Day 1 – 09.10.2014 – IN THE WORDS OF VIC REEVES, “CERRADO!”
Like boxed up Mogwai bound for a New York backstreet Chinese shop we arrived in two separate shipments, ditched our bags at the hotel and raced out onto the familiar streets of Sitges looking for refreshments. We plumped for an old favourite, Lizarran, and settled in for a few beers, some cold pintxos, Huevos Rotos and a good catch-up. Our usual excitement was ramped up to fever pitch due to the return of The Godfather of Sitges himself, Santiago. After a self-imposed exile to a cave in Oman to watch every Japanese animated film ever produced, he decided the ten year anniversary of Corridorstyle was too important to miss.
Our first film wasn’t for another six hours and realizing that this amount of spare time had proved dangerous to us in the past we decided to cut short the bar-based revelry and go for a wander. We ended up at Brigadoon to see what was happening there this year (not a lot) and decided to watch some of the shorts on show. The Godfather got his Sitges return off to a flyer by falling fast asleep within minutes of sitting down so we decided this would be a good time to hit the Auditori and collect our press passes. Once fully ‘laminated-up’ we retired to C’an Xavi for drinks and an hour of swatting flies. We’re down with democracy at CS and as we only had three tickets between four people it was decided that the team would split with half going to see AUTOMATA and the other half hitting Tres Quarts for the England (5) San Marino (0) match and amazing Sobrasada & Cheese Toasties.
20.45 HRS – AUDITORI – AUTOMATA (TOMATO)
This evening the festival was to be graced by the great man himself and his Spanish fans were out in force, desperado to catch a glimpse of Banderas buff the alfombra roja. A fashionably late but Hollywoodesque arrival was accompanied by starstruck screams and paparazzi pyrotechnics but once inside Banderas was the epitome of humble as he accepted the festival’s Grand Honori award. The presentation was accompanied by a short montage of his cinematic greatest hits following which Banderas was quick to point out that although his filmography lacked any “Fantasy” befitting the festival, his own story of a boy from Malaga making it to Hollywood was the biggest fantasy he could imagine.
Ultimately the film itself failed to live up to the hype with the visuals in particular a personal disappointment. Ibanez chose the dystopian future path less travelled, eschewing the blockbuster potential of any hellfire and brimstone demise of humanity in favour of a whimpering exit stage left. A shrugged shoulder, “whaddaya-gonna-do” acceptance of man’s fate rather than a sawn-off shot gun to destiny’s nutsack. As well as the rise of the machines we explore familiar human themes but the effort to serve too much material ultimately led to its dilution or outright neglect. Poor pacing and a lack of wake-you-up manly action left the film flat and overstaying its welcome by the halfway mark. Banderas was, well, Banderas but we were also treated to a rather strange appearance from the former Mrs Banderas whose facial features appeared to have been medically frozen (Botoxomata) in a permanent state of misery, a misery she was mercifully soon put out of. More than could be said for the rest of us.
We’d made arrangements to meet at the Road Café once the match and the film had finished but when half of the team arrived at 10.30 to pull up a table it was announced they were closing!! Bearing in mind we’d often been rolled out of this bar at 4am, to say this was a surprise is an understatement. Undeterred, we decided to instead take the party to what is probably our favourite Sitges bar, El Cable. Unfortunately, as AUTOMATA had run late, the two halves of the team somehow managed to miss each other and so it ended up rare early nights all round.
Day 2 – 10.10.2014 – More Margaritas!
The upside to the previous night’s failed attempt to get loaded was that we were able to rise early, secure ticket reservations for the following day’s films, then meet for breakfast bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, excited for the day’s first film
11.30 HRS – RETIRO – TUSK
Following his success with RED STATE at Sitges 2011 you have to wonder whether Kevin Smith again had one eye on the festival when he scribed this bonkers tale(flipper?) which couldn’t be more Sitges if you stuck a pinxos in it. This was a horrody that delivered on both counts. Darkly daft and mouth-open macabre in equal measures, and with enough cock comedy from Long to keep Smith’s fans content. But to his credit this didn’t feel like a typical Smith film with slippery, slimy cinematography perfect for the subject matter and a solid handling of material which could easily have sunk to farcical depths if allowed. Add to that a masterly performance from Michael Parks and Smith gets the CS Sitges seal of approval. Not that he needed it because the raucous response from the Spanish audience, packed in like sardines, was all you needed to hear.
