Archive for the ‘Karlovy Vary Film Festival’ Category

The Edge of the Blade (2023)

Dir: Vincent Perez | Cast: Vincent Perez, Doria Tillier, Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne, Roschdy Zem | France, Historical drama 101′.

Vincent Perez has chosen a bold theme for his capable fourth feature, a historical drama set in 1887 about the honour of duelling. The Edge of the Blade is interesting more than gripping with its horseback sabre fighting, use of epees, firearms and other 19th century weapons.

Duelling was banned in France although armed duels still took place as a way of solving disputes and to preserve the honour of those seeking prompt justice in the higher echelons of society. The practise continued in France until the Second World War.

Best known for roles in Cyrano de Bergerac and Le Bossu, Perez also stars here as the agile but utterly charmless one dimensional antihero of the piece, Louis Berchere, who seems hellbent on dying in the name of honour – and to be honest perhaps that’s better than ending up in a care home. A ferocious combatant in the battle to preserve his honour we see him demanding a duel to the death in the film’s early part. 

Despite the masculine nature of the subject the Swiss actor turned director manages to weave in a timely side-plot about a real life suffragette style feminist called Marie-Rose Astie de Valsayre (Doris Tillier) whose left hook causes some serious damage not least to the honour of the solid French cast of Damien Bonnard, Guillaume Galiléenne – and Roschdy Zem, a swashbuckling instructor at a fencing school, who she later seduces although there’s no bodice-ripping to speak of here.

Perez and his co-writer (and wife) Karine Silla have certainly done their research; the rolling titles at the end of the film explain that Marie-Rose was a significant figure during the Franco-Prussian War in 1870 and is remembered for her campaign to get women the vote, and attempting to overturn legislation prohibiting women from wearing trousers.  

The men all brush up against Marie-Rose’s brazen assertiveness – it was unknown at that time for women to be other than feminine and pliant. In a surprising twist, she challenges Bonnard to a duel but he manages to delay proceedings claiming her rig-out is unsuitable, whereupon the police are seen arriving on the brow of a nearby hill.

Mostly unfolding in interior scenes there are several impressive outdoor duel sequences – one in the woods and another in an open barn in remote fields. And while there’s no real dramatic arc or complexity in the characters, Perez and his DoP Lucie Badinaud manage the fighting set pieces with verve, and the finale is spectacular both for the duellists and the horses involved. @MeredithTaylor



The Lost Children (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023

Dir/Wri: Michele Jacob | Cast: Iris Mirzabekiantz, Liocha Mirzabekiantz, Lois Litt Magis, Lohen Van Houtte, Belgium, Fantasy Drama 82′

An unexpected disappearance is at the heart of this edgy psychological drama from Belgian director and screenwriter Michele Jacob.

Lost Children sees ten-year-old Audrey (Iris Mirzabekiantz) and her three siblings suddenly abandoned by their father – with no explanation – and forced to fend for themselves in their summer holiday hideaway deep in the woods.

In this first full length feature Jacob delves into the world of fantasy, betrayal and self-doubt as the four kids are initially thrilled at the prospect of exploring this bosky backwater free from parental control, but soon grow anxious as a hierarchy develops along the lines the ‘Animal Farm’, with Audrey naturally taking the lead as she assumes responsibilities far beyond her years.

Lost Children is not just a rites of passage story but a mature and inventive attempt to explore how kids process trauma by escaping into their imagination in order to deal with a crisis – and this can often be the making of them. Left to their own devices the children risk falling prey to their worst fears as a sinister ambiance permeates their surroundings enhanced by Andreas Moulin’s unsettling soundscape.

Here the trauma takes the form of a monster that haunts their subconscious but feels entirely palpable and visible as reality and fantasy merge in Nastasja Saerens’ bold visuals. And when night falls the forest seems to close in on them with a strange monster looming out of the darkness and weird noises echoing through the forest as events turn surreal. Shot on shoestring but none this worse for it, this slim but affective horror film marks Jacob out as an impressive talent in the making. MT



Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023 Special – Jury Mention

Dir: Cyril Aris | Doc. 87′

Graceful and elegant, a woman walks through the streets of Beirut. Despite her refined manners she feels driven to kill those responsible for the destruction of her city. The Paris of the Middle East is scarred and ruined. Yet again.

This film within a film serves both as an intensely personal record of the ongoing tragedy and a love letter to a cherished homeland in the wake of recent events that have left the country in total chaos unable to recover due to repetitive trauma.

