hoopla, I hear, but I don't know why anybody would put it on expensive screens in the USA. Cable?

GUANTANAMERA (yes, the song of the same name)

This is Cuban director Tomas Guttierez Alea's follow-up to STRAWBERRY AND CHOCOLATE. With the same cast, he creates a farcical road-movie through the length of Cuba to reveal its tired, its poor, its hungry masses.

In brief, Its the story of shlepping a corpse from one end of Cuba to be buried in another. This involves a bad bureaucrat Adolfo (Jorge Perugorria) with a warm, wonderful wife (Mirtha Ibarra), and a truck-driver who is still in love with her (Carlos Cruz) a decade after she taught him the principles of communist economics. Their journey through Cuba teaches them that she was wrong, but love is right, and she abandons her idiot husband for happiness.

This is a story I wanted to see work as a movie, because all the characters are likeable and bravely played. But the technical quality of the film leaves a lot to be desired, and unfortunately, we get tired of Cuban poverty through the mid-section. That's capitalism speaking the unfortunate truth.

Still, let it be known this movie has already grossed several million pesetas, and Guttierez Alea is a formidable director even doing a slight plot to show that socialism and socialist realism both suck.

This is one you'll have to catch at a special venue or on Spanish TV.


Director of LOVERS (AMANTES), Vicente Aranda did this facile little exercise in soft-core porn for the money, didn't he? you're bound to see this on cable, dubbed, with a few extra scenes shot by body-doubles, so I'll just give you an idea of what to look for.

Ana Belen plays a proper housewife named Desideria (!) but called Desi by her husband (?). Perhaps that's why she dumps him for a stud she meets on a holiday in Turkey. Side-stepping the usual sight-seeing, she manages to meet him for a quickie behind the oriental carpets. Running back to Istanbul from Madrid, she tracks him down in some scenic wilds of Anatolia. Then she becomes his concubine and love-slave. He uses her and she loves it. He abuses her and she goes along with it, until she is visiting his clients to service them with quickie blow-jobs and wank-offs and...oh, forget it. The point is that Turkish tough-guys are better than Latin lovers.


In searching for some characteristics common to Hispanic films, I came to the conclusion that the secret to this market is in passion. No matter what, do it passionately!

The family is a dominant force and subject. From TWO CRIMES to WALK IN THE CLOUDS, topped by MY FAMILY, the extended family provides the social context. it's not for nothing the Mafia is called the family.

Mothers, however, in contrast to WASP moms, are forceful, political creatures with sex lives. don't underestimate Hispanic moms. They are definitely in charge--and usually in the right.

Sex in these movies is hot and hard. Even when it lacks passion, sex is heavy and although the camera doesn't get too explicit, the sex scenes show faces wrenched in physical pleasure or pain. Sex has not reached that homogenized level yet.

Money is politics. The wealthy are never portrayed as good. None of this genteel wealth. Sometimes they've earned it and deserve it, but even then, they're subject to corruption.

Pacing is lax, easy, with the unhurried gentle feel of people who have no pressing engagements. This is not necessarily good; it can embrace the tedium of everyday life.

Music is good. No tedious symphonic scores sawing away behind the scenes. Latino music has never been better, and movies are using it to maximum effect. Even when they raid rock 'n' roll for songs, they choose good ones, and the rhythms keep it lively.

The Spanish language has dialects, and I was surprised to hear that very often, movies are dubbed from Argentine to Castillian Spanish or from Castillian into Mexican Spanish, because audiences are very sensitive to accent. It just drove home to me how little we gringos really know about this enormous market that is about to become the target of some of the most massive advertising campaigns every launched. Good luck to all your capitalists, but remember - money is politics.

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