2009 Blog

03.10.09 – DAY 1 – Am I wearing your trousers or are you wearing mine?

The homework’s been handed in, previews compiled, and the ‘must-see’ list drawn up. We’re not ones for ceremony here at CS so let the festival begin.

A somewhat tardy start for the team as we arrived Saturday, two days into the festival and straight into the thick of the Matinal de Santa Tecla celebrations and a Sitges full house. The sun was shining and the Barcelonistas were out in force, swelling the queues but bringing the Mediterranean glamour to the festival’s red carpet parade.

In an attempt to catch up with the festival we’d scheduled two films for Saturday evening and within an hour of our arrival we were walking the Auditori’s blood red carpet for the Greek film KYNADONTAS

KYNADONTAS – AUDITORI – 18.30HRS

Our second Greek film in as many years and we’re already getting the impression that they’re reading from a different script. Last year’s TALE 52 was weird but it didn’t feature a family of dog impersonators who also thought that aeroplanes flying overhead were only the size of plastic models that occasionally fell into their garden, kittens were vicious animals that could rip your limbs from their sockets, and Zombies were small yellow flowers.

A bizarre story of a family’s self-imposed isolation from the outside world, where the parents’ version of reality is the only one the children are allowed to learn. However, the parents’ version is about as far from reality as you can get, and deliberately so for their own twisted purpose.

They control their children’s every thought and action by maintaining a state of fear and confusion, however, this ‘reality’ can only be maintained for so long and as the outside world begins to seep in, the parents struggle to contain the children’s curiosity and frustration.

Both the director and the actors were given extremely challenging material to work with but delivered utterly convincing performances. Some of the more uncomfortable scenes were approached with total conviction and even the most bizarre dialogue or alien of scenarios were never anything but believable. Add to this the film’s distinctive look and the director’s excellent use of the camera and the end result is a solid effort at what was an unusual subject.

…………After a weird but reasonable start to the festival with KYNADONTAS we’d allowed a couple of hours to reacquaint ourselves with Sitges before one of the big events of the festival, Park Chan-wook’s THIRST. It had been a couple of years since the Wookie had graced the Sitges stage and we were chomping at the bit.

THIRST – EL RETIRO – 22:45HRS

PCW’s foray into vampire territory with a tale of a priest who contracts a deadly blood virus but, unlike all before him, survives. However, at what cost? The priest soon realises that the virus can only be controlled by a constant intake of fresh blood and his initial attempts to satisfy this thirst through his version of a transfusion soon move on to more direct and sinister means.

The word “disappointed” doesn’t really encompass our reaction here but it’s a good place to start. Perhaps we raise our expectations too high for the man who brought us OLDBOY, perhaps we just want or expect a continuation of that style, but we can only give you our opinion at this moment and right now the Wookie’s got some unhappy fans with a bucket load of questions.

Did you end up with too much material in the can and just couldn’t pull it all together in one coherent piece? Did you understand the material in the first place? Did the film end up as you expected or desired or were external forces brought to bare on the final cut (the editing certainly left a lot to be desired)? What did you think the final film was actually about? Vampires? Love? Religion?

We can’t even fall back on our love for Park’s stylised visuals or powerful use of score as both were either lacking or misused. The usually excellent Song Kang-ho made a valiant attempt but all the elements of this film appeared scattered over the screen, unrelated or disinterested in each other. Every pun intended. This film sucked!

……………There’s only one way team CS knows how to deal with this kind of disappointment and heartache and that’s as though we’d just broken up with our girlfriend because she ran off with our best mate. We’d have to drink heavily to mourn the loss of our best mate obviously. A quick beer in Cafe du mond and another in Soho were mere stop-gaps as there really is only one venue for the job. Hernan and The Road Cafe. Forward wind to 4am and this year’s festival had been given the now customary launch.

04.10-09 – DAY 2 – It would be like Bruce Lee in Enter The Dragon

Ouch! Breakfast certainly wasn´t taken in the manner of Eric and Ernie and this year we didn´t have Tater-Tots for comfort. The Cava remained on ice.

Fortunately the festival program hadn´t thrown up any early showings to our taste so we liesurely took in the sights and sounds of a Sitges Sunday. However, those that know us know that that spells trouble and as the sun passed over the Yard-arm the first bottle of vino was cracked. Add to that another three bottles before we found ourselves in bar Trocadero where the beer arrives via self-serve pumps charged by the litre. Did I mention trouble already?

