Colombian director Laura Mora’s coming-of-age drama “Kings of the World” has taken the Golden Shell for Best Film at the San Sebastian Film Festival, marking the third consecutive year that a female filmmaker has taken the top prize at the Spanish fest.
The film, Mora’s second feature, is a raw, unusual coming-of-age drama, supplanting the sentimentality that tends to dominate that genre with delirious, even surreal energy in its story of five Medellin street kids who venture from the city into the jungle, in pursuit of ancestral land. Premiering in the latter days of the fest, it proved popular with critics, but nonetheless represents an underdog victor in a competition that included such established names as Sebastian Lelio, Hong Sangsoo and Christophe Honoré.
Instead, youth dominated the slate of winners, with freshman American filmmaker Marian Mathias taking the runner-up Special Jury Prize for her debut feature “Runner,” while a trio of adolescent performers took the festival’s non-gendered acting prizes. The award for best leading performance was shared by two youths: Spanish newcomer Carla Quílez for her astonishing breakout turn as a pregnant 14-year-old in Pilar Palomero’s intimate character study “La Maternal,” and French up-and-comer Paul Kircher as a grieving high-schooler in Honoré’s Toronto-premiered “Winter Boy.” The supporting prize went to an even younger revelation: 12-year-old Argentine first-timer Renata Lerman, for her turn as a teacher’s rebellious daughter in her father Diego’s classroom drama “The Substitute.”
Mora had already been marked as a talent to watch with her 2017 debut, the tough, morally thorny youth revenge drama “Killing Jesus,” which landed her a special mention in San Sebastian’s New Directors competition that year, before going on to scoop an assortment of international festival hardware. Produced by Colombian heavyweight Cristina Gallego (“Birds of Passage,” “Embrace of the Serpent”), “Kings of the World” will be looking to make good on that first impression; the Golden Shell is a dream start, even if the film is no easy arthouse sell.
Stylistically, it’s a world away from the poised, hushed minimalism of Mathias’ “Runner,” another adolescent-centered story about an orphaned midwestern girl seeing through the burial of her father against an unforgiving rural landscape. Best Director went to another delicate effort, Japanese director Genki Kawamura’s “A Hundred Flowers,” a tender study of a mother and son drawn together and apart by the former’s dementia. Chinese director Wang Chao landed Best Screenplay for “A Woman,” his deeply felt portrayal of a working-class woman gradually unlocking her creative voice through a series of unhappy relationships in Maoist China.
Argentine director Manuel Abramovich had to settle for the cinematography prize for one of the competition’s more controversial entries, “Pornomelancolía” — a fascinating docufiction portrait of a self-made Mexican gay porn star and influencer Lalo Santos, which was rocked earlier in the festival by Santos’ own Twitter complaints about the film, alleging exploitation of his story. However, the most contentious film in the lineup — Austrian provocateur Ulrich Seidl’s “Sparta,” a pedophilia-themed drama withdrawn from Toronto following accusations of inadequate protection of child performers — went unsurprisingly unrewarded by the jury, headed by Argentine producer Matías Mosteirín. (Actor Glenn Close, originally tapped to head the jury, was forced to withdraw shortly before the festival for family reasons.)
One of the competition jurors, Icelandic filmmaker Hlynur Pálmason, also emerged as the winner of the festival’s more arthouse-oriented Zabaltegi-Tabakalera sidebar, taking the prize for his impressively muscular, Cannes-premiered ecclesiastical drama “Godland.” Another previous festival hit, Costa Rican newcomer Valentina Maurel’s aching father-daughter portrait “I Have Electric Dreams,” also topped the festival’s Latin Horizons competition, after taking multiple awards in the main Locarno competition last month. Another teen-oriented story, French duo Jeanne Aslan and Paul Saintillan’s summery, class-conscious miniature “Spare Keys,” took top honors in this year’s New Directors competition.
The festival’s Audience Award, meanwhile, went to Argentine director Santiago Mitre’s rousing true-life courtroom drama “Argentina, 1985.” The polished Amazon production already proved a crowdpleaser earlier this month at Venice, where it premiered in competition; should Argentina select it as its international Oscar submission, as is widely expected, it will be a formidable contender. The separate Audience Award for Best European Film, meanwhile, stayed close to home, going to local director Rodrigo Sorogoyen’s Galician-set thriller “The Beasts.”
Full list of winners:
OFFICIAL SELECTION PRIZES
Golden Shell for Best Film: “Kings of the World,” Laura Mora
Special Jury Prize: “Runner,” Marian Mathias
Silver Shell for Best Director: “A Hundred Flowers,” Genki Kawamura
Silver Shell for Best Leading Performance (tied): “La Maternal,” Carla Quílez; “Winter Boy,” Paul Kircher
Silver Shell for Best Supporting Performance: “The Substitute,” Renata Lerman
Best Screenplay: “A Woman,” Wang Chao
Best Cinematography: “Pornomelancolía,” Manuel Abramovich
OTHER OFFICIAL AWARDS
New Directors Award: “Spare Keys,” Jeanne Aslan and Paul Saintillan
New Directors Award (Special Mention): “On Either Side of the Pond,” Parth Saurabh
Horizontes Latinos Award: “I Have Electric Dreams,” Valentina Maurel
Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Award: “Godland,” Hlynur Pálmason
Audience Award for Best Film: “Argentina, 1985,” Santiago Mitre
Audience Award for Best European Film: “The Beasts,” Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Spanish Cooperation Award: “Noise,” Karla Moreno, María José Córdova
RTVE Another Look Award: “El Sostre Groc,” Isabel Coixet
RTVE Another Look Award (Special Mention): “Corsage,” Marie Kreutzer
Irizar Basque Film Award: “Suro,” Mikel Gurrea
Irizar Basque Film Award (Special Mention): “To Books and Women I Sing,” Maria Elorza
TCM Youth Award: “To Books and Women I Sing,” Maria Elorza
Euskadi Basque Country 2030 Agenda Award: “Tori and Lokita,” Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne
Dunio Asaya Award: “Tobacco Barns,” Rocio Mesa
Dunio Asaya Award (Special Mention): “El Sostre Groc,” Isabel Coixet
FIPRESCI Award: “Suro,” Mikel Gurrea
Feroz Zinemaldia Award: “The Kings of the World,” Laura Mora
Euskal Gidoigileen Elkartea Award: “Suro,” Mikel Gurrea and Francisco Kosterlitz
Sebastiane Award: “Something You Said Last Night,” Luis de Filippis
Lurra Greenpeace Award: “Alcarras,” Carla Simon
SIGNIS Award: “The Kings of the World,” Laura Mora
SIGNIS Award (Special Mention): “Runner,” Marian Mathias