Lebanese director and writer Cyril Aris sets his film against the backdrop of an ongoing film production initiated by some of his close friends who we see debating how to approach their story in the light of the catastrophic explosion that rocked the Port of Beirut on August 4, 2020 along with the pandemic. These events have not only delayed filming but changed everyone’s lives. Once again. But to abandon the project would be to admit defeat.

Friends and colleagues gather round an alfresco table to workshop their proposed film with the working title of Costa Brava. It follows the Badri family – parents and two girls and their grandmother – who have decided to leave Beirut to escape pollution and corruption. The kicker is a government decision to locate a landfill site right next to their property. The idea is to start afresh and build a sustainable life in harmony with nature.

Meanwhile widespread protests break out in the streets. People of all classes are raging against a state system that has trapped everyone with a corrupt government taking them all hostage in their own homes. It is claimed the explosion was caused by illegally stored material imported by Syrians who intended to use it to assist their own insurrection.

But should these Lebanese remain in their beloved capital city, even at the expense of human dignity that drives them into an impractical backwater where their lives and even their finances are frozen by the government, making escape a near impossibility. Or should they follow the words of the Lebanese poet Nadia Tueni: “I choose the sea in spite of shipwrecks”? MT



Arsenie: An Amazing Afterlife (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023

Dir: Alexandru Solomon | Doc Romania/Lux 96′

Arsenie Boca, a revered priest, theologian and mystic is the subject of this deep dive into faith and religious persecution from Romanian filmmaker Alexandru Solomon.

Since the advent of Jesus Christ, humanity has always been fascinated by visionary miracle makers holding them out to represent the holy grail in our everlasting search for the meaning of life.

Zian Boca, born in 1910 in Hunedoara, Romania, followed an orthodox religious path travelling to the legendary Mount Athos for spiritual training, before being ordained a deacon in 1935 and subsequently the abbot of Brancoveanu Monastery five years later, despite persecution by the communist regime, the holy man has been hailed as a saint by his many followers although he has yet to be canonized.

The film, the latest outing from seasoned cinematographer and director, Solomon, who started making documentaries in 1993, is composed of a series of re-enactments of Boca’s life and provides not only a vibrant insight into his work as a visionary and spiritual leader but also serves to reflect the state of contemporary society as believers desperately search for answers and cling onto the concept of miracles to sublimate them into a more edifying and meaningful existence in this increasingly troubled and perilous world. A film full of hope and insight that never takes itself too seriously in capturing the essence of this inspirational philosopher, scholar and cleric. MT



Red Rooms (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023

Dir: Pascal Plante | Cast: Juliette Gariépy, Laurie Babin, Elisabeth Lucas, Maxwell McCabe Lokos | Thriller Canada

Canadian writer director Pascal Plante offers a cold-eyed look at the dangers of hybristophilia in this striking arthouse thriller that shares the same airless chill as the work of fellow Canadian David Cronenberg, but somehow lacks the maestro’s resonance.

Sexual obsession with criminal offenders is a growing phenomenon particularly amongst women. From Ted Bundy to Charles Manson, serial killers have always had their female acolytes and here Plante focusses on the psychological rather than the physical in a hard-egded character study cum courtroom drama.

In a wintery Montreal aloof photographic model Kelly-Anne (Gariépy) surfs the internet’s illicit ‘red rooms’ and has become strangely fascinated by brutal child murderer Ludovic Chevalier (Lokos) whose grisly crimes are detailed in an informative opening scene by the prosecution barrister (a brilliant Natalie Tannous). The quiet almost unassuming murderer exudes a strange air of vulnerability, locked in his courtroom cage. In contrast Kelly-Anne is distant and detached in all her dealings and remains an impenetrable character throughout, apparently unmoved by the desperate pleas for help from one of the mother’s affected when the gruesome photos of the murders are revealed.

Kelly is gradually drawn under Chevalier’s spell attending every single court hearing in the hope of attracting his attention, even sleeping overnight outside the courtrooms despite the freezing weather. Here she meets a homeless drifter (Babin) and offers her board and lodging. The two form an unlikely bond as the enigmatic storyline drifts between reality and fantasy in a bracing psychodrama that explores female friendship, media manipulation, and probes the hitherto undiscovered recesses of the human mind and its capacity for both evil and benevolence. MT



Smiling Georgia (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023

Dir.: Luka Beradze; Documentary with Nana Papidze, Lamara Samkharadze, Nodar Labadze, Bezhan Labadze; Georgia/Germany 2020, 61 min.

