Sitges Festival Day 1: Álex de la Iglesia’s day and his homage to Italian terror with ‘Veneciafrenia’

Sitges has premiered the world premiere of Álex de la Iglesia’s new film, ‘Veneciafrenia’. We also discussed two titles in competition: ‘Cliff Walkers’ by Zhang Yimou and ‘The Deep House’ by Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo.

Álex de la Iglesia returns to Sitges andor go through the front door. Releasing his new film, Veneciafrenia (out of competition), here for the absolute premiere, and with a special screening of The Day of the Beast (1995) in a restored 4K copy. In addition, the premiere of Venicephrenia it means the starting chupinazo of the seal ‘The Fear Collection’ that de la Iglesia’s production company, Pokeepsie Films, has signed with Sony Pictures and Amazon Prime Video to launch a new collection of horror movies (It was said in his day that they would be of “cosmic horror” but, at least this first work, is of a much more earthly terror).

The protagonists of Venicephrenia -beautiful title, by the way- are five young Spaniards (three girls, two boys) who arrive on a cruise ship to the most beautiful city in the world with the excuse of every young person who travels: get drunk, fuck, take a multitude of selfies and hang them on the social networks (which do not stop hanging us). Nothing to object and much to be desired. Although it was promised slasher From the beginning the director makes it clear to us that something bigger is happening. A crowd of anti-tourist Venetians awaits the young people in the port, whose threatening presence will be constant throughout the film: more than an American ‘gothik’, we would be in an Italian ‘gothik’; more than straw dogs (1971), we would talk about Cani arrabbiati (1974). Wow, the Venetians are up to the cap of limoncello and vomitona tourism, and our very reckless protagonists will have to deal with it whether they like it or not -the shadow of Hostel (2005) also plans at the beginning of the film-. After some wonderful credits, which pays tribute to so many hand-drawn posters to illustrate the terrors of the giallo of the 60s and 70s, with an equally delicious soundtrack of Roque Baños -the most remarkable of the whole film-, Venicephrenia he makes his way promising himself a not routine slasher and filling himself with rather juicy dark signs: the masked murderers, the flooded theater, the cemetery islands littered with corpses ravaged by the plague … good ideas that, however, in the second part of the film seem to deflate in a somewhat bizarre investigation, albeit animated by bloody moments that will make those who enjoy a good blood bath lick their lips. And it is that in its final moments, the film (like the city-stage itself) seems to sink under the waters, trying to gain dramatic weight – if we do not care about the boyfriend who appears in the middle of the play! – and with an anticlimactic closure unusual for a filmmaker whose final strakes are truly iconic in his work (I am on the yes side, of course).

Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou will be 70 years old next month. For a whole generation of viewers, Yimou is the signer of some of the best wuxia of the contemporary era. I am referring, of course, to the magnificent Hero (2002), The House of Flying Daggers (2004) and The Curse of the Golden Flower (2006). For my generation, Yimou was one of the most important Chinese filmmakers in history, a master of melodrama -who worked with his then partner and fetish actress, Gong Lii- who would make masterful films in the 90s, the case of The Red Lantern ( 1991), Qui Ju, a Chinese woman (1992), Not one less (1999) and El camino a casa (1999), among others. Beyond good and evil, Yimou this year has released two feature films: Un Segundo (2021) -which opened last San Sebastian Festival- and Cliff Walkers, which was screened today in Sitges in official competition.

Old-fashioned spy tape Cliff Walkers tells how four members of the Chinese resistance to the Japanese invasion in World War II try to carry out a mission of liberation and extraction of an ally. In a snowy landscape, the plot intertwines the different stories of the protagonists, in a continuous game of alliances and betrayals that is very reminiscent of the war cinema of the 60s. brilliant suspense handling, the movie is delightfully classic, even anachronistic, I would tell you, with a refined handling of time and always paying maximum attention to the smallest details. As in the best spy movies this is a sacrifice tape, a suicide mission with double agents, traitors to the cause, mirror games, interrogations, chases and shootouts to life and death. The older man who lives in me has enjoyed it greatly.

Those who have been somewhat disappointing have been some regulars from Sitges: French filmmakers Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who are still remembered today for the importance of their directing debut in European horror cinema with the brutal Al interior ( 2007). In their new film, The Deep House, they look for a haunted house tale – something they had already done with a lot more grace in Livid (2011) – with the singularity that it is sunk under water. Little surprise and rather little grace has the story. It doesn’t help that 95% of it is in POV of the cameras carried by the leading terror influencers, as well as how heavy both can be throughout the footage. In the end, when the monstrous part happens, things get quite lively, but if eighty minutes of a feature film get so long, something bad happens.