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SAN SEBASTIÁN 2021 Competition

Review: Maixabel

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- Reconciliation is the central theme of this taut political drama, directed by Icíar Bollaín and brought to life by an outstanding ensemble cast

Review: Maixabel
Blanca Portillo and Luis Tosar in Maixabel

Icíar Bollaín makes her return to the San Sebastián International Film Festival three years after competing in the official section with Yuli: The Carlos Acosta Story [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
, ultimately declared the winner of the Best Screenplay Award. Don’t be too surprised if the director of Rosa’s Wedding [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
returns to her adopted city of Edinburgh clutching some prize or another, as well as the memory of the applause and emotional reaction received here in San Sebastián. This city has lived the struggle narrated in Maixabel [+see also:
trailer
interview: Icíar Bollaín
film profile
]
in its very own streets: the pursuit of reconciliation between bitterly divided sides.

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Based on the true story of Maixabel Lasa, Bollaín’s latest film recreates a series of events that, until now, have been less well known than perhaps they ought to be. It’s an artist’s appeal for dialogue: the only escape from any ingrained conflict. Bridges must be built, then crossed. That’s the mission driving the titular Maixabel, portrayed with spare prowess by Blanca Portillo (seen recently in Alejandro Amenábar’s series La Fortuna [+see also:
trailer
interview: Alejandro Amenábar
series profile
]
, on next Friday’s billing here in San Sebastián). Resigned to an ever-present darkness in her life after surviving a brutal attack, she agrees to take part in a programme that brings victims face to face with their tormentors — specifically, the two terrorists that cut short the life of her husband a decade ago. In her mind, there is no other way: “I’m bound to these people for the rest of my life.”

By simply listening, by imagining herself in another’s shoes (no matter how barbarous) Madrid-born Bollaín has pulled off a deeply moving plea to let the unspeakable speak. Restorative justice, the philosophy behind the events we see in Maixabel, seeks to bring some form of healing to victims and, in doing so, to guide ETA terrorists a little further down the path to rehabilitation — should they prove capable of owning and apologising for the pain they have inflicted. A convict who leaves his cell repentant is one step closer to a different kind of life.

Bollaín (seconded by cowriter Isa Campo, best known for her work with Isaki Lacuesta on the likes of The Next Skin [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Isa Campo, Isaki Lacuesta
film profile
]
, which she also codirected) recounts all of this with drive, integrity and absolute commitment to her task. Like Maixabel, she too sat down to engage first with Luis (Urko Olazabal, in a standout performance that’s all in his magnificently eloquent gaze) and later with Ibon (Luis Tosar). The understandable reluctance to even contemplate a meeting, the agony of waiting and the consequences unleashed set the rhythm for this unyielding film that never tips over into melodrama. Much like the series Patria [+see also:
series review
series profile
]
(selected for last year’s festival), it implores us to choose the path of reconciliation and peace, so that the atrocities of the past are never seen again.

Maixabel was produced by Kowalski Films and FeelGood, with Film Factory Entertainment acting as agent for international sales. It is due for release in Spain on 24 September, distributed by Buena Vista Internacional.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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