San Sebastian Spanish Titles: Isabel Coixet, Fernando Trueba Los Javis

Oscar winner Fernando Trueba (“Belle Epoque”), “The Secret Life of Words” director Isabel Coixet and “Veneno” writer-director-producers Javier Ambrossi and Javier Calvo feature among talent behind Spanish titles at September’s San Sebastian Film Festival, the highest profile film event in the Spanish-speaking world. 

Coixet will compete for the first time in San Sebastian’s main competition with “Un Amor,” a probing village-set tale of emotional dependence starring Laia Costa (“Lullaby”) and “Money Heist’s” Hovik Keuchkerian.   

Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal will present as a special screening animated feature “They Shot the Piano Player,” a joyful and finally devastating portrait of the life and fate of pianist Francisco Tenorio Jr. narrated by Jeff Goldblum. 

Ambrossi and Calvo – popularly known as Los Javis – will world premiere “La Mesías,” the most awaited Spanish series of the year, a big-scale, period-hopping Movistar Plus+ original, chronicling the devastating effect of a childhood education, even on those who rebel. 

Its announcement of selection for San Sebastian was received with whoops of applause at a presentation of the festival’s Spanish lineup in Madrid on Friday. 

Among other Spanish Main competition players, “The Rye Horn” the second feature of Jaione Camborda, is produced by Andrea Vázquez at Mirememira (“Fire Will Come”) and María Zamora at Elástica Films “Alcarrás,” “Creature”) in a San Sebastian Spanish lineup which is strong on new talent, animation and women directors and most especially women producers.    

A high-art animated feature well received at Annecy’s Work in Progress section, a third Spanish competition film, “Sultana’s Dream” – turning on the life, work and the director’s discovery of before-her time Indian feminist Rokeya Hossain – is produced, among others, by Chelo Loureira. 

Cristina Huete, behind all of Trueba’s features, produced “They Shot the Piano Player.” 

“Un Amor” producers take in Buenapinta Media’s Marisa Fernández Armenteros and Perdición Films’ Sandra Hermida and Belén Atienza; Mayra Bottero, Gema Juarez Allen, Clarisa Oliveri produce “The Castle.”

Seven of the nine full-length Spanish movies this year at San Sebastian are first or second features, including “The Blue Star,” in San Sebastian’s New Directors section, “The Castle” and “Blondi,” the feature debut of actor-writer-producer Dolores Fonzi, and “Antier Noche” and “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell,” this year’s Cannes Festival’s best first feature Camera d’Or winner, produced out of Spain by Barcelona’s Fasten Films.

Ever more, San Sebastian’s Spanish line-ups are fuelled by its top development labs, such as residency Ikusmira Berriak, backed by the festival, and the ECAM Madrid Film School Incubator, a development program. 

“The Rye Horn” was developed at Ikusmira Berriak, “Antier Noche” at Ikusmira Berriak and the Incubator, whose projects also include Berlin 2023 multiple prize winner “20,000 Species of Bees.” Anybody looking for clues for future big festival plays from Spain could do far worse than studying the lineups of such top development labs.  

San Sebastian Main Competition Spanish Titles

“Un Amor,” (Isabel Coixet, Spain)

A romantic drama and tale of an obsessive passion that forces the film’s protagonist – Nat, 30, making a new start in an isolated hamlet – to reconsider the woman she thought she was.

Based on Sara Mesa’s novel, selected by “El País” as Spain’s 2020 Book of the Year. “It dares us to rethink our perception of love and all its synonyms: Passion, despair, unease, fear and redemption,” says Coixet. Film Constellation handles sales.

“The Rye Horn,” (“O Corno,” Jaione Camborda, Spain, Portugal, Belgium)

Following on Camborda’s debut, 2019’s “Arima,” a New Waves best direction winner at Seville, “The Rye Horn” is set in 1971 on an island off the Galician coast, where María, a midwife, is forced after a tragedy to flee Galicia for Portugal along an old smuggling route. The film as a project also participated at the TIFF Filmmaker Lab. 

“Sultana’s Dream,” (“El sueño de la Sultana,” Isabel Herguera, Spain, Germany)

The latest from “Unicorn Wars” producers Abano Producions and UniKo, joining El Gatoverde Producciones, Sultana Films and Fabian & Fred, a three-part animated feature, recounting the modern-day vicissitudes of a Spanish artist in India; the travails of real-life feminist thinker Rokeya Hossain; and  the story she published in 1905 about Ladyland, where women rule. 

Sultana’s Dreams
Credit: Abano

Out of Competition

“La Mesias,” (Javier Ambrossi, Javier Calvo, Spain)

A highlight at Conecta Fiction, where Movistar Plus+ sneak peeked 90 seconds of never-seen first footage. This captured a messianic mother (Lola Dueñas) dispatching her kids to leave their family home and save the world. Brief more modern-day scenes suggested the scale of the seven-part series taking in the subsequent lives of multiple children, ranging from their adolescence to adulthood and asking if kids are one way or another scarred by their childhood for life.  

