More ghosts and less gore at Sitges

Brain surgeons, Bruce Willis and a new ‘E.T.’ star at this year’s fantasy film fest

Belén Rueda (center) stars in the festival’s dark and disturbing opener, 'El cuerpo,' directed by Oriol Paulo.
Belén Rueda (center) stars in the festival’s dark and disturbing opener, 'El cuerpo,' directed by Oriol Paulo.

Separated by more than 500 kilometers, the sea and cinema unite the cities of San Sebastián and Sitges. With the garlands now handed out in the Basque Country — where François Ozon’s Dans la Maison scooped the Golden Shell on Sunday — Spain’s oldest cinema festival passes the baton to the International Fantastic Film Festival of Catalonia, the second big fall date in the Spanish movie calendar and one of the most prominent events for the fantasy and horror genre in the world.

More than 250 films have been programmed for this 45th edition, which opened Thursday and runs until October 14. Many of the titles are world premieres in which ghosts and suspense predominate over gore and extreme violence, explained Sitges director Ángel Sala during the official presentation earlier this week.

If the festival had to pick one female face, it would surely be that of Belén Rueda, who has starred in three of the festival’s opening films in recent years. After The Orphanage in 2007 and Julia’s Eyes in 2010, she returns this year with El cuerpo (The Body), a dark and distressing thriller from first-time director Oriol Paulo and starring José Coronado and Hugo Silva. Closing the festival is Rian Johnson’s sci-fi thriller Looper, which stars Bruce Willis and Joseph Gordon-Levitt — “the best film of the year,” according to Sala.

As in previous years, Spanish, and in particular, Catalan film continues to be one of the main bets. There are 12 titles in all, among them Juan Carlos Medina’s Insensibles — about a neurosurgeon who suffers a car accident and uncovers a hidden story about children born with a strange illness — which competes alongside El bosque, based on a tale by Albert Sánchez Piñol, in the Official Competition. Both are set around the Civil War and star Àlex Brendemühl. Also showing is Daniel Calparsoro’s action thriller Invasor and Orphanage director J. A. Bayona’s The Impossible, about the 2004 tsunami, which also screened at San Sebastián.

From further afield comes Antiviral, the debut movie from Brandon Cronenberg and which will compete alongside dad David’s Cosmopolis in the Official Competition. Léos Carax will present Holy Motors, an instant cult classic that presents itself as a game of masks, while fellow Frenchman Pascal Laugier offers The Tall Man, a horror flick starring Jessica Biel.

Elsewhere, the festival will show a restored version of Steven Spielberg’s E. T., which is 30 years old this year, while Italian horror maestro Dario Argento will premiere his Dracula 3D out of competition.

Among those receiving honorary awards at this year’s event are Interview with a Vampire director Neil Jordan and horror star Barbara Steele.

Sala admitted the festival budget was down four percent on last year, but stressed the importance of remaining optimistic — or at least “forgetting the problems” — over the event’s 10-day duration. And a good number of people seem willing to do so: 27,000 tickets have been sold, 16 percent more than in 2011.

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