San Sebastián 2021 Day 5: ‘La hija’, with Javier Gutiérrez, a brilliant poisoned drama of ‘thriller’

In the Official Section we also see the insubstantial ‘Fire On The Plain’. In Perlak, Emanuel Carrére’s ‘On a Normandy Pier’ job insecurity, and Shipei Wen’s Chinese expressionist thriller ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

The ‘thriller’ has been the main genre of the Official Section of the San Sebastian Festival on his fifth day. On the one hand, we see The daughter, the new of Manuel Martin Cuenca with Javier Gutierrez, a sexy bright drama that is transforming into a dark ‘thriller’. On the other, the irrelevant and flat Fire On The Plain. And the third thriller of the day – already in Perlak-, the debut of the young Shipei Wen, a show of film noir with expressionist airs (and a certain touch of series B Are You Lonesome Tonight?.

The most social cinema today has arrived in Perlak, hand in hand with the film On a Normandy dock, starring Juliette Binoche and a great cast of non-professional actresses, directed and written by Emmanuel Carrère, who reflects the precariousness of the cleaners of the ferries that connect France and the United Kingdom, but that also includes a reflection on class consciousness.

‘The daughter’

Four years have passed since Manuel Martín Cuenca was placed behind the cameras of a fiction feature film. After competing in 2017 for the Golden Shell with The author (2017), the director of Cannibal (2013) returns to the San Sebastian contest with his latest project: The daughter. And it also does it as part of the Official Section -out of competition- of the 69th edition of the San Sebastián Festival.

The film, with a cast and reduced settings, only has three main characters: Javier (Javier Gutiérrez), ADELE (Patricia López Arnaiz) and Irene (Irene Virgüez). The latter is a pregnant adolescent delinquent who, with the help of Javier and Adela, escapes from the center for juvenile offenders where she was. The leading couple offers to live with them, in a house in the middle of the mountains, until the baby is born. The condition? That you give your child.

What’s new by Martín Cuenca, presents his characters on a sunny day. Everything is colorful and bucolic, but with a single sentence the senses warn that there is something wrong. As if there was a poison lurking, enveloping all that enchanting landscape. That toxin will poison its protagonists, upsetting their illusions and desires, and sharpening their actions to reveal their monstrosity.

The daughter -co-written by Martin Cuenca with his regular collaborator Alejandro Hernández- is tension and holding your breath in the cinema seat. A delicious transmutation, a brilliant film that goes from the initial drama genre to a cruel and dark ‘thriller’ in its final part. You better go see The daughter without knowing too much about her, surrendering to the most absolute uncertainty. Of the best of the Official Section.

‘Fire On The Plain’

In the Official Section it was the turn of the debut of Zhang Ji. Fire On The Plane, set in 1997 China, begins with the serial killings of taxi drivers in the city of Fentun. Divided into two parts, with a time jump of eight years in between, the protagonist, a young criminal, becomes a policeman after the disappearance of a girl with whom he was starting an affair and the murder of an acquaintance.

Fire On The Plane She stumbles trying to decide whether to dress up in a romantic drama or a police thriller And when it seems that he has already decided which way to go, he hits a disconcerting lurch. Nor does the poor development of its characters help, of whom we cannot understand or connect with their motivations. In the debut of Zhang Ji, the suspense and intrigue to discover who the serial killer is, is conspicuous by its absence, and the emotional connection with its protagonists is an impossible task for the viewer. Flat, irrelevant, unattractive and easy to forget.

‘On a Normandy dock’

“Oh sure! Better each one in its place.” This phrase that Christele says to Mariane (Juliette Biniche) could summarize the film On a Normandy dock starring Juliette Binoche and in which the director and writer Emmanuel Carrere adapt the novel Ouistreham Pier of the gala journalist Florence Aubenas. This film follows a writer who poses as a cleaner in order to portray her reality in a book of social denunciation and arrives at the Perlak section of San Sebastián after having passed through the Directors’ fortnight from Cannes.

The story of this bourgeois journalist who decides to clean ships to experience precariousness in the first person, has a bit of a rich girl who looks into the lives of the poor in search of experiences. AND This offers us a very powerful reflection on class consciousness.

And how a good intention to report ends up becoming something almost insulting for those who cannot escape from that reality. Because precariousness for them is not adventure, but the hole in which they are deeply buried.

Much of this message was not in the original book, but has been introduced by the director, novelist and winner of the 2021 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature, which also has already explored the figure of the impostor in previous novels, as in The adversary. Carrére also harvests the story of brotherhood and solidarity among women who are subjected to these precarious jobs at just over 7 euros an hour, with hellish shifts, and who are forced to make 60 beds in just one hour, or cleaning bathrooms, which his fellow men, do not clean.

A film, the second as Carrère’s director, who once again denounces and to put on the table, once again at this festival, an issue that mainly affects women. With a brilliant starring role as Juliette Binoche, who was the one who most insisted on this adaptation going forward, and who works surrounded by non-professional actors and actresses.

‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’

With the title of a crooner song, but with expressionist aesthetics, with certain touches of series B, Are you Lonesome Tonight is the director’s debut Wen Shipei (Guangdong, 1989. It tells the story of a man racked with guilt after committing an accidental run-over. And his torment brings him closer to the life of the widow. It will be then, as in a peculiar film noir, when you discover that the man run over was a well of secrets. And the film also shows a policeman who tries to solve the investigation as in any good classic film noir. Which we already saw at the Cannes Film Festival.

Check out Alejandro G. Calvo’s Cannes review on ‘Are You Lonesome tonight’

This very young director, trained at Columbia University, draws attention for his textures, and his dirty and dark image, sometimes reminiscent of films like The Silence of the Lambs, or The Machinist, but in an oriental version. Su director has explained that he was inspired by the self-portraits of Francis Bacon to illustrate “the disfigured and oppressed side of the character.” Expressionism is also noticeable in the camera movements, the chosen colors and the sound design of this sometimes harrowing thriller with occasional B-tinged touches.

It is a unique proposal, which includes some very interesting moments, such as the chase at the end of the film, and which makes us tune in to a sweaty character, although it does not quite convey all the tension that the director has designed. Wen Shipei has directed the short films Mr. Dodson (2015) and A Short Film About Nothing (2016) and his first feature film, participated in the Shanghai and Berlin Film Festival markets, where he won the Talent Highlight award. PEculiar and apparent, but it stays a bit by the way.