In his pithy political expose Luka Beradse looks at how leaders lie and mislead voters just to stay in power.

The promise of subsidised dental care was the clincher for many, particularly seniors, in President Saakasvilli’s 2012 campaign spearheaded  by a promise to make “Georgia smile”. But the electorate laughed back in his face and the UNM (United National Movement) lost to the coalition of Georgian Dream (GD).

Smiling Georgia offers just one of many examples of political foul play that seems endemic nowadays all over the world. The ruling party’s policies appeared positive, well-intentioned and far-reaching with a focus on agriculture, employment and healthcare. Across the country, dentists had been having a field day removing rotten teeth – and even healthy ones – guaranteeing that state of the art dentures would be fitted shortly after the election. But in the end the older generation bore the brunt of the false promises and were left disgruntled and toothless to boot.  

Set between two elections, 2012 and 2020, Beradze’s sardonic social commentary shows how self-styled politicians have lost respect for the electorate and got carried away with their own importance. In the village of “No Name” the first round in 2012 ended with defeat for the ruling UNM President who subsequently fled the country and was arrested for corruption on his return from exile in 2021.

Ironically, the UNM had promised to provide a new set of gnashers for everyone in No Name and the surrounding villages. Alas, UNM lost and the hapless victims spent the next eight years regretting having trusted the powers-that-be, one man even carrying his wife’s used dentures around in a bag in a macabre act of defiance.

2020 saw a re-run of the dental promise strategy, this time with the GD promising to make the UNM’s empty promises a reality. But one of their candidates faired badly in front of the cameras she had hired to showcase her party’s virtues. It emerges that the GD candidate was a bully who had picked the only woman in the village fortunate enough to have her teeth. But the TV stint was a mismanaged fiasco and she ended up storming out of the interview in a huff. We don’t get to find out if she was successful in the 2020 November elections (law suits pending) but the party of the uninformed won the nationwide poll, with the UNM making barely ten percent of the votes.

An epilogue shows elderly farmers chuntering on about their feelings of disappointment in the elected party, while a pig scratches itself on a tree in the background. DoP Lomero Akhvlediani’s handheld camera is a busy witness to this tale of democratic disillusionment. Smiling Georgia maybe brief, at just over an hour, but Beradze puts so much verve and bitter-sweet humour into the free flowing narrative that the result far outweighs many other full-length features bolstered by repetitive footage and forced situational comedy just to make the 90 minute mark. AS


Empty Nets (2023) Karlovy Vary 2023 | Special Jury Prize

Wri/Dir: Behrooz Karamizade | Cast:Hamid Reza Abbasi, Sadaf Asgari, Keyvan Mohamadi, Pantea Panahiha | Germany/Iran Drama

Behrooz Karamizade’s stark feature debut hides a simple truth: being with the one you love shouldn’t be contingent on class, entitlement or money. Such is the case in many traditional societies where marriage is reliant on a dowry, and particularly in Iran that provides the sombre setting for this well-paced and compulsive contemporary thriller.

France’s answer to Pierre Niney, Hamid Reza Abbasi gives a soulful turn as Amir, an unfortunate young man from a poor family background who is madly in love with his upper class sweetheart Narges (Sadaf Asgari) but lacks the financial means to marry her after being fired from his menial job on ethical grounds; and later falls foul of his girlfriend due to her strict moral principles.

As is often the case with Iranian cinema strong writing trumps aesthetic appeal, but Karamizade’s skill in crafting a convincing narrative with authentic characters shines out showing him to be a talent in the making this a well-deserved winner of this year’s Crystal Globe Special Jury Prize.



A Far Shore (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Masaaki Kudo; Cast: Kotone Hanase, Yumeni Ishida, , Yumemi Ishida, Yoshiro Sakuma; Japan 2022, 128 min.

This epic drama from Japan’s Masaaki Kudo would be very much at home in the 1950s but despite the conventional aesthetic and narrative, is still manages to be quite overwhelming. In this age of minimalism and under-developed scripts, Kudo bucks the recent trend with an emotional blockbuster full of poetry and lyricism and told in a series of chapters that chart the heroine’s downfall. .

In Okinawa, seventeen year-old Aoi (a brilliant Hanase) has left school and works as a hostess in a nightclub, leaving her two-year old son Kengo in the care of her husband Masaya (Sakuma). Masaya is only interesting in gambling and drinking – and is on the verge of being fired from his job, leaving parental duties to Aoi’s grandmother.

