San Sebastian Festival: a double celebration for Viggo Mortensen

Viggo Mortensen received the Donostia Prize from the San Sebastian International Film Festival on Thursday 24 September.

Text by: Isabelle Le Gonidec

7 min

Viggo Mortensen received the Donostia Prize this Thursday, which rewards a film personality each year.

This regular at the San Sebastian International Film Festival also comes with his first feature film as a director, Falling, a very personal film, presented out of competition.

"It's a double gift that the festival gives me", confides the actor now director.


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He is one of the stars of this 68th edition of the festival.

An international star in San Sebastian in these times of Covid-19 where the stars travel little, a regular at the festival where he has already accompanied several films, a perfect Spanish speaker and a Madrilenian at heart, as much to say that Viggo Mortensen is in conquered land.

His arrival on Wednesday evening in San Sebastian, wearing a t-shirt of the “hinchas”, fans of the San Lorenzo de Almagro football club, had already been widely welcomed.

The actor-producer-director grew up in Argentina where he kept the accent.

He also shot there in a noticed and remarkable film,


by Lisandro Alonso, in which he plays the role of a Dane in Argentina, Captain Dinesen, which is a bit of his own story.

The "




immediately underlined the footballing anecdote and will be happy to comment tomorrow Friday on the message of support given to the award ceremony by Beto, famous player of San Lorenzo.

# 68SSIFF |


  Donostia Zinemaldia - Festival de San Sebastián (@sansebastianfes) September 24, 2020


, the harder the fall

It is a double meeting for Viggo Mortensen since he also came to San Sebastian to present his first realization,


, a family chronicle.

The film rests largely on the shoulders of comedian Lance Henriksen who plays the role of Willis, the elderly father of John, aka Viggo Mortensen.

It is to find the financing of the film that Viggo Mortensen had to make the actor in his film, it was not planned at the origin of the project.

Willis is an elderly, bitter and aggressive man that John welcomes in California to the house where he lives with his husband, a nurse, and his adopted daughter of Latin American origin: organic versus fried butter, water and not beer, the macho in a gay couple, the racist little white in a mixed couple ... Willis, the father, represents deep, rural America.

He's a peasant, a hunter, a man, a real ... He votes MacCain when his son votes Obama.

I'm a viking,

 " the father bawls.

In summary, the shock of two generations, two Americas, two cultures but also the story of a family liability (the separation of the parental couple Gwen and Willis, the disagreement between the father and the son), the fear of aging, and fundamentally, deep down, fear of death.

Sorry I gave birth to you to die

 ," the young father told baby John as he arrived home.

There are softer starters.

The film is built on the back and forth between present and past, flashbacks that recall childhood, its happy moments (duck hunting with little John is jubilant) and its dramas.

And it is sometimes violent.

Viggo Mortensen pays homage to

Agnès Varda

(who was also winner of

the Donostia Prize

) from whom he learned the lesson: you must not show everything in a film, the spectator must take the step of completing the holes themselves. history to appropriate it.

And this family history, it is with holes ... especially as old Willis loses his memory and mixes up the names of his wives and his horses.

Wink or chance?

In the film, the mare Bree (whom old Willis actually kills in revenge on his second wife) is named after a town in Middle-earth in Tolkien's novel and the film.

I get lost in grandfather stories

 " complains her granddaughter.

A screenplay written shortly after the death of the director's mother, he explains, and inspired by his personal story and anecdotes from relatives.

The character of Willis is also nourished by the history of Viggo's own father, their family history: a Danish family of rural origin, marked by war and German occupation, where the authority of the father could not be discussed. .

The film is finally a tribute - in hollow - to women.

It is they who keep the family in spite of everything, that the bonds are not loosened between the father and the children, who have become adults.

Despite the horrors he spits in their faces.

Falling, the first feature film directed by Viggo Mortensen, premiered at the San Sebastian International Film Festival.

© Brendan Adam-Zwelling

Go behind the camera

I have been very lucky throughout my career, admits the actor, but luck, you have to know how to seize it, you have to be prepared to seize it: to know if a role, a scenario, are likely to lead to roles interesting.

In fact, he was able to escape the small boxes in which it is so convenient to lock the actors and in particular after the famous role of Aragorn in the fantastical trilogy of Peter Jackson (to which his film is dedicated)

The Lord of the Rings

which him has earned international fame and recognition from a young audience.

From Cronenberg (

History of violence in

particular) to

The Road

, from John Hillcoat adapted from the novel by Cormac Mc Carthy or even


by Peter Farrelly ... he multiplies the roles and the characters.

He is certainly one of the most beautiful Alatriste captains of cinema (in the film by Agustin Diaz Yanes who presented him with the Donostia prize this Thursday evening).

He's also the

fantastic Captain

who educates his tribe of kids the hard way in the woods and celebrates Noam Chomsky's birthday with them by drinking red wine.

This film project has matured for a long time but moving on to directing was natural for this jack of all trades - also author of the script for Falling -, also a musician and visual artist.

He can do everything, declares in his tribute message the director David Cronenberg, a surprise guest at the Donostia award ceremony, with whom Viggo Mortensen has made three films.

A late passage behind the camera;

it is not for lack of having wanted to earlier but rather for lack of means, he admits.

The good thing, he says, is that I continued to progress alongside good directors, to refine the writing of the script.

It's difficult to find funding to make independent films, admits Viggo Mortensen, but I still want to direct films, even if it means continuing to act in order to finance them.

A hunger for cinema far from being satisfied.


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