56th San Sebastian International Film Festival
For “Great Goya” and Then “Dear Godard”
by Massoud Mehrabi

Nowadays, international film festivals are not attractive enough to lure foreign guests on their own. Despite one or two decades ago when festivals did not show so much films, did not have diverse sections, and were not surrounded by all kinds of entertaining programs, now at the age of information and communications, most cinema productions can be easily accessed in any part of the world; from the initial idea that set them off to their birth and later survival. Undoubtedly, international film festivals are still attractive enough to local people and even at a national level. However, they can hardly persuade others to pack up and travel thousands of kilometers to reach a festival. Perhaps, this would not be so difficult in not-so-far future and they may invent a device to take you to any part of the world in a blink of eye [provided that you would not be caught in a disaster as happens to Set Brundle in The Fly (a film made by David Cronenberg on the basis of George Langelaen’s screenplay)]. Until that time, it is not a short distance from Tehran to San Sebastian: you have got to fly from Tehran to Istanbul and from Istanbul to Madrid before taking a train to San Sebastian. I had 24 difficult hours due to frequent stopovers and insomnia. For few reporters who had come from Japan and China, it was even more difficult. Most of us had caught a cold due to exhaustion and temperature changes. During the first few days, you could constantly hear reporters coughing at the theater.
The question is why, then, we had taken that hard trip? I don’t know about others, but I admit that cinema-related motivations were the last thing on my mind. I am one of those people who believe that museums are often more productive than film festivals and a painting, for example by Goya, is more amazing and impressive than a film by, for example, Godard. I mostly went there to revisit the works of art that are being held at the magnificent Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao as well as to see unique national heritage of Prado Museum. Although San Sebastian is a magical city with its superb beaches, revisiting the works of Velazqez, Tiepolo, Sarolly, and Zurbaran, and of course, the gods of painting, Rubens and Goya, gives me the ultimate pleasure which I derive from touring this trove of human heritage.
We descend through dream-provoking clouds to touch our real Earth. The 56th San Sebastian International Film Festival was very productive this year. There were different sections such as Official Selection, Zabaltegi, Horizontes Latinos, Made in Spain, Basque Cinema Day, Velodrome, and Japanese Film Noir as well as tributes to grand cinema masters, Mario Monicelli and Terence Davies. More than 200 films were screened in 617 showtimes. Apart from 3,000 Spanish reporters and 1,000 foreign ones, 177,654 viewers watched the films. There were a number of surprising films topped by Hunger, the admirable work of Steve McQueen which is a favorite of writers and critics. Before reviewing films, like standing in front of paintings in a museum in order to reflect over them, enjoy them, or forget them with indifference, I have to mention a prominent part of the festival; a work which was screened as many times as festival’s films: it was festival’s trailer. Trailers of San Sebastian Film Festival are extraordinary as compared to other festivals: short, pounding, impressive, and memorable. In other words, they are like a small aperitif which increase your appetite for the main course even if the main course is not a delicious meal. The word “pounding” brings a bitter memory to my mind. The trailer of the 22nd Montreal International Film Festival (1998) was also pounding. Of course, this does not mean that it was positively surprising, but it hit you like a sledgehammer before the beginning of every film (that is, 3-4 times a day). Its subject was not bad, but its presentation was awful. A cubic piece of stone was cut until a baby was born out of it. It took 35 seconds before the baby was born, and during that time, the sound of chisel and hammer combined with uproar of the audience and the music and every other imaginable sound could be heard on loudspeakers at the highest possible decibels; it made breathing difficult for you.


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