(For our previews of the films presented at this years festival take a look HERE )
42nd Sitges Internationl Fantastic Film Festival 1 – 12 Oct 2009
It was hard to believe that a year had passed since we last disembarked at Barcelona’s El Prat airport on our way to the 41st festival. The airport had received a facelift in the form of the impressive new Terminal 1, however, once aboard the Sitges bound RENFE train things became reassuringly familiar and the conversation soon turned to all things fantastic as we rattled between the Garraf massif and the Mediterranean.
We’d booked a return stay at the excellent Hotel Galeon but were left scrambling a few weeks before our arrival after discovering that our travel agent, Roomsnet.com, had cancelled all European bookings (without notifying anyone) due to payment issues with their local agents. Fortunately, we were able to find alternative accommodation via the efficient Alpharooms.com and the Hotel El Cid would instead serve as this year’s CS festival base camp. Not really on a par with The Galeon, and with a distinct lack of tater-tots, El Cid was nonetheless fit for purpose. With no time to dwell over the hotel’s pink motif bath towels we made our way out onto Sitges streets filled with familiar sights, smells, and sounds.
Having celebrated the 25th anniversary of BLADE RUNNER in 2007, the festival again took the opportunity to give Ridley Scott a big hug and this year honoured the 30th anniversary of ALIEN. We had everything crossed for the (admittedly unlikely) appearance of the great man himself but we instead had to settle for….um….Walter Hill.
Now, I mean no disrespect to Walter. He is after all the producer behind all four ALIEN films and was shrewd enough to put aside his artistic tasteometer and cash in on the ALIEN v PREDATOR follow-ups. And behind the camera he brought us such greats as THE WARRIORS, THE DRIVER, SOUTHERN COMFORT, and 48 HRS to name but a few. But is Walter really all the festival could come up with for its 30th anniversary tribute?
I’m harping on here because, other than providing the theme for the festival’s “corporate image”, the organiser’s tribute to whatever genre classic has an anniversary that year tends to leave a lot to be desired. For example, there was only one screening of ALIEN this year. One single screening which, as it was on the opening day – a Thursday at 4.30 in the afternoon I might add, we missed. It was the same for Kubric’s 2001 last year and BLADE RUNNER the year before (although luckily we caught that one).
These big screen classics have not been seen on the big screen for some time and here we are with the festival’s amazing Auditori theatre, the greatest theatre I’ve had the pleasure to watch films in, and yet we’re offered just a single screening. Surely the festival programme can be shuffled sufficiently to free up additional Auditori slots, even early morning or late night ones.
And I’m not even going to mention, “flashes from the 80’s”, the festival’s other supposed tributes this year. Did everyone enjoy the promised screening (with extra footage and horror) of THE SHINING?
In an attempt to even things up a little I will say that I enjoyed sitting next to John Saxon during the screening of COLD SOULS. Not for his connection with the 80’s tribute to NIGHTMARE ON ELM ST mind you, but because this was the man that had a 70’s punch up with Bruce Lee.
As well as its nod to ALIEN, the festival paid tribute to Malcolm McDowell and Viggo Mortensen who both received Grand Honorary awards, and this year “Maquina del tiempo” awards went to Walter Hill, Park Chan-wook, Clive Barker, Shinya Tsukamoto, Herschell Gordon Lewis and Ivan Reitman.
This year’s pre-festival homework had been cranked up a notch and our extensive (ahem!) previews had resulted in a veritable feast of films.
First off, The Wookie was back. Park Chan-wook’s THIRST led out a rather thin line up from Asia but our expectations were high for another classic from the master. The house of Asia had also caught our attention with Indonesia’s answer to Quentin Tarantino, Joko Anwar and THE FORBIDDEN DOOR, deemed “best of Puchon” at their International film festival earlier this year. For old times’ sake we mulled over two other candidates from Korea with creature feature CHAW and epic disaster flick HAEUNDAE, and we gave Hong Kong, and Johnnie To in particular, another chance to win us over with Soi Cheang’s ACCIDENT and To’s VENGEANCE.