We now found ourselves in all too familiar territory. Chipper after seeing a good film = fancy a beer to discuss what we’d seen. Lots of time until the next film = fancy lots of beer to discuss what we’d seen. It was the turn of Cafe Del Mon to win the beer kitty lottery and the pleasure of our company for the next four hours. There was a brief attempt at a serious conversation weighing the pros and cons of Scottish and Catalan independence before the squadron took an alcohol induced dive into silliness starting with the Oscars game (aka Colin’s chance to show off). Several hours of nonsense flew by and it ended up being the local mosquitoes who dropped the lottery, mostly at Shaun’s expense.
18.00 HRS – AUDITORI – IT FOLLOWS
Though very much suited to Sitges this was not what you’d call our cup of tea but we decided to trust the considerable buzz that suggested this was a film that didn’t follow the genre convention. Unfortunately, while the premise did promise something fresh the execution swiftly ran for the cover of overly familiar territory. This felt like a short film stretched to feature length and resulted in extended periods of dull and lazy filler which, with a little imagination/effort, could have been put to better use as a means to foster anxiety. As the central malevolent theme required a degree of repetition it was up to the filmmaker to stay creative and ramp things up notch by notch, as it was there were barely enough ideas to fill a 15 minute short-film slot leaving little else to prevent the audience turning back to follow their Twitter feed (yes! They were at it again)
After the disappointment of IT FOLLOWS, and the even bigger disappointment of not getting seats on Corridorstyle Row, Santi decided he was hungry (for a change!!) so we took the short walk to C’an Xavi to refuel. The pizzas there are always great, and after Santi courted controversy by ordering a side salad, we necked our beers and headed back to the Auditori where we were greeted by a virtually empty press queue for
22.30 HRS – AUDITORI – LA FRENCH
As big fans of Friedkin’s 1971 film we were interested to see the other end of The French Connection and how Popeye’s opposite numbers went about cracking the heroin riddled skulls in Marseilles. Lush looking (shot on 35mm) and brimming with atmosphere we could almost feel the Gauloises smoke stinging our eyes. We’re also fans of Scorsese and there are moments here where Marty’s mojo is sprinkled over soundtrack and gangster strewn French night club alike. The casting of Dujardin and Lellouche was a master-stroke as their magistrate vs drug lord stand-off central to the film smouldered then bristled as the two fed off each other, trading crunching blows for good and evil. Fully fleshed characters and scene stealing sets fully engaged the audience meaning the 2+hr run time flew by.
Time flew by for different reasons for Shaun as the food and beers proved too much and he passed out ten minutes into La French. A gangsters gun shot later and he awoke, stumbled through the Auditoti exit curtains and out on to the streets to hail a cab back to the hotel. Cal was only marginally better in that he chose to carry on his kip in the comfort of his Auditori seat but if his plan was to awake fresh and ready to party into the wee small hours he, along with the rest of the team, would be disappointed yet again by the shite sight of bars closing early for the night.
Day Three – 11.10.2014 – The Red (Wine) Mist Descends
In an unprecedented event for Sitges, we get up for the second day in a row feeling chipper and ready for action. Who would have thought the early morning streets of Sitges could be so pleasant when you didn’t have a banging hangover. The team was once more forced to split due to ticketing issues and it was Santiago who drew the nobby-no-mates short straw and shuffled off to see the Studio Ghibli documentary (The Kingdom Of Dreams And Madness) while the rest of the team vamped off to
10.45 HRS – RETIRO – WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS
Mockumentaries can quickly give themselves a cross to bear by neglecting simple cinematic structure, assuming their audience will find the subject matter as funny as they do with no attempt at a narrative. They see the doc format as merely an economical means to deliver the jokes straight off the page but here we were reminded why that’s a lazy missed opportunity. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi deliver inherently funny, interesting characters and place them in a world primed for humour. The material is original and the jokes never overstay their welcome, with the mock doc format used here to keep the humour rolling not as a crutch. A film funny enough to really piss off the werewolves.