We´d gone there to watch the Chelsea/Liverpool game and found ourselves in good company as Malcolm Mcdowell occupied a table at the end of the bar , feet up, kicking and heading every ball along with Gerrard and Lampard.

There may have now been a slight swagger in our step but we still managed to find our way to The Prado for our first (and in Shaun´s case, last) film of the day.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL – PRADO – 21-30HRS

This Danish/Swedish offering from Ole Bornedal delivered on the visual promise shown in the trailer. A deliberately washed out, stark palate added weight to the film´s heavy themes of strained family ties, revenge, and human mob mentality. A fatal accident is the catalyst for the true character of the film´s protagonists to rise to the surface where brother is pitted against brother, husband against wife, monster against mob, and right against wrong.

The film´s gritty and uncomfortable under-belly was established well by Bornedal in the early stages of the film but the ending was a little too much pitch-forks and Frankenstein for our taste (not that Shaun made it to anywhere near the end of the film). We´ll have to make do with the film´s striking visual style and some solid performances from the lead actors.

……..There was just time to pack Shaun in bubble wrap, point him in the general direction of the hotel, and nudge him on his way before the remaining half of the team could double back into The Prado for a tough ask at this time of night after a Sunday on the sauce.

1 – PRADO – 23:30HRS

This would be a tough one to describe even if we had the full team in attendance and we´d been drinking expressos all day. The director gave a brief introduction before the film and, by the time the end credits rolled, I was hoping I´d bump into him again so I could ask him just WTF most of it was about.

This was supposed to be the film of the book that couldn´t be made and I can see why. The mysterious appearance of a book, bound in a plain white cover and with the simple title¨1¨ appears at the Ministry of Information and could hold the key to Mankind´s salvation. What is the book´s tru purpose? Can anyone actually understand it anyway? I wish I had the answers but in order to give this film a full and fair trial we´re going to have to get back to you once the team has conferred.

…….The remainder of the team crawled off for near instant sleep and dreams of tater-tots-

05.10.09 – DAY 3 – Stay away from the balls

Ouch! An all too familiar pattern was already emerging but at least we had a morning film today to keep us on track and off crack.

CROPSEY – PRADO – 11:00HRS

When do you stop looking for the boogeyman under your bed and start looking for him out in your neighbourhood? This documentary looks at the point where urban myth told by children to scare each other, or by parents to ward their children away from potential danger, turns from make believe to reality.

Looking at the events surrounding the disappearance of a number of children on Staton Isand in the 70´s and 80´s the filmaker´s take their own personal recollections and those of community members closely involved with the original incidents and look again at events in light of the fact that the man eventually convicted for the abductions was due up for parole. There´s some question as to its inclusion at Sitges but the film took an interesting look at how society can be conditioned and manipulated, and how adults, not just children, can be made to believe the boogeyman exists as long as you pick the right character and cast him in the wrong light.

……..We managed to find a more productive use for the time between films and penned our thoughts on events so far. The disappointment of THIRST had been re-channeled to hope for the upcoming Auditori back-to-back

METROPIA – AUDITORI – 15:00HRS

Sold on the trailer´s unique visual style we were glad to be catching this unusual animation feature on the Auditori´s big screen. In an attempt to promote happiness and well being the future Europe presented in the film has been linked by a giant underground metro network stretching from Scandinavia to the mediterranean, and London to the Eastern border with Asia. Opposite to it´s supposed intended purpose this has instead driven people farther apart and devoid of free spirit, however, it unfolds that this may have been the plan all along as the corporation behind the metro project turns out to have had far more of a hand in moving the population than is at first realised. An interesting but relatively straight story is given more impact by original visuals but perhaps relied too much on this when more weight could have been given to the central theme of population manipulation by big corporations.

………A short loop back to the Auditori´s entrance as we were straight back into the next screening.

MR.NOBODY – AUDITORI – 17:00HRS

Life constantly asks us to make choices but what if by not making a choice all the possible scenarios and permutations could then play out simultaneously? What if we could live out all our ¨possible¨ lives? Moreover, what if we knew how all of these possible lives would play out, would we still be able to choose which to live?

This was Colin´s 2009 SYNECDOCHE NEW YORK and will be the subject of a more detailed review as and when Colin´s come back down to Earth and is ready to reveal what´s frying his brain. For the meantime we´ll just say that this film was genius and, while Leto´s performance was exceptional considering the challenging nature of the material, it was an absolute triumph for the director, Jaco Van Dormael, that a theme that exists at such a subconscious level could be lifted and interpreted on the screen in a very human way.

……..Though the team is slightly divided on just how good MR.NOBODY actually is it´s lifted spirits and calls for a celebration. As if we needed an excuse. So it´s off to Hernan´s to contemplate the meaning of Life, the universe, and everything.

06.10.09 – DAY 4 – Shaun! Stay away from the light.

We’re going to run out of alternative ways to write this but…….we awoke bleary eyed from another late night. This time we had the excuse that a welcome party was necessary for Shaun’s back-up team of his Sister Em and her girlfriend Laura (now officially enrolled as CS squad numbers 3 and 4). It was weary troops that made their way to the first film of the day

THE FORBIDDEN DOOR – PRADO – 11:00HRS

Any film that made our list based purely on the fact that the poster had a man wearing a pig mask and wielding an axe shouldn’t come with high expectations. Our primary aim was to stay awake.

Our protagonist, Gambir, should have been content with life. A commercially successful sculptor, a beautiful wife, and all the trappings of success. However, each of his masterpieces held a dark secret within, a secret he was finding harder and harder to live with. Already strung out, Gambir discovers a locked hidden door in his basement which his wife forbids him to open and it’s this final straw that starts him down a path towards his final masterpiece – His last supper.

A story concept which held some interest was ultimately too drawn out and poorly executed as the plot would advance, stop, be diverted, forgotten, and ultimately rendered meaningless as it transpired that the filmmaker’s main aim was to include his own blood soaked masterpiece which, in itself, was enjoyable enough but not sufficient to hang the remainder of the film on.

…..Time to navigate the dangerous hours between films over the lunchtime period. El Cable provided the venue with the light entertainment that is BATMAN FOREVER thrown in for free. The soon forgotten Val Kilmer turn behind the mask. Where did it all go wrong Val? Fed and watered we were ready to tackle another dose of sci-fi

CARGO – EL RETIRO – 16:00HRS

The film’s Swiss director, Ivan Engler, gave a brief introduction prior to the screening and spoke of the difficulty of making a film in Switzerland, and the near impossibility of making a sci-fi film in Switzerland. This one took 8 years to complete and with only a small budget of €1.2 million required a big team effort from all involved.

The craft and effort was certainly evident in the finished article. Excellent CGI established the enormity and desolation of the space these future worlds moved in and excellent production design and characterization gave the world at a personal level total believability. A Matrix-esque story was married with an Alien-esque environment to great effect. Each character’s personal motivations manipulated the story as well as the other characters and ensured that the plot was revealed with great timing and effect.

……..We later saw the director of CARGO cut a lonely figure at a restaurant table and we wanted to join him, put an arm around him, and let him know that his small film from little old Switzerland had made a big impact on our festival – but we didn’t. He’ll instead have to read our praise here as we’d got refueling to do before our next film. El Cable was again the pit-stop of choice (Memento gracing the bar’s flat screen this time) before our highly anticipated date with Charles Bronson.

BRONSON – PRADO – 21:15HRS

As we mentioned in our preview, Tom Hardy had got our attention in last year’s ROCKNROLLA so a film hung largely on his performance was something to look forward to. He didn’t disappoint.

Hardy had some brave decisions to make if he was to embrace the director’s portrayal of England’s most notorious (and violent) criminal. Refn gave a brief introduction before the screening and he mentioned that the film had taken on a new identity during its creation. One can assume that this was due in part to the evolution of the subject matter as it was mined from Michael Peterson, the real-life character at the centre of the film, but no doubt also due to Hardy’s total conviction to the role. Physically altering his appearance, an essential part of the character’s menace, and taking Bronson’s psychotic persona to extreme levels (stripping yourself naked, covering yourself in vaseline, and wrestling with several prison guards doesn’t make you a shoe-in for an Oscar)

We feel that mention of the film lacking any real story was misplaced because, as mentioned by Refn, this was essentially an autobiographical account of events and, as such, unfurled as randomly as any account of our own lives might (though perhaps not as violently). Peterson always knew he had a “calling”, he just didn’t know what for. By having himself immortalised on screen, perhaps his calling was merely his existence. What he was, rather than why or how he came to be.

It was good to see that the film translated well into Catalan/Spanish as the predominantly local audience rolled with every punch. So much so that Carlos, one of our Catalan friends who saw the film with us, proudly stood up as the end credits rolled, flexed his biceps and said “I’m Charlie boy”.

