Steven Spielberg’s new film does not disappoint critics at the San Sebastián film festival
San Sebastián’s 23rd Film Festival has been the best for some time if all you’re doing is looking at films. But that may not be much comfort to the organisers, since very few crowd pulling stars arrived and those who did whipped on and off the stage as if half ashamed to be there. Still, Steven Spielberg and Jaws came, though without Bruce, the famous mechanical shark that gobbles up a heavily corseted Robert Shaw. “Gee,” said a rather bemused-looking Spielberg, not yet 30 and rich as Croesus on the proceeds, “it’s been a high point in my life.” He was heartily cheered by the Spanish audience, and executives immediately got busy revising upwards their already generous estimates of the film’s European box-office potential.
Truth to tell it was a great relief to see Jaws and find that it’s almost as good as the publicists say. We all knew, after Duel and Sugarland Express, that Spielberg was a good director. But with Jaws, he shows himself to be a very shrewd one too. He has shorn Peter Benchley’s best-seller of all its tiresome sexual episodes and concentrated on telling the story as directly as possible. Added to that, he has realised that you don’t create suspense just by giving people nasty turns every five minutes. It’s what you don’t do that’s just as important.
There are, in fact, only about half a dozen moments in the film that make you start. But at least a dozen others when you prepare yourself for another shock and it doesn’t happen. That’s good cinematic thinking, since you can never quite relax. There are also some effective shafts of humour (like the car number plate pulled out of the belly of the first shark that’s caught – you are expecting the mangled remains of one of the dead swimmers).
As Richard Roud points out, the first half of the film is really a simplified version of Ibsen’s Enemy of the People, with the Mayor and Corporation of Amityville refusing to close the beaches after the initial shark attacks have occurred. What’s a swimmer or two to the tourist trade on the island? This is very nicely done – rather better, I think, than the high adventure second half in which the three brave men, led by Shaw’s Captain Hook-like shark-killer, hunt down the predator.
But the film opens here at Christmas, in the same week as Kubrick’s new venture, which seems daft. Meanwhile, we’ll just have to make do with what’s left. Fortunately that includes the hardworking Sidney Lumet’s new film Dog Day Afternoon, one of his best for some time. Amazingly based on a true story about three incompetent bank robbers, it moves from almost farcical comedy to social criticism and tragedy. Even more amazingly it scarcely puts a foot wrong throughout.
Al Pacino plays the leading bandit whom we discover to be a nice, neurotic Catholic boy with two wives, one female and the other male (the priest who officiated at the latter ceremony has since been struck off, like a cheating horse trainer). The fact that he’s nice endears him to the bank staff and even to the crowd outside who readily take against the hordes of cops trying to break in. But the mood turns when the media get on to the fact that the lad is gay and the grisly denouement leads one to suspect that everybody likes outsiders, provided their own set of hypocrisies are not punctured by what those outsiders do. A very good film indeed, and a genuine surprise from Lumet who too often flatters to deceive.
Link to article: feeds.theguardian.com/c/34708/f/663875/s/31c2b006/sc/38/l/0L0Stheguardian0N0Ctheguardian0C20A130Csep0C270Csan0Esebastian0Efestival0Ejaws0Efilm0Espielberg/story01.htm