A planned rendez-vous at the Bacardi-Bar-come-REC-exhibition was cut short with the realisation that the exhibition was tosh so we decided instead to take our Cuba Libres in the sun by the sea. Our go-to beach front choice (Port Alegre) was full so we were bumped along San Sebastian beach to a new place called Yamuna. Though we’d made it clear we were only here for the beer (apart from Santi going all-in for a Mojito), and having been served our first round of drinks seemingly without issue, we were slightly miffed to then be told that unless we were eating lunch we had to leave. Santiago dropped the waiter our disapproval in full Colombian mode but not wanting to cause a scene (us cause a scene in Sitges?) we decided to slink off to our next film, where we were at least finally able to secure Corridorstyle Row seats.
14.45 HRS – AUDITORI – MONSTERS: DARK CONTINENT
This made our list based purely on the strength of Gareth Edwards’, Scoot McNairy starring original that we caught at Sitges back in 2010. Edwards’ Brit replacement Tom Green gave a brief introduction to the film, making it clear this second instalment was never intended to be a sequel, although he hoped it at least carried forward the spirit of the original film.
Aside from the titular beasties there was indeed little to suggest a connection to the first film. Unfortunately that extended to quality as much as plot. Apparently shot on a similar budget Dark Continent lacked Edwards’ vision and resourcefulness and while the action sequences were handled well and the military elements authentic this film ultimately lacked an identity. With the monsters serving only as scenery filler we were left with dull, wandering segments which brought the film to a virtual stand-still, and though its pacing would have benefited had it shed 30 minutes we’ve a feeling it still wouldn’t have known its ending had it been given all day.
Col and Cal still found enough redeeming features to enjoy Monsters for what it was but Santi struggled to see beyond its faults. Shaun, never one to sit on the fence, flat out hated it and left early to secure a place in the queue at the Retiro for a packed house showing of:
17.30 HRS – RETIRO – THE ROVER
We love a bit of Guy Pearce at Sitges and with FIRST SNOW and MEMENTO safely tucked away he decided to join up with Oz team mates David Michod (director) and Joel Edgerton (writer) for a crack at his hat-trick, with assists from two other recent Sitges stars, Scoot McNairy and Robert Pattinson. With little in the way of dialogue Pearce let his face do all the talking and with little in the way of storyline Michod let his Mad Max scenery do the same. What plot there was turned out to be a bit daft and perhaps better suited to the short story format but then that would have denied us the screen time of three actors revelling in each others performances.
Having promised Cal McMundie the 3rd Laird of Hootsmatroosers the chance to catch some of the Scotland game we made our way to Tres Quarts where we were treated to vintage fall-over-fun from Derby County favourite Chris Martin (no, the other one) as the Sweaties squeaked by the mighty Georgia 1-0. Santi was hungry (obviously) so we decided to hit Donastiarra for great tapas (mini burgers and black pudding) and honour yet another promise to Cal by getting stuck right into a bottle of red wine. Cal was probably a little too keen to kick it like a local when he swooped for the green peppers on the bar before the owner had chance to tell him they were raw and needed cooking first. Santi confirmed what we already knew, that this joint was one of the best in town, and the CS rubber stamp was duly awarded.
It was decided that El Cable was next but after a mix up getting a table we ended up drinking red wine in the street, and it was here we decided three things. Firstly that red wine was the way forward, secondly that we needed a seat and thirdly that we were now right on it and completely powerless to resist. So, bearing in mind those three factors there was only one thing we could do – hit the Road Café. After saying hello to Juan, we ordered the wine and some Patats Bravas (you’ve guessed it, Santi was hungry) we put the world to rights, or mainly sat slagging off U2. We were settled in for the evening, but to our horror they yet again called time early so we had to find somewhere else to take the party to.