La Mesias
Courtesy of Movistar Plus+

Special Screening

“They Shot the Piano Player,” (Fernando Trueba, Spain, France, Netherlands, Portugal)

Subject of a multi-territory sale to Sony Pictures Classics struck by its sales agent, Film Constellation, an animated feature reuniting Trueba and Mariscal, directors of the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Chico and Rita.” Here Goldblum voices a New York music journalist dead-set on explaining the disappearance of Francisco Tenorio Jr. who played piano on some of the greatest Bossa Nova jazz records of all time.

They Shot the Piano Player
Credit: Films Constellation

New Directors

“The Blue Star,” (“La Estrella Azul,” Javier Macipe, Spain, Uruguay)

A fiction film inspired by the life of Spanish musician Mauricio Aznar, a fundamental and endearing figure on Spain’s 1990s rock scene. The film also marks one of the most anticipated feature debuts of the year in Spain, Macipe having carved out a reputation through his shorts, two of which – 2014’s “Children of the River” and 2019’s “Gastos incluídos” – scored Spanish Academy Goya nominations.

La Estrella Azul
Courtesy of Mod Producciones

Horizontes Latinos

“Blondi,” (Dolores Fonzi, Argentina, Spain)

From La Unión de los Ríos, behind “Argentina, 1985,” the anticipated directorial debut of Fonzi, star of Santiago Mitre’s Cannes winner “Paulina,” a double mother-son coming of age dramedy. Film Factory handles worldwide sales.

Credit: Lina Etchesuri / La Union de los Rios

“The Castle,” (“El Castillo,” Martín Benchimol, Argentina, Spain)

Sold by Luxbox, the runaway winner of both top prizes at San Sebastian’s WIP Latam last year. Benchimol’s solo directorial debut after the well-received “The Dread” (2017) and “The People of the River” (2012), it continues his ken for the bizarre in remote Argentina, here turning on a former castle servant who inherits the crumbling folly, on the condition she never sells it. A Berlin Panorama player.


“Antier Noche,” (Alberto Martín Menacho, Switzerland, Spain)

The directorial debut of Martín Menacho, a feature straddling the borders of documentary and fiction picturing the day-to-day life of millennials in a village in Extremadura, mixing archaic traditions – hunting hares with hounds – and video games, iPhones and electronic-music raves, as everyone plans to leave for big city life. “A story of love, uprooting, solitude and the beauty of youth,” Menacho has said.   


“Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell,” (Vietnam-Singapore-France-Spain)

A slender narrative set in rural Vietnam – the directionless Thien learns that his sister-in-law has been killed in a motorcycle crash, searches for his nephew, then the boy’s father, his brother, and for his own sense of purpose. A Cannes Festival highlight, “challenging but seductive art cinema that invites comparisons to such titans as Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Tsai Ming-liang and even Theo Angelopoulos, without feeling derivative of any,” Variety wrote.  

Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell
JK Film and Potocol

“Mamántula,” (Ion de Sosa, Urnieta, Spain, Germany)
A noir fantasy 45-minute feature turning on a giant spider disguised as a human being set in “an alternate past of brutalist saunas, endless subway corridors and detectives with raincoats and hats,” its synopsis runs. One of the banner Basque titles at this year’s San Sebastian, from De Sosa, a partner at Apellaniz y de Sosa, and DP on Chema García Ibarra’s Locarno standout “Sacred Spirit.” 

“Contadores,” (Irati Gorostidi, Spain)

The latest from rising Basque star Gorostidi, set in 1978 around collective bargaining for a new deal in Gipuzkoa’s metallurgical industry which served testimony to the splintering of the Basque Country’s labor movement. Selected for this year’s Cannes Critics’ Week. 

Velódromo Screenings

“Esta ambición desmedida,” (Santos Bacana, Cris Trenas, Rogelio Gonzélez, Spain)

A three-part miniseries plumbing the creativity of Spanish rapper-songwriter C. Tangana, winner of a 2022 Latin Grammy (“Tocarte”), captured over four years after the success of “El Madrileño,” as he stages and celebrates a tour Sin Cantar ni Afinar. 

“El otro lado,” (Berto Romero, Spain)

After “Mira lo que has hecho,” a hit comedy on Movistar Plus+.  Berta Romero explores the paranormal playing Nacho Nieto, a down on his luck journalist who happens upon the biggest poltergeist case in modern times. The Mediapro Studio’s El Terrat produces for Movistar Plus+. Javier Ruiz Caldera “The Ministry of Time”) and Alberto del Toro direct. 

El otro lado
Credit: Lander Larranaga

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