Aoi tries to hide money from her husband, but he beats her up brutally, and eventually due to Masaya’s laziness and incompetence, the family slides into debt, and faces eviction. Aoi’s grandmother blames her granddaughter for the family’s disgrace, leaving only Mio (Ishida), a work collegue, to come to her rescue. But when Masaya gets in trouble with the police, Aoi becomes embroiled in a no-win situation with the authorities and she has to relinquish her job at the nightclub, and work as an escort as her life gradually implodes due to no fault of her own.

In this male-dominated society, Aoi is literally consumed by the men in her life, who exploit her to serve their own needs. While the feminism angle is under-played, Kudo never leaves us in any doubt at to his intentions. Set on the widescreen and in intimate close-up, A Far Shore contrasts the glittering night-scapes of the Japanese city with the squalor of ordinary people’s lives. DoP Takayuki Sugimura’s images of the seaside are a fitting highlight his third feature film. AS


Borders of Love (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival

Dir.: Tomasz Winski; Cast: Hana Vagnerova, Matyas Reznicek, Antonie Formanova, Eliska Krenkova, Martin Hofmann, Hynek Cermak; Czech Republic/Poland, 2022, 95 min.

This first feature film for Czech director/co-writer Tomasz Winski could have been called daring some fifty years ago – the story of a couple who decide to have an open relationship is told with all the graphic details – but today it just feels awkward with its endless scenes of pulsating bodies seeming closer to soft-porn than intelligent cinema. Instead of addressing taboos, Winski creates a voyeuristic nightmare which hardly feels credible, the property porn more impressive than that involving the characters.

Hana (Vagnerova, also one of the co-writers) and Petr (Reznicek) are stuck in a rut with their marriage. To spice up their sex life they try some cheeky games but when that fails to spark things between the sheets, they decide to embark on affairs trying to retain a kind of intimacy and faithfulness to each other by discussing the fine details of their extra-marital adventures.

Experimenting with a foursome involving two colleagues, Vanda and Vit from their architectural practice comes next. This is a big turn on for Hana but Petr needs Viagra to get going. And in the ‘sharing’ aftermath, Hana expresses her delight at how brilliant Vit was at  cunnilingus. We get the drift: Hana is wild, and Petr would rather not repeat the experiment.

But things start to come unstuck for Hana and Petr when one of her lovers Marek introduces his girl friend and another couple into the equation: all five are gagging to go – apart from Petr.  Instead he teams up with barmaid Antonie and the two plan an escape to a mythical island – but first he has to save Hana from rough sex in a proverbial den of inequity. Will he remember the promise he made to Antonie, and do we care?

DoP Krystof Melka tries to keep inside the boundaries of art house cinema, but even at ninety-five minutes, Borders is a trivial and halfcock attempt to explore the senisitve nature of desire and fidelity in longterm love.


Tinnitus (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir: Gregorio Graziosi | Cast: Alli Willow, Joana de Verona, Antonio Pitanga, Indira Nascimento,

An addition to the female sports genre is this visually dynamic drama from Brazilian director Gregorio Graziosi who explores disability through the competitive world of women’s synchronised diving.

And where better to set the story than the nation’s capital with its all round summer climate and impressive architectural landscape with iconic 1920s skyscrapers jostling with Oscar Niemayer’s contemporary creations and colonial style churches dating back to the 16th century.

Marina lives here in a stylish apartment with her doctor boyfriend and has reached peak condition in pursuit of her dream of competing in synchronised diving events in Sao Paulo’s state of the art olympic sized swimming centre. But a sudden attack of tinnitus – an excruciating ringing in the ears – that hampers her progress with her diving colleague. And Marina is forced to abandon the season and take up another rather more dubious water-based job as a ‘mermaid’ in the public aquarium, entertaining tourists with her colourful costumes. Naturally this is a career comedown for Marina and impacts on her emotional wellbeing as well as her relationship with her boyfriend. Her swimming partner is now left in the lurch and is forced to start looking for another to take her place

The premise is a good and one Graziosi’s cinematic vision realised by DoP Rui Pocas (Tabu, Zama and Good Manners) is certainly exceptional. But the script involving three writers often feels over ambitious in trying to fathom out Marina’s reaction to her illness and the complexities of women’s relationships when the three main female characters fall out – and the ensuing (ubiquitous) lesbian twist feels contrived rather than natural along with the trip to Japan. Meshing these various narrative strands together weakens an otherwise original idea, so why not tell it more simply and trust in the strength of the original idea. Less is always more. MT





Fools (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir: Tomasz Wasilewski | Cast: Dorota Kolak, Łukasz Simlat, Katarzyna Herman, Marta Nieradkiewicz, Tomasz Tyndyk | Poland Drama, 107′

In his fourth feature, another unsettling domestic drama, Tomasz Wasilewski looks at the negative impacts of close family ties in a love story about a couple in modern Poland.

