Chronicle from 53rd edition of the International Fantasy Film Festival of Catalonia, by Conxita Casanovas

This year Sitges has been on a razor’s edge. A decaf version of the always cheerful and fresh Festival, due to protocols being enforced to combat the coronavirus that refuses to leave.

Although films like the overwhelming “Peninsula” have depicted a mirage, appraising everything that was permitted and making us believe that nothing has changed, audiences celebrating with applause, something so typical in Sitges, the action scenes of insurmountable Korean cinema, the corridors of the Melià Sitges hotel have been soulless, paradoxically, at a Festival directed by an Angel, Angel Sala, who celebrates twenty years polishing the event.

“Strange”, “weird”, these are words that are hardly foreign at the Sitges Festival. Look, we’ve seen movies about viruses and infestation here but, right now science fiction, generally one step ahead in terms of future, doesn’t get within spitting distance of the reality we’re trying to deal with ourselves at present. In this complex scenario, we’ve had encounters with old friends, which is what comes from the sole guidance of our national star system has. We were happy to see that Najwa Nimri, as a blonde, retains her rigorousness, after so many years, because we saw her leap into the void at the hand of Daniel Calparsoro a whopping twenty-five years ago. She confesses that the best thing that ever happened to her was meeting Medem. Thanks to this she relates, always direct, guns blazing and unfiltered and ignoring her enigmatic masks, that the “fan phenomenon” is well and truly alive and has undergone a process of renewal as it bumped into the girls who waited excitedly, outside the hotel door.

Najwa Nimri at Sitges Film Festival

And here we are thinking that they were waiting for Mario Casas; the man gets better dressed and more elegant by the day. Where are those T-shirts you wore when you started in radio? Mario is digging his heels in and working hard to earn a reputation as a good actor, giving everything to David Victori in “Cross The Line”, a film, oh so reminiscent of Laia Costa’s “Victoria”. Swap the girl for a boy and send him to hell on a night out in Toledo.

We were paid a visit by Pepón Nieto and we weren’t sure if it was “an optical illusion”, the title of the Juan Cavestany film he presented, because he had never been here. We joked with the Malaga-born actor about whether there was anything going on between him and “La Machi” seeing they coincide on everything. And when we tell him why cinema insists on making him older, he lets rip that he’s fifty-three years old! You have to see that boy, so nice and such a great actor since he began wowing audiences in the mid-nineties, starting in films like “Asunto interno”, in Barcelona with Carles Balagué.

Conxita Casanovas and Pepón Nieto

We also take a stroll down memory lane with Macarena Gómez as we both emotionally recall her agent Eli Cabrero, who died prematurely and unexpectedly, and who introduced her to me here in Sitges almost twenty years ago, with a blind trust in the green-eyed girl. Macarena is everything, she’s herself, generous, flirting with Miguel Angel Silvestre on the air, who’s still as handsome as he was during his boom some years ago. Time waits for no man. Speaking of which, Juanma Bajo Ulloa affectionately reproached me for reminding him that it was almost thirty years since he won the Golden Shell with “Butterfly Wings” now that he’s presenting “Baby” he discusses motherhood again. And while we’re on the topic of Basque directors, you won’t believe how slim Álex de la Iglesia is, although he lacks nothing in the energy department as evident in his latest series, the powerful “30 Coins”. And I’m eternally grateful to Sitges for reuniting me with the Carbonell family, where Pablo delightedly gives the leading role to his daughter, the astonishingly mature Mafalda at only twelve years old. They’re great folk.

Photocall of “30 Monedas” during Sitges Film Festival 2020

Mario Gas let slip that he’s returned to the cinema with “The Barcelona Vampiress”. What a joy to see Bruna Cusí, Núria Prims and Nora Navas in the same cast, how beautiful and excellent they are. And I’m even more cheered up after hearing Miki Esparbé, the main hero of “Malnazidos” tell me I look younger than ever. That’s gallantry, yes sir. Aura Garrido smiles and that’s enough… She’s off to work with Jean Reno next!

One of the funniest things I have to share about this year’s Sitges, is first thing in the morning having a laugh with the audacious producer and President of the Jury, David Matamoros, while recalling his time as a kid volunteering at the Festival now coinciding with the lovely Juana Acosta and producer María del Puy Alvarado who if I had known was coming to Sitges I wouldn’t have made such a big deal about saying goodbye in San Sebastián, but since we spent the meal talking about this dam COVID, we completely forgot. And meeting Melina Matthews and Dafnis Balduz in the hallway will cheer you up any day, just like seeing Raul Arévalo, who is like family, always so open to everything. We cannot kiss, or touch, or approach, but the affection remains unaltered like with our companions who we have breakfast with at seven thirty in the morning without batting an eye, well, maybe just a little.

And that’s it, in short, we’ve been terrified by the angry ghosts of Hungarian film “Post Mortem” and we’ve laughed and let ourselves be carried away by “Mandibles”, the latest hooligan from Quentin Dupieux, but inevitably, the memory we’ll be taking away from this 2020 edition of the Sitges Festival, will be the one of the uncomfortable mask that covers the open-faced smile, the “Eyes without a face”, as actor Manuel de Blas alluded to the audience when he received his Nosferatu award, someone who at eighty years old, sixty of which he has spent in the movies supporting roles, he knows a lot about long-distance races like the one we’re currently running.

Nothing like an October sunset in Sitges although sometimes, cinema and its schedules prevent us from enjoying them.

Conxita Casanovas. Journalist specializing in film, works at RTVE. Accumulate a lot of experience. She has toured the most important festivals and won important prizes but he retains the enthusiasm and passion of the first day. She directs the ‘Va de cine’ program, which already has 37 seasons on the air in R4 (Sundays from 14h to 15h), a space that has a version in Spanish on R5 (Saturday 11.35h) for all of Spain. Current Director in addition to the BCN Film Fest.