Jaione Camborda’s ‘The Rye Horn’ Wins Top Prize At San Sebastian



A predictably spectacular sunset spreads streaks of pink and orange across a northern Spanish late September sky, heralding the end of another packed edition of the San Sebastian Film Festival, where at the closing gala, “The Rye Horn” the second feature from Spanish director Jaione Camborda has just been handed the Golden Shell, the festival’s top award.

It is perhaps a surprising win, but does now mark the fourth consecutive year that the festival’s most prestigious prize has gone to a female director. But in another way it has to be a first: the international jury, comprising French director Claire Denis, alongside Chinese actor and producer Fan Bingbing, Colombian producer-director Cristina Gallego, French photographer Brigitte Lacombe, Spanish actor Vicky Luengo, Canadian producer and distributor Robert Lantos and German director Christian Petzold, has chosen to award not just a Spanish film, but one from a female director who was born right here in San Sebastián. Given the festival also honored another San Sebastián native, Victor Erice, this year, the 2023 edition has to mark a high-watermark in home-team triumph.

“The Rye Horn” is an austere tale of the trials of womanhood and motherhood in 1970s Galicia. It tracks the emotional and literal journey of a woman, sensitively played by Janet Novás, fleeing along a smugglers’ route to Portugal from her small shellfish-farming community, which has just been hit by a tragedy in which she is implicated. As a handsomely mounted period drama, it is among the more classical of the festival’s 16-title-strong competition, which this year was unusually receptive to comedies, boasting no fewer than four. 

Of those, Argentina’s deliciously droll “Puan,” a favourite on the ground, took two awards. Co-directed and co-written by María Alché and Benjamín Naishtat — with the latter no stranger to the San Sebastian stage having directed 2018’s terrific “Rojo,” which won three prizes — “Puan” deservedly took Best Screenplay. And it also bagged an enormously well-earned ex-aequo Best Lead Performance, for star Marcelo Subiotto, who plays the lovably hapless philosophy professor whose adventures in dwindling dignity are such a witty pleasure to witness.    

“Puan” was not the only double-winner in the Official Selection: Swedish director Isabella Eklöf’s thorny Greenland-set drama “Kalak” garnered a subdued critical reception, but took home the Special Jury Prize, as well as Best Cinematography – somewhat unexpectedly, considering the restraint of  DP Nadim Carlsen’s imagery. Then again, given that the film follows a man dealing with the trauma of sexual abuse by his father, which is graphically depicted in the opening scene, perhaps that subdued quality was precisely what impressed the jury. 

Two strangely complementary Asian favorites also made the Official Selection winners roster: the intimate, moving but prickly Taiwanese drama “A Journey in Spring,” about an aging man struggling to cope after the sudden death of the wife he’d been taking for granted, won the Best Director award for Peng Tzu-Hui and Wang Ping-Wen, who were visibly moved during their acceptance speeches. And very unsurprisingly for all who saw it and were eviscerated by the portrayal of the ravages of dementia, the other ex-aequo Best Lead Performance award went to Tatsuya Fuji for Kei Chika-Ura’s restrained yet devastating “Great Absence.” 

The ceremony itself was perhaps a little less glitzy than usual, given the absence of many of the higher-profile participating actors due to the ongoing SAG/AFTRA strike. But the night did yield its pleasures and eccentricities, especially in the borderline one-man-show acceptance speech proffered by Best Supporting Performance winner Hovik Keuchkerian. He took his award for playing the bearish, unlikely lover of Laia Costa’s rural runaway in Isabel Coixet’s “Un Amor,” and since there is a slight sense that it’s a co-lead rather than a supporting performance in the strictest sense, one can hardly blame him for making the most of his time on stage.