As with last year we were right behind our fellow countrymen and looked forward to impressive turns from Tom Hardy in BRONSON, Jim Sturgess and Philip Ridley with HEARTLESS and Duncan Jones at the helm of MOON. We would have also been cheering on Ridley Scott but, well, you know our thoughts on that already.
The sci-fi theme headlined with ALIEN was underpinned throughout the festival’s programme and, along with MOON, we’d singled out solid contenders in Jaco Van Dormael’s MR.NOBODY, Paul Giammati in COLD SOULS, and Vincenzo Natali’s gene mashing SPLICE. The Alien-esque CARGO looked promising and the unique visual animation of METROPIA had caught our eye. Slightly more off the beaten galactic super-highway we braced ourselves for the Hungarian brain fryer “1” and scratched our collective head as to how Mathieu Amalric was going to make sense of LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE.
Sitges wouldn’t be Sitges without a couple of “WTF!” moments so we threw in Gaspar Noé’s ENTER THE VOID and the nutty Belgium animation PANIQUE AU VILLAGE to keep one foot in the bonkers camp.
………And so it came to pass. Another jump through hyperspace as 7 days were compressed into what seemed like minutes. 7 days beneath glorious Mediterranean skies, each day brimming with potential genius. However, it was a potential that, unfortunately, was never quite fulfilled. We came away with the feeling that this was not a vintage year.
Sure, the town was as welcoming as ever (though we’re still not sure why the council decides to dig up the pavements every year just as the festival arrives) and our friends at THE ROAD CAFÉ, EL CABLE, and LIZARRAN were the best hosts you could wish for. Even Hernan’s (now annual) confession that this year would be his last couldn’t take the edge off the party.
The festival organisers too were once more pretty much on the money and the logistic reshuffle around the Auditori seemed to help the ticket collection process and queues flow that bit easier, though Brigadoon was a little quiet and the beach tent was missing this year.
I doubt Snr. Sala reads our humble pages but I wouldn’t mind hearing his thoughts on the extent to which the festival pays tribute to the chosen genre classic of the year. Oh, and while we’ve got your attention Angel, any chance we could have the air conditioning on in the Casino Prado next year. Remember. Red wine + 25 Deg.C = anesthetic for Corridorstyle.
Then again, when you look at the statistics for last year’s festival (below) you’d have to say they’re doing a pretty good job of things, although we got the impression numbers were a little down this year (let’s just blame those big nasty bankers in London and NYC like everyone else):
320 Films screened
An audience of 100,000
700 professionals and guests
800 accredited journalists
400 media from 20 countries
Written and digital press: 321 million readers
Television: 71 million viewers
Radio: 11 million listeners
So the festival itself ran smoothly but it was the films themselves that left us wanting. You can read our blow-by-blow account in our 2009 Blog but, for the record, here are our winners and losers.
The biggest disappointment hands down went to Park Chan-wook’s THIRST. We’ve had to view some of his previous films a second or third time to fully appreciate their worth (I’M A CYBORG and SYMPATHY FOR LADY VENGEANCE) but this was the first we out-and-out disliked on first sight. We’ll no doubt see it again but I can’t see how we could have got it so wrong first time around so I’m not expecting the decision to be overturned.
METROPIA fell short of our expectations and To’s VENGEANCE sucker punched us by getting us all worked up in the first half only to pull the rug out from under us in the second. HOUSE OF THE DEVIL taught us to go with our instincts and not the reviews, as this was little better than West’s previous Sitges flop, TRIGGER MAN.
There were some solid contributions in the form of DELIVER US FROM EVIL, CARGO, LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MOND, SPLICE, and ACCIDENT, and it has to be said that it’s unlikely we would have seen such films (except perhaps Splice) were it not for Sitges and that’s always one pleasing aspect of the festival.
And in the winner’s corner……..
DOGTOOTH was a real bonus as it was more or less chosen due to the fact that it was being screened an hour after our arrival in Sitges. Outstanding performances from director and cast and plenty weird enough to make it a Sitges film.
We were proud to be British with BRONSON, MOON, and HEARTLESS standing apart as excellently crafted works.
In Tom Hardy we’ve got a genuine world contender if he can continue to conquer such challenging material with seeming ease. And in Jim Sturgess too, even within an overall highly polished performance, there were flashes of raw genius and compelling talent. Let’s hope he’s formed an artistic bond with Phillip Ridley so that we can see more of both in the future.