Santiago saw this as his chance to escape and hit the hay, but Shaun, Colin and Cal strolled down the road to the bar with no name (that’s to say, we’ve no idea what it’s called but it used to serve burgers and we’ve played pool in there previously). Red wine was called for and we scanned the place and noticed some Spanish teenagers playing pool. As seasoned Pool & Snooker sharks, Colin and Cal saw their chance to teach the Spanish a thing or two about the green baize and put their money on the table. However, what they didn’t notice was that there were also a group of English guys who were up next and were nowhere near as drunk as them (and could probably actually see straight) and ended up getting turned over twice. With the taste of red wine and failure in our mouths, we finally called it a day at 2.30 am.
Day Four – 12.10.2014 – The Long Goodbye
Cal and Shaun were on the first stagecoach out of town but Colin & Santi’s flights weren’t until later so breakfast was an emotional affair as we said our festival farewells until next year.
Final day of the festival is “Marathon” time where the organisers select three films to be shown back-to-back in each of the three theatres. The film titles are not announced beforehand so Colin and Santi decided to just go for the glory of the Auditori and pray the film God’s were on their side.
09.45 HRS – AUDITORI – MARATHON
Though we were a little underwhelmed with Mike Cahill’s previous pseudo sci-fi outing at Sitges in 2011 (ANOTHER EARTH) he’d obviously decided to have another crack at marrying science and humanity, this time entwining evolutionary biology with love and spirituality. It’s all about the eye you see? If Dr Ian Grey (Michael Pitt) can demonstrate that the eye’s complexity is merely the result of thousands of evolutionary changes he’ll be able to counter religion’s claim that such complexity could only be the workings of some grand architect. But Dr Grey soon discovers that perhaps science doesn’t have all the answers and maybe there’s more to life than meets the…errr….eye. Although the script (written by Cahill) does contain a lot of science it’s the human element that drives the story. Accompanied by a moving score and beautiful cinematography the audience is drawn to the humans doing the science and not the big words coming out of their mouths. This felt like much more of a complete film than Cahill’s first and with more of a sense of what it wanted to say. And Cahill has clearly grown in the intervening three years into a writer/director who now knows how to deliver exactly what he wants to say
The synopsis of corrupt cops, drugs and violence had us frothing at the mouth like a wild dog for a crunching Brit drama to rival the best our Korean brothers have to offer. All the ingredients are there. The anarchy takes place in London’s gritty underbelly and the characters are hard, battle savvy and driven by a greed that will see them stop at nothing to take their piece at the expense of everyone and everything. Even the main protagonist and head dirty cop (Peter Ferdinando) has the look and feel of someone we’ll root for even while he meters out unflinching violence. Perhaps then it’s because the potential is there that the final product is all the more disappointing. Although not overly long at 112 minutes the drama could have benefited from a less is more approach to the dialogue and violence. As it is, scenes and characters become irritating and unintentionally comedic, breaking any flow the film might have had. Deprived of all tension the climax and ending were left flat and meaningless, that is for those that were left caring by that point.
Not really what we were expecting from the pre-festival buzz but then we’re still not even sure what it was having now seen it. It is a vampire film, that much is clear, but the genre these days rarely focuses on just the blood sucking, cape wearing, cross-avoiding antics of its ancestors. Here the cape is exchanged for a Chador and bat-like flight replaced with a skateboard. Blood is indeed sucked and the black and white imagery provide shadow and contrast worthy of Nosferatu, but there’s also a love story here, and sex and drugs and rock and roll (well, Iranian Electro pop).
An initial attempt to join the dots may have had us looking for some Middle-East/American subtext, what with the tail-finned, gas guzzling Thunderbird and the James Dean-esque protagonist playing out against the backdrop of ever-nodding oil derricks. But they may just be further examples of the plentiful film referencing throughout A Girl Walks Home Alone At Night and the real story is, in fact, about the girl, and her journey from where she once was to where she’s now going (but is the girl actually a girl or is the girl a metaphor for Iran? And what about the cat?)
And that was it for 2014 and our 10th year straight at the festival. Perhaps there have been better years in terms of films but Sitges has always been about the whole package and the town was as welcoming as ever, plus the guest appearance from Cal and the return of The Ocho made it another year to remember.