Polish filmmaker Wasilewski is fascinated by female centric stories: his debut In A Bedroom looked at sex and survival for a woman in mid-life crisis. In Floating Skyscrapers a woman struggles to cope with her partner’s gay sexual awakening; and United States of Love explores sexual freedom for four different women after the fall of the Soviet Union in Poland.

Just when Tomek (Simlat) thought he had found peace and happiness with his much older partner Marlena (Kolak), a doctor, she decides to take home her paraplegic adult son who has a life-limiting condition requiring full time care from both Tomek and herself. And not for the first time. As if they’d had a new baby without all the joy that entails, this puts enormous pressure on the middle-aged couple and their relationship, shifting the focus from their contented lives together to the fraught and often physically gruelling task of looking after a fully grown man who requires constant bathing and changing. Unlike Marlena, Tomek has no buffering feelings of love or compassion to bond him to this ‘interloper’.

The remote and often windswept terrain of Poland’s Baltic coast provides a brilliant background echoing the couple’s turbulent existence, Wasilweski and his DoP Oleg Mutu concentrating on compelling visual storytelling and stylisation in a detached narrative form, pared down dialogue and strong but always subtle performances from Kulak and Simlat illustrating the protagonists’ inner struggle.

Marlena comes across as a conscientious but not particularly appealing character, her own needs and those of Tomek totally subsumed by her son’s demanding condition and showing how easily even a strong relationship can be put to the test, and found wanting. MT


Silence 6-9 (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Christos Passalis; Cast: Angeliki Papoulia, Christos Passalis, Marina Skoula, Sofia Kokkali; Greece 2022, 81 min.

Christos Passalis continues to explore his filmmaking skills this time taking the helm for a slow-burning Kafkaesque Sci-fi love story which serves as a reminder that Greek cinema has not lost its roots in the wonderful world of the ‘weird wave’.

The enigmatically entitled Silence 6-9 follows the outstanding Berlinale entry The City and the City (2022) which he co-directed, and performances in Dogtooth and The Miracle of the Sargasso Sea. In this vision of dystopia he stars as Aris (Passalis) who fetches up in a city at night where he meets Anna (Papoulia) who shows him around a landscape dominated by rooftop antennas and audio tapes floating around in the wind, along with banners proclaiming the titular SILENCE 6-9. His task is purportedly to solve ‘technical problems’, the previous incumbent having suffered a nervous breakdown. And not surprisingly, social unrest in brewing: the mayor of town touring the place with a loudhailer on a pick-up-truck, calling for “NO MORE TAPE CASSETTES” There are disturbing images of IC stations in a deserted hospital, and the long shots in the hotel, where Anna and Aris are staying, feel like a nod to Kubrick. Soon Anna will have to drink a liquid which will force her to forget Aris. Will she be able to desist this threat?

Everything has a distinct 1970s vibe, the technology is rudimentary, and the inhabitants, particularly the women, are slowly going missing. Other characters appears on the landscape: A man playing the melodica is looking for ‘Katerina’, who, like many others, has vanished for good, forcing their male partners to undress and masturbate from voyeuristic holes in the wall. Anna and Aris gravitate towards the sea where they are put under surveillance by a sinister couple of women (Kokkali, Skoula). One of these “angels of death” takes pity on the couple, but her companion tells her to keep her distance.

Passalis conjures up another metaphor for modern times through the bleached and desiccated landscapes of DoP Girogos Karvelas, where the characters appear devoid of any kind of emotional existence. Although Passalis never never lets the audience escape from this strange deathlike environment the questions raised by the enigmatic narrative are never fully answered. Memorable.AS


Ramona (2022)

Dir.: Andrea Bagney; Cast: Lourdes Hernandez, Bruno Lastra, Francesco Carril; Spain 2022, 100 min.

Lourdes Hernandez is the bundle of nervous energy powering this rather slim would-be screwball comedy forward. Pretentiously told in six chapters, first time director Andrea Bagney opts for black & white and a classical score that add a certain allure to the rather underwhelming, low budget tale of indecision.

