Woody Allen Honored At Film Fest

Woody Allen takes center stage this week at Spain's top film festival, with the world premier of his latest New York story and a lifetime achievement award.

The 52nd edition of the San Sebastian International Film Festival kicked off Friday in this seaside Basque city with 19 films vying for the top prize - the Golden Shell.

Allen's latest movie, "Melinda and Melinda," was shown Friday, but is not competing. It is billed as a romantic comedy-drama set in Manhattan.

The film looks at the life of a young woman, played by Radha Mitchell, from two standpoints -- comic and tragic -- as she leaves her husband for another man and loses custody of her two children.

Scenes of humor and romantic exploits are interspersed with serious ones in which Melinda suffers.

Spanish film critics praised the movie, which also stars Will Ferrell and Jonny Lee Miller. "Melinda and Melinda" is set to open in the United States in March 2005.

"It is a delightful movie, but not Allen's best," said a critic for the Colpisa news agency who goes by the showbiz name Boquerini.

"I liked it a lot. It is a good movie with an exceptional beginning," said Milito Torreiro, film reviewer for El Pais.

At a press conference after the screening, the 68-year-old director said: "You always think you are making history when filming and then when you finish you say, `My God, what have I done?' It is like having a cold shower."

He was asked about suggestions that all his movies are alike.

"I disagree. People say the same about Chinese food," Allen said.

The festival jury, led by Peruvian-born novelist Mario Vargas Llosa, also will honor the Allen with an award recognizing his life's work, which includes nearly 40 films he has directed.

A retrospective of his work is planned to run throughout the nine-day festival.

Much of Spain is crazy about Allen. In 2002, as he received an arts award from a cultural foundation associated with Crown Prince Felipe, Allen quoted a line from the late Jack Benny when he, too, was about to receive a prestigious prize.

"I don't deserve this award, but I have diabetes and I don't deserve that either," Allen recalled Benny as saying. Allen added: "This is how I feel this evening. I don't deserve this, but I am very deeply honored."

Lifetime achievement awards are also to be given to Jeff Bridges and Annette Bening during the San Sebastian festival.

Another attraction will be the premiere of Oliver Stone's follow-up documentary on Cuban President Fidel Castro, "Looking for Fidel."