But the most beguiling acceptance undoubtedly came from “Great Absence”‘s Fuji, whose speech, given in Japanese and translated in a staccato rhythm, was essentially a long list of shout-outs punctuated each time with a quick bow and an intense arigato. It was a tic that somehow became more endearing with every repetition, so much so that Camborda referenced it when accepting her Golden Shell. But then, not just for the winners but for all of us attendees who got to enjoy such a varied and eclectic program, in one of the most beautiful cities at one of the best-run films festivals in the world, perhaps Fuji said it best. Until next year, San Sebastian, arigato.

Full list of winners:


Golden Shell for Best Film: “The Rye Horn,” d. Jaione Camborda

Special Jury Prize: “Kalak,” d. Isabella Eklöf

Silver Shell for Best Director: “A Journey in Spring” d. Peng Tzu-Hui, Wang Ping-Wen

Silver Shell for Best Leading Performance (tied): Marcelo Subiotto for “Puan,” d. María Alché, Benjamín Naishtat and Tatsuya Fuji for “Great Absence,” d. Kei Chika-Ura

Silver Shell for Best Supporting Performance: Hovik Keuchkerian for “Un Amor,” d. Isabel Coixet

Best Cinematography: Nadim Carlsen for “Kalak,” d. Isabella Eklöf

Best Screenplay: “Puan,” d. María Alché, Benjamín Naishtat


Kutxabank New Directors Award: “Bahadur the Brave,” d. Diwa Shah

Horizontes Award: “The Castle,” d. Martín Benchimol

Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Award: “The Human Surge 3,” d. Eduardo Williams

Zabaltegi-Tabakalera Award (Special Mention): “El Juicio” d. Ulises de la Orden

Audience Award for Best Film: Society of the Snow,” d. J.A. Bayona

Audience Award for Best European Film: I’m Captain” (“Me Captain”) d. Matteo Garrone

Nest The Mediapro Studio Award: “Amma Ki Katha,” d. Nehal Vyas

Nest The Mediapro Studio Award (Special Mention): “Entre Les Autres,” d. Marie Falys

Irizar Basque Film Award: “Sultana’s Dream,” d. Isabel Herguera

Culinary Zinema Best Film Award: The Taste of Things” (“The Pot-au-Feu”), d. Tràn Anh Hùng

TCM Youth Award: “The Blue Star,” d. Javier Macipe

Eusko Label First Prize: “Latxa,” d. Mikel Urretabizkaia

Eusko Label Second Prize: “Soroborda,” d. Paolo Tizón

DALE! Award: “Little War,” d. Barbara Sarasola-Day

Artekino International Prize: “The Days Off,” d. Lucila Mariani

XII Europe-Latin America Co-production Forum Best Project Award: “These Were All Fields,” d. Daniela Abad Lombana

WIP Latam Industry Award: “Most People Die on Sunday,” d. Iair Said

Egeda Platino Industria Award For The Best WIP Latam: “Most People Die on Sunday,” d. Iair Said

WIP Europa Industry Award: “Mannequins,” d. Michael Fetter Nathansky

WIP Europa Award: “Mannequins,” d. Michael Fetter Nathansky

Ikusmira Berriak Award: “After the Night, the Night,” d. Naomi Pacifique

Zinemaldia Startup Challenge Best Spanish Project: WitScript

Zinemaldia Startup Challenge Best European Project: Hyperate.io


FIPRESCI Award: Fingernails,” d. Christos Nikou

RTVE Another Look Award: “The Royal Hotel,” d. Kitty Green

RTVE Another Look Award (Special Mention): All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt,” d. Raven Jackson

Spanish Co-operation Award: “The Blue Star,” d. Javier Macipe

Dunio Asaya Award: “Creatura,” d. Elena Martín Gimeno

Dunio Asaya Award (Special Mention): “While You’re Still You,” d. Claudia Pinto Emperador

Euskadi Basque Country 2030 Agenda Award: “Les Indésirables,” d. Ladj Ly


Donostia Awards: Hayao Miyazaki, Javier Bardem, Víctor Erice

Zinemira Award: Paco Sagarzazu


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