We’re just finishing the CS hall of fame engraving for Duncan Jones who’s MOON, while Hollywood is busy choking on CGI terabytes, perfectly recaptured our childhood awe and wonder for an outer space which, while far, far away, would be somewhere we would make home when we got there. Perhaps a cerebral Kubric reference would be more appropriate but I also felt a certain symmetry between Jones’ alien world and that of Scott’s 1979 classic which lurked in the festival shadows. And although I’ve always felt he was one of us anyway, we’ve now officially adopted Sam Rockwell. Union Jack boxer shorts are in the post Sam.
Science fiction was a big winner this year and Colin gave MR. NOBODY the genius award for a premise which touched on so many personal themes, some difficult to put into words let alone convey on screen. Credit for this lands squarely at the feet of writer/director Jaco Van Dormael who took such themes, both alien in concept and yet intrinsically human, and lay them out before us in such a way so that we could look upon them from a new angle and, with tilted head, say “Ah! That’s exactly how I see it. I just didn’t know it until you showed me”
How fortunate that this was our first big screen and festival experience of Gasper Noé. Having only seen one of his previous works, IRREVERSIBLE, on the tube and with our expectations tuned down due to some less than flattering reviews for his latest effort, we found ourselves totally and utterly captivated by ENTER THE VOID. This film has several versions of varying length and, at 2hrs 45mins, the version which arrived at Sitges would normally be a hard one for us to digest. It’s a testament then to Noé’s inventive first person camera work and “non existent” editing that the film’s length was just not an issue. On paper this was an intriguing theme of life after death but that was never really played out beyond Noé’s visual interpretation and any questions you may have had about “is there, isn’t there an afterlife?” were never intended to be addressed here. Visually unlike anything we’ve seen before, and played out on the Auditori’s big screen, this goes down as a truly memorable Sitges experience.
PANIQUE AU VILLAGE is another example of what Sitges means to us as it’s a film that we otherwise wouldn’t have had the chance or inclination to see without the festival. With its particular style of stop animation and the use of plastic toy figurines (complete with base) this felt like the kind of production every child has imagined inside their head with a corresponding freedom to go wherever and however it pleases. Story and dialogue could only be confined by the imagination of the creators and in this case, thankfully, that meant possibility without limits. Completely bonkers but absolutely genius. The 75minute run time may have started to stretch a little but that was to be expected. Anyway, we can have our bite-sized PANIQUE attacks whenever we like by just heading here:
Lastly, and at the risk of jumping on the viral band-wagon, mention should be made to PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (and not just to get our Blog hit-rate up). With totally neutral expectations we were once more reminded how smart can always deliver regardless of budget. When considered passively there shouldn’t be too much to get the pulse racing here, nothing visually arresting at least. But of course it’s the timeless concept of using the viewer’s imagination to do all the dirty work. Having avoided the tidal wave of internet chatter which preceded this film, it was some way in before we even questioned whether this was a true story or not. (!SPOLIER FOLLOWS!) In fact I’m going to be honest and say that it was only when I read the final credits that I could be 100% sure.
Having reread the above it now seems a little misleading to say it wasn’t a “vintage” year. Perhaps our standards were set a little too high when in 2004, on only our second visit to the festival, we were spoilt with 4 great films out of only 9 seen (THE MACHINIST, OLDBOY, PRIMER, ARAHAN). Then again, this is Sitges and standards can and should be set high as this is easily the most “Fantastic” film festival in the world.
We’ll be first in the queue for next year’s festival and we’ll be throwing ourselves head first into even more preparation here at Corridorstylefilms.com for the best Sitges has to offer in and around the festival.
For details of all 42nd edition film entries and awards go to:
And here’s a list of the films we saw:
DELIVER US FROM EVIL
THE FORBIDDEN DOOR
THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL
LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE
ENTER THE VOID
PANIQUE AU VILLAGE
And something for the scrapbook….
Come on Chelsea!
You’re like a big bear!
You’re like a big legend!
Nearly as cool as his dad.
One of this year’s “cock-out” brigade.
We still love you.
See if you can bring a friend next time