With the awards handed out and the red carpet rolled up, the 70th edition of the San Sebastián Film Festival has come to an end. Sprawling across multiple sections, from those in and out of the Official Competition, the Spanish festival returned in full force and gifted us a wide-ranging assortment of titles to look forward to in 2022, including some of the splashiest premieres of this year’s crop of awards contenders.
The fest’s stacked lineup included marquee titles from perennial favorites like Claire Denis (‘Both Sides of the Blade’), Ruben Östlund (‘Triangle of Sadness’), Hirokazu Kore-eda (‘Broker’), the Dardenne Brothers (‘Tori et Lokita’) and Hong Sang-soo (‘Walk Up’), as well as stand-out efforts by fresh voices, with Laura Mora’s ‘The Kings of the World’ and Genki Kawamura’s ‘Hyakka’ taking home the coveted top prizes. Additionally, this edition feted veteran silver screen legends David Cronenberg (‘Crimes of the Future’) and Juliette Binoche (‘Both Sides of the Blade’, ‘Winter Boy’) with honorary Donostia Awards to champion their indelible career contributions.
The 170-movie slate, which ran from September 16-24, included everything from blonde bombshells, grizzled detectives, depressed monarchs, Marxist yacht captains, gaslighting husbands, and organ surgeons. With the dust settled, I present a selection of the best that the 2022 edition had to offer, including ten titles that caught my attention, and that you should look forward to seeing on a screen near you.
1. Triangle of Sadness (Ruben Östlund)
If you have seen Ruben Östlund 2017 Palme d’Or winner, you probably know by now that subtlety is not one of the director’s strong suits. In many ways, ‘Triangle of Sadness’ picks up right where ‘The Square’ left off; delivering yet another stomach-churning treatise on social norms, the vapidity of obscene wealth and the absurdities of bourgeoisie privilege — one that somehow feels angrier, louder and even more caustic than its predecessor.
The film, which is best described as Östlund trying to do ‘Parasite’ by way of Buñuel, casts an unwavering eye on a sundry cast of filthy upper-classers, from shallow influencer models, perma-drunk Russian oligarchs, and faux-intellectual Marxists all rubbing shoulders with each other as passengers of a 100-meter luxury yacht. What follows is a three-legged schadenfreude that runs the gamut from awkwardly scatological to hysterically funny to depressingly cynical without missing a beat. ‘Triangle’ is as blunt as a meataxe, perhaps too self-congratulatory and smug for its own good. Yet again, no political comedy worth its salt has ever succeeded without ruffling a few feathers first.
‘Triangle of Sadness’ has been acquired by NEON for US release.
2. Blonde (Andrew Dominik)
It was only a matter of time before Hollywood decided to sink its fangs into one of its biggest and most enduring icons by resurrecting her with a brand-new biopic treatment. Marilyn Monroe has rarely been allowed to rest in peace since her death in 1962, with Andrew Dominik becoming the latest to draw from her well-trodden fall from grace to expose the tortured soul behind the divine sex symbol alter-ego.
On many fronts, ‘Blonde’ succeeds in decrying its protagonist’s plight and representing the disturbing sacrifices of women in a ruthless business subjugated to tyrannical men. However, in order to chastise Hollywood’s meat grinder, the film toes the line of miserabilism almost to a fault — inadvertently playing into the very same exploitation that it’s trying so fervently to condemn. The result is a non-linear and oneiric psychological audit that may read a bit ‘Perfect Blue’ meets ‘Irreversible’ meets ‘Fire Walk with Me’ — which is to say a film mired by controversy and inexorably bound to divide audiences.
But for all the surreal imagery and gaudy editing, it’s Ana de Armas holding down the fort on this one, and if the film truly comes alive it’s only thanks to her peerless presence — a gripping performance that will certainly heap praise this fall.
‘Blonde’ arrived on Netflix on September 28.