In Madrid, Ramona (Hernandez), 32, makes ends meet as a translator and nanny but desperately wants to be an actress. After striking up a conversation with Bruno (Lastra) in one of the city’s old-fashioned blue-tiled bars, the two spend most of the day together before Ramona takes exception to something Bruno has said, and goes home in a huff to her chef boyfriend Nico (Carril), telling him all about the meeting. It turns out Bruno, a filmmaker, is only too delighted when Ramona turns up the following day to audition for his new film and immediately offers her the part, even though the producer and other crew members are much less enthusiastic. But Ramona is tortured with indecision: does she focus on her translation degree or devote herself to acting? Torn between her career and the two men in her life, she procrastinates endlessly in a drama that outstays even a modest running time of a hundred minutes.

DoP Pol Orpinell Freixa flips between black & white and colour – for no apparent reason. The close-ups are conventional, as are the film-in-film sequences. Somehow, we are transported back thirty years to when Philippe Garrel was at the height of his comedy-dramas such as Emergency Kisses, also set in the world of filmmaking. But Ramona says nothing about the magic of movies; Bagney’s bland debut feels like a less successful take on The Worst Person in the World without any of that heroine’s appeal or Trier’s narrative firepower. AS



A Room of My Own (2022) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2022

Dir.: Ioseb “Sos” Bliadze; Cast: Taki Mumladze, Mariam Khundadze, Ioseb “Sos” Bliadze, Lasho Gabuna, Giorgi Grdzelidze, Giorgi Tsereteli; Georgia 2022, 105 min.

Georgian director Ioseb “Sos” Bliadze made a big splash at last year’s Karlovy Vary festival with Otar’s Death and he is back this year with a playful comedy of manners in the style of Eric Rohmer. But be warned, behind the easygoing atmosphere generated by Tbilisi’s millennials there lurks a constant reminder of the destructive power of patriarchy. And Taki Mumladze – who co-writes and also stars in this year’s competition entry – has certainly left her ideological fingerprints all over the feature.

Tina (Mumladze) can’t wait to move with her boyfriend Beko (Tsereteli) to his family’s spacious flat. Affordable living space is rare in the capital and Tina has had to pay 300 Lari for a room in a flatshare with her friend Megi (Khundadze) who is a party animal about to head off to New York. She doesn’t really like Megi’s crowd: Vajiko (Gabuna) and Dito (Bliadze) are particularly annoying. Then Beko tells her that the move to the flat is no longer on the cards because his brother Datuna is shortly to be released from prison, after serving a sentence for stabbing Tina (his ex) for cheating on him with Beko.

The romantic tables are suddenly turned when the lonely Tina finds herself falling for her ‘landlady’ whose departure is only a few days away. We are left wondering whether Megi’s trip to the US is just wishful thinking – and, what will happen to Tina, if Megi does decide to go.

All this happens in a haze of cheap alcohol and drugs, DoP Dimitri Dekanosidze tracking the party people in long shots as proceedings descend into a meltdown of drunken one night stands. Tina is astonished and disturbed by the debauched goings chez Megi but she soon finds her feet and joins in the fun with Giorgi (Grdzelidze), later sobbing into Megi’s arms, who comforts her: “Giorgi has a very small penis, but he knows how to use it.”

This fast-paced and flowing feature once again confirms Bliadze’s surprising maturity and integrity as a director with writing skills to match his confidence behind the camera, and for once the sophomore feature is not derailed by the success of the debut. AS


As far As I Can Walk (2021) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2021

Dir.: Stefan Arsenijevic; Cast: Ibrahim Koma, Nancy Mensah-Offei, Maxim Khali; Serbia/ France/Luxembourg/Bulgaria, Lithuania 2021, 92 min.

Serbian director/co-writer Stefan Arsenijevic transforms an epic medieval Serbian poem, ‘Banovich Stralinya’, into a modern migrant love story involving two Africans, once again illustrating the naivety of refugees hoping for streets of gold in Europe. Imaginatively shot by DoP Jelena Stankovic, this is a convincing drama with a refreshing take on the migration sub-genre. But the grating voice-over of the classic poem disturbs the natural rhythm. and feels at best pretentious.

Ghanian couple Samita ‘Stralinya’ (Koma) and his actress wife Ababuo (Mensah-Offei), both in their late twenties, have been deported from Germany to a transit camp in Serbia where their new existence exposes faultlines in their relationship. Stralinya, named after the epic hero, is a talented footballer who deserves to get a contract as a professional with the local team. Ababuo entertains the refugee kids with her spirited acting talents.

Returning to the camp after a night’s drinking Stralinka is told that Ababuo has left for London with some Syrian refugees. Bullldozing his way into a vehicle loaded with people being smuggled across the border, he learns that the driver charged with transporting his fellow refugees is delivering them straight to the police. Stralinya is furious, mostly at himself, because he feels a moral responsibility having led most of his friends to their ultimate fate. Evading the border police, Stralinya crosses into Hungary, where Ababuo has taken up refuge with a Syrian politician, Ali (Khali) in just another transit camp. Stralinya confronts his wife, who claims she needs “at least the illusion of something big”. After a massive argument the two approach the head of the transit camp in a bid to be re-deported. But while Stralinya is sitting in the bus, waiting to leave, he sees Ababuo being dragged by soldiers towards the bus. He must make a decision, and fast. AS


Otar’s Death | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2021



Dir.: Iosep ‘Soso’ Bliadze; Cast: Nutsa Kukhianidze, Iva Kemeridze, Eka Chavleishvili, Archil Makalatia, Taki Mumladze, Vakho Chachanidze, Marlen Egutia; Georgia/Germany/Lithuania 2021, 107 min.

Georgian Iosep ‘Soso’ Bliadze comes to Karlovy Vary for the first time with this complex and well-written debut. Otar’s Death is a mature psychological drama set in Tbilisi and the surrounding countryside contrasting two very different life styles with irony and sensitivitiy .

Sixteen-year old Nika (Kemeridze) lives with his mother Keti (Kukhianidze), who is really too young to be taking proper care of her fatherless son in a rented flat in Tbilisi, while also holding down a freelance job selling cosmetic products to friends and neighbours. Nika has a girlfriend, Ana (Mumladze) who is the same age as Keti but far more confident. Keti rather neglects her son, and even when she drives him to a lake in the countryside, she takes her girlfriend along too so Nika is left to his own devices while the two women are preoccupied with their own interests.

Nika soon get bored and drives home in his mother’s car, even though he has no driving licence. But she insists he collects her on the way home although it’s already nearly dark. in the dimly streets, the ensuing tragedy is pivotal to the plot development, Nika causing an accident that involves the titular Otar Egutia) in front of his house.

The doctor declares Otar dead, and when Keti arrives, she makes a bargain with Otar’s daughter Tamara (Chavleishvili) to keep her son out of jail. But raising the money proves almost impossible: the bank will not give her credit without collateral and her family cannot help

Finally, she visits old flame Zaza (Mumladze), a former lover, who has served time in prison, but is now married with a child. Meanwhile, Nika’s mental health suffers and he goes on the rampage causing more problems.

Meanwhile back at the mortuary, the mortician makes a surprising discovery, Tamara insisting on going ahead with her agreement with Keti.

Tamara’s son Oto (Makalatia) who has watched his mom play the cello in the barn, is against her taking the money, and sets fire to the barn. Next morning, Otar goes hunting near a lake with his dog, after having had a good breakfast. Which leaves a distraught Nika, who takes a bus to the lake he visited days ago.

The importance of a well worked out script cannot be over-estimated: here, everything flows, and the protagonists find always new ways of relating to each other. In spite of the gruelling topic and violence, Bliadze always has time for some dark humour. The two women leads, Kukhianidze and Chavleishvili, are brilliant, and DoP Dimitri Dito Dekanosidze comes up with great establishing shots, and wonderful panoramic shots of Tiblisi, with the cable cars acting as special extras. A true discovery.


Karlovy Vary Film Festival – Tribute to Michael Caine

This year’s special guest of the 55th Karlovy Vary IFF will be British actor and winner of two Oscars, the European Film Awards, and more than forty other commendations Sir Michael Caine. At the festival’s opening ceremony, Caine will be presented with a Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema.

During a career spanning six decades, Caine has played more than a hundred roles in a variety of film and television genres. The great diversity of his filmography is proof of his exceptional range and his ability to become one with the characters he portrays, regardless whether he is appearing in dramas such as The Man Who Would Be King (1975, dir. John Huston) or Little Voice (1998, dir. Mark Herman), comedies (Miss Congeniality, 2000, dir. Donald Petrie), or action films such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy – Batman Begins (2005) The Dark Knight (2008), The Dark Knight Rises(2012) – or the spy parody Kingsman: The Secret Service (2014, dir. Matthew Vaughn).

Caine’s mastery of acting has earned him a number of awards. When he received his first Oscar for best supporting actor for Woody Allen’s Hannah and Her Sisters, it was his fourth nomination for the Academy Awards (having been previously nominated for Alfie, Sleuth, and Educating Rita). In 2000, he received his second Oscar for his performance in the film adaption of the bestselling book The Cider House Rules (dir. Lasse Hallström), and in 2003 he was again nominated for his appearance in an adaptation of Graham Greene´s The Quiet American (dir. Phillip Noyce).

His appearance in the film version of the mystery drama Sleuth brought him an interesting opportunity. For Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s original 1972 adaptation of the well-known play, he portrayed the lover of the wife of a famous author, a performance that earned him his first Oscar nomination, and in Kenneth Branagh’s 2007 remake he portrayed the cynical author himself.

Michel Caine also holds three Golden Globes and eight Golden Globe nominations. To all his roles, he brings the right dose of empathy, objectivity, and the basic acting requirement that the actor serve the role and not the other way around.

One outstanding example of his finely honed acting abilities was his performance in Paolo Sorrentino’s bitter comedy Youth (2015). Here, his portrayal of a composer who, faced with old age, looks back on his failures in life, earned Caine a European Film Award for best actor. At the same time, he was presented an honorary lifetime achievement award. The film was also well received in Karlovy Vary, where it earned the Právo Audience Award. In the fall of 2015, it was the first film to be brought to Czech cinemas by KVIFF Distribution. Last year, he created one of the roles in Medieval (Jan Žižka)by director Petr Jákl.

In 1992, Michael Caine was inducted into the Order of the British Empire, and in 2000 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II.

At this year’s Karlovy Vary IFF, Michael Caine will personally present the comedy drama Best Sellers (2021), director Lina Roessler’s feature film debut in which he portrays a cranky old author who sets out on one final book tour.


The Father | Bashtata (2019) Oscars 2021 | Glasgow Film Festival 2021

Dir: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Vlachanov | Bulgaria Drama 87′

The Father is the third collaboration for Bulgarian auteurs Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov. This superbly scripted psychological drama follows in the wake of The Lesson (2014) and Glory (2016/7) and explores a son’s attempts to rescue his father from the hands of an unscrupulous psychic healer.

Fraught with darkly piquant humour this comedy will resonate with anyone experiencing similar issues with their own ageing parents, the judicious mixture of farce and satire intertwining to deliver an enjoyable watch while skewering the situation down to a tee.

The Father in question is a dreadful dominating demon. Vasil (Ivan Savov) has no respect for his respectable married middle-aged son Pavel (an appealing Ivan Barnev) who is almost diminished to a blithering idiot in his presence, despite being a successful businessman.

During his wife Valentina’s funeral, Vasil behaves in a disgraceful manner by asking Pavel to take some final photographs of his mother’s corpse in its coffin. When Pavel refuses, Vassil berates him in front of the assembled mourners and insists on doing it himself, belittling Pavel in the process, who later deletes the macabre snaps.

But it doesn’t end there. Vasil becomes obsessed with the idea that his wife is trying to contact him from beyond the grave (by mobile) and decides to consult with a local medium, Dr Ruvi, involving Pavel in the process. Pavel feels responsible for his father, while not liking him terribly much: thoughts of getting back to his wife and business are subsumed by those of guilt; somehow he feels drawn into Vasil’s web of madness, unable to extricate himself from the parental ties that bind. Very much in the same vein as Alexander Payne’s Nebraska, Vasil exerts the same vulnerable power as Bruce Dern’s paternal figure. Clearly Vasil needs protecting from the strange requests made by Ruvi, but in helping him, Pavel takes on an irritating and undignified mission.

Pavel is also consumed by latent anger and constantly back-footed by his father’s unreasonable demands. Meanwhile Vasil become more and more absurd and desperate – the interplay between the two men providing a rich vein of humour. This entertaining two-hander (we never actually meet Ruvi or Pavel’s wife) cleverly sees Pavel emerging as the ultimate hero of the piece, Grozeva and Valchanov adding plenty of textural grist to the duo’s convincingly volatile relationship. MT



Nova Lituania (2019) MUBI

Dir.: Karolis Kaupinis; Cast: Aleksas Kozanavicius, Vaidotas Martinaitis, Valentinas Masalskis, Roberta Samuolytie, Roberta Sirgedaite, Egle Gabrenaite; Lithuania 2019, 97 min.

In this striking arthouse debut from Karolis Kaupinis, a Lithuanