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San Sebastian Film Festival 2015: Charlie Kaufman Masterclass

A highlight for many at this year's San Sebastian-Donostia film festival was the presence of screenwriting ace Charlie Kaufman who notably wrote such idiosyncratic gems as Being John Malkovich, Adaptation and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

More recently he's forayed into direction and carried his originality a stage further. Synecdoche, New York, starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, was his first directorial outing, which garnered more respect than acclaim. He then went on to write an experimental theatre piece called Anomalisa, now turned into a feature film that, after its Venice and Telluride screenings last month, has thus far maintained a 100% critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Anomalisa is an odd, dark, dredging of the human soul. That it should do this with such probingly uncomfortable insight - and be made in stop-motion animation - is testimony to Kaufman and to animation specialist Duke Johnson, who co-directed. In the San Sebastian catalogue, Anomalisa is simply described in one sentence (in Basque, Spanish and English): "A man struggles with his inability to connect with others". This belies the fact that our hero is a British inspirational speaker in Cincinnati to give a talk to about his book to adoring fans.

San Sebastian Film Festival 2015 – Rural Icelandic Drama Takes the Top Prize

San Sebastian Film Festival may not be as high on the A list of film festivals as Cannes is, but its vast city centre beaches beat Cannes' into a cocked hat. It's only normal then that their prizes are called shells, or Concha, as in seashells, in shades of gold for best film and three silver for runner up categories.

This year's gold, the Concha de Oro, went to Sparrows, written and directed by Runar Runarsson. Sparrows is an intricate coming of age story that takes place in rural Iceland. 16-year-old Ari is shunted to remote Westfjords from Reykjavik by his mother. She's off to save Africa, and he now has to contend with his dead-beat dad, country life and sexual awakenings in a place where there's not much to do. So far, so thematically predictable, but, by all accounts, the quality of the filmmaking and its narrative finesse turned it to gold in Donostia (the Basque name for the town). It's worth observing for a country as small as Iceland that this is the second rural drama with zoological title to get a major award this year. Rams took the top prize in the Un Certain Regard section of Cannes 2015.

Cannes 2015: The Winners

 

Our guest film correspondent Séamas McSwiney with his final report from the Cannes 2015 film festival.

The perfect sun shines down on Cannes, as the packed wagons get in line to trek out of town after Cannes 68, a revolutionary number that did not really live up to its significance.

While the 1968 festival was abandoned mid-stream through protest by enraged French cineastes such as Godard, Truffaut et al, and though the last two years brought tempests, the high winds and rain also brought with them some great films. Alas, this year's balmy weather brought cinematic doldrums and few reel pleasures in the form of artistic turbulence. In the end, even the prestigious jury presidency of Joel and Ethan Coen did little to enhance the spotty selection by coming up with a puzzling palmarès.

Cannes 2015: Nothing Catching Fire in the Home Stretch

Our guest film correspondent Séamas McSwiney is sending us special reports from the Cannes 2015 film festival.

The sun shines down on the boulevards and beaches of Cannes, though inside in the sumptuous cinemas nothing is really catching fire yet.

Heading into the home stretch, the general feeling among the critics is that this is not a classic vintage. The promises haven't been kept. At best they deliver in a minor key, like Moretti's Mia Madre, while his compatriots Matteo Garrone's Tale of Tales and Paolo Sorrentino's Youth both really miss the mark leaving a whiff of overblown self-indulgence. Both seem to fall foul of the luscious Anglo-Saxon casting the producing gods offered them, maybe taking the edge off their usual artistry and originality.

In Youth (pictured above) we visit a luxurious hotel in Switzerland where the rich and famous go to reminisce in the spa and recover from their successful artistic careers. It opens on Michael Caine who plays Fred, a composer who wants to compose no more and refuses a request to conduct his work for a royal gala. He prefers to reminisce in a sometimes insightful, sometimes cod philosophical way with his old friend, Mick Boyle, a filmmaker played by Harvey Keitel.

Cannes 2015: Does CinEsperanto Colonise Multicultural Cannes?

Our guest film correspondent Séamas McSwiney is sending us special reports from the Cannes 2015 film festival.

Let's face it, to paraphrase Cannes programmer Thierry Frémaux at this year's Cannes press conference, English has become the Esperanto that idealists dreamed of when inventing a unique universal language.

He went on to say that more films are proposed to Cannes each year in English, but most are excluded as they portray stories taking place in cultural communities for which English is not the natural language.

He was responding to a question from an Italian journalist who observed that two of the three Italian films in Competition were in English; Paolo Sorrentino's (whose The Great Beauty recently took the best foreign language Oscar) is there with Youth starring Harvey Keitel and Michael Caine, and Matteo Garrone (director of previous Cannes prize-winner Gomorrah) brings an adaptation of fantastic Neapolitan classics in Tale of Tales.

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