…….The night was seen out with a liberal discussion over a few cold ones on the merits of the UK correction system, full-frontal nudity, and prolific use of the “C” word. Magic!

07.10.09 – DAY 5 – He´s Jim Bowen´s Son You know…

Following on from a large and late night, getting up this morning was always going to be a stretch, and it certainly proved so for one of us. After skipping breakfast completely, Shaun managed to do his own version of the Sitges Zombie walk for most of the day.

THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL – PRADO – 11:00HRS

In hindsight, I don´t know what we were even thinking when we decided to check this one out. A few years ago we´d had the misfortune of seeing West´s TRIGGER MAN in the exact same cinema and it was such an absolute howler that we ended up walking out after about half an hour. This (incredibly!) slow-burning homage to ´80s devil worshipping movies was so far wide of the mark that it even bored people who were just passing the cinema. Amazingly enough we didn´t walk out but I suspect that was purely down to laziness.

………Following a half hearted attempt to do some writing (Colin) and catch up on some much needed sleep (Shaun) we were a short walk to El Retiro to catch weird French apocalypse flick LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE.

LES DERNIERS JOURS DU MONDE – EL RETIRO – 14:00HRS

It´s hard to put into words my feeling on this film. It wasn´t bad, but then again I certainly wouldn´t say it was a good film. Fairly self-indulgent and a lot of the time non-sensical, I never really recovered from seeing (the lead villain from “Quantum Of Solace”) Matthieu Amalric´s cock in the first few seconds. The male member seem to be making a frequent (sometimes too frequent) appearance in the films at Sitges this year, it´s put  us right off the hot dogs.

………….With only a short time before our next film, we hightailed it up to the Auditori to watch the Philip Ridley / Jim Sturgess film HEARTLESS. Just as we arrived at the theatre, we ran into CS hall-of-famer Sam Rockwell, previous best actor and star of Duncan Jones´s MOON. Following a brief handshake and a confession of our undying love we headed into…

HEARTLESS – AUDITORI – 17:15HRS

This one definitely got a thumbs up from us. A strange and dark tale of a disfigured loner who enters into a Faustian pact with the devil in exchange for the thing that will make him happiest, but ultimately everything is not as straightforward as it seems. An excellent performance from Jim Sturgess is almost overshadowed by brief cameos from Joseph Mawle as The Devil and the always excellent Eddie Marsan as ¨The Weapons Man¨.

……Still buzzing from meeting Sam Rockwell we hit the town for drinks and dinner (Sobresada Pizza, a Corridorstyle favourite) before the final film of the evening, Vincenzo Natali´s SPLICE.

SPLICE – EL RETIRO – 22:45HRS

We hadn´t been able to find a great deal on the web about this so we went into it fairly open minded although both having reservations about the acting of Adrien Brody. It turned out that we needn´t have worried. Brody kept his performance fairly low key and good performances from the remaining cast, an interesting story of cloning spiralling out of control and a great looking film meant that we both really enjoyed this and couldn´t really pick it apart in any way.

…….With this in mind we retired to bed early(ish) in anticipation of tomorrow´s early morning head scrambler – Gaspar Noe´s ENTER THE VOID.

08.10.09 – DAY 6 – It´s The Year Of Filth

Boom! Like a bullet from a gun we´re up and out early to the Auditori. Breakfast is a luxury for one of us, particularly when there are supermarkets on the way that sell crisps and chocolate, so it´s with full stomachs and open minds that we check out Gaspar Noe’s controversial and highly anticipated mind-blower….

ENTER THE VOID – AUDITORI – 10:15HRS

This was a total visual extravaganza and whilst we were already anticipating a well shot and visually impressive film, the reports and feedback we’d seen on the web were that it was an over-long, pretentious film with a highly disjointed story. In our opinion, the stuff we’d seen before couldn’t be more wrong. A full review will eventually be HERE, but essentially it’s the story of a brother and sister who end up running with the wrong crowd and Noe’s film draws you into the story with an incredibly clever use of flashback and first-person camera views. It’s definitely not for everyone as the graphic sexual scenes, overhead camera shots, flashing high colour images and a 2 1/2 -3 hour running time will definitely divide audience. As far as we’re concerned, it totally rocked our world.

…..So, with minds totally blown and the feeling that we were just coming down from an acid trip we sought solace in familiar things – beer and a sobresada and cheese baguette. With just enough time to throw these down us and split a brownie (oo-er!) we got back in the press queue and headed in for the film that we were probably looking forward to the most…..

PANIQUE AU VILLAGE – AUDITORI – 15:15HRS

In the words of Tom Cruise (sort of) you had us at the trailer. You can check the trailer out at our preview page here, it’s essentially a stop-motion animation of a horse, a cowboy and an indian and the scrapes they manage to get into. Although the joke does wear a little bit thin over the course of 75 minutes, it’s still definitely worth a watch, and when else are you going to see a toy donkey laying out a funky drum beat?

……With a couple of hours to kill until our next film, we headed back into town and indulged in some beachside tapas and traditional Spanish wine in a bodega. Unfortunately the tapas and beers meant that time completely got away from us and with seconds to spare we made it to the Retiro to watch Johnnie To´s latest effort VENGEANCE. We´ve got to be upfront and admit that we´ve given his films plenty of opportunity to impress us in the past, and he always seems to flatter to deceive, so with this in mind, we weren´t expecting much.

VENGEANCE – EL RETIRO – 20:30HRS

And he so nearly pulled it off…The first hour of this film had some great setups, was brilliantly shot, excellent performances and a really good story but it definitely was a game of two halves and revisiting familiar ground of slow-motion gunfights on wastelands of floating paper debris meant that we ranted our way out of the cinema and straight into the queue for our next film – Duncan Jones´s MOON.

…..Unfortunately, it was late, we´d had a few beers and Rick Skywalker´s spanish was spoken far too quickly so we have no idea why the screening was delayed for 30 minutes just so we could see the DVD ´Making Of´ for CORALINE. Anyway, after some vociferous booing from the Spanish crowd, MOON began and they weren´t dissappointed.

MOON – EL RETIRO – 22:45HRS

Harking back to such ´70s classics as ´Silent Running´and ´Space1999´, Jones´s impressive debut wins through due to an outstanding performance from our man, Sam Rockwell.

…..We ended the evening on a high, and retired to The Corner Bar to discuss cloning, Japanese LSD trips and talking Belgian Horses that play piano.

9.10.09 – Day 7 – It’s Over Johnny, It’s Over…NOTHING IS OVER!!

It’s a weird one. Normally, at this stage in the festival I’m barely able to function as a human being. Through a combination of four films a day, copious amounts of red wine and chorizo sausage and a night’s sleep that even Margaret Thatcher would wince at, I’m normally not able to make it through a whole film and there’s every chance I might nod off while standing in the queue.

But this year, something’s definitely different. It’s been more than thirty years since the wolf and the winter cold. And now, as then, it is not fear that grips me, only restlessness. A heightened sense of things. But enough of that, we both managed to make breakfast and aimlessly ambled around Sitges before we took in our first film of the day…

COLD SOULS – AUDITORI – 14:45HRS

First looks at this made it look like a remake of Being John Malkovich starring Paul Giamatti. Thankfully, that was a far too simplistic view on what this actually was. A clever story about removal and swapping of a person’s soul, it could have got bogged down in trying to be very deep and meaningful but actually kept it light and extremely enjoyable with stand-out performances as usual from Paul Giamatti and David Strathairn.

With barely enough time for a cold one, we were back in the press queue for the second film of the day:

ACCIDENT – AUDITORI – 17:00HRS

As the producer was Johnnie To, hopes weren’t high for this one (see yesterday’s blog post) but were were fairly pleasantly surprised. Colin was a bit keener on it than me but this tale of a team of elaborate contract killers who make all of their hits look like accidents was pretty good, although my own personal thoughts were that it tailed off a bit in the final third.

So, in ‘pleasantly surprised’ mode we legged it past the massive queues that were already forming for our third and final film of the day…

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY – AUDITORI – 18:45HRS

As we took our seats in what had now been coined “Corridorstyle Row” (at least by us) there was a fair bit of nervous excitement in the air due to a trailer that looked terrifying in a [REC] / Blair Witch kind of way, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. I don’t think I’ve ever been as uncomfortable in a cinema as I was watching this film, and that includes the castration sequence in Hard Candy. A well acted, written and shot film, they have a really clever way of cranking up the atmosphere in the ‘non-scary’ parts so that by the time the scares actually arrive, your trousers are already full.

So, with a final festival bonus of free ice-cream on the way out (thanks to both Ben and Jerry) we headed off in the night to say goodbye to all of our friends and local haunts and talk rubbish into the wee small hours.

It’s been emotional Sitges. In the words of Richard Ashcroft “See you in the next one, have a good time”.

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