3. Bardo, False Chronicle of a Handful of Truths (Alejandro Iñárritu)
Nobody could ever accuse Alejandro Iñárritu of flinching from ambition. Ever since his 2000 breakout hit ‘Amores Perros’, his films have only grown more conceptually daring, thematically rich and structurally audacious — if suffocatingly self-indulgent too. ‘Bardo’, his first Mexican production in over two decades, proves no exception to the rule. In his latest semi-autobiographical and wordily-titled spectacle, Iñárritu channels everyone from Fellini to Malick, cranking up his sardonic self-awareness and storytelling panache up to eleven in what’s fittingly billed as an epic journey of self-discovery.
Throughout its gargantuan runtime, ‘Bardo’ grapples with the author’s own perceived hubris, cultural roots and lingering self-doubt through Silverio, a renowned Mexican journalist who’s set to receive a major industry award in the US. Employing this thinly-veiled pin-up model as an artistic surrogate to interrogate his own existential crisis, Iñárritu leaves no stone unturned — tackling the violent history of U.S.-Mexico relations, Spanish conquistadores, artistic hedonism, lingering daddy issues, impostor syndrome and whatnot.
The result is stunning and unbearable in almost equal measure; a film of grandiose scope and bravado sequences that often threatens to crumble under its own weight. But if ‘Bardo’ is a cinematic train wreck, it’s one so delightfully provocative you’ll have a hard time looking away.
‘Bardo’ will be released in select theaters on November 18 before streaming on Netflix on December 16.
4. Corsage (Marie Kreutzer)
By virtue of its central figure and feminist irreverence, Marie Kreutzer’s ‘Corsage’ will surely draw comparisons with Yorgos Lanthimos’ ‘The Favourite’, Sofia Coppola’s ‘Marie Antoinette’ and Pablo Larraín’s ‘Spencer’. And though the thematic kinship with these sturdy, iconoclastic period dramas is beyond dispute, ‘Corsage’ is telling proof that the formula has yet to be exhausted.
Vicky Krieps, a regular presence in the festival circuit for several years now, puts in a star turn as Empress Elisabeth of Austria-Hungary, yet another royal woman trying to figure herself out in a gilded royal cage of public personas, rigid rituals, and loveless marriages. But while the film deftly probes the iniquities of Western monarchies, it also allows for a surprising number of moments of levity that treat Sissy with respect and humanity all while refusing to reduce her to a one-note tragic figure, even as it deconstructs her delirium and lonely despondency in the process. Though it hardly reinvents the wheel, ‘Corsage’ is an exquisite addition to the genre that further establishes Krieps as one of the finest stars in the industry.
‘Corsage’ opens on December 23 from IFC Films.
5. The Wonder (Sebastián Lelio)
The Hollywood gossip mill has gone into overdrive this past few weeks with all the scandal and speculation surrounding Olivia Wilde’s ‘Don’t Worry Darling’ press tour. Florence Pugh will surely want to forget all about this infamous saga, including on-set feuds, murky love triangles, and alleged spits, to focus instead on promoting the better of two films starring her that screened at this year’s San Sebastián.
The actress leads all proceedings in this 1859-set period drama as Lib Wright, a young nurse sent to a remote community in Ireland to investigate an alleged medical anomaly. Wright must work out if Anna O’Donnell, an 11-year-old girl who’s been fasting for several months yet seems to be in perfect good health, is truly a divine miracle or just the latest fabrication of religious fervor. Oscar-recipient Sebastián Lelio employs this intriguing set-up as a baseline for its meditation on the dangers of artifice and superstition both in religion as in films — including a full-on fourth wall-breaking introduction that bluntly reminds us that we’re watching one. “We are nothing without stories,” Pugh asserts, “so we invite you to believe in this one.” By the time the credits start rolling, it’s hard not to fall under its spell.
‘The Wonder’ comes to select theaters on November 2 and to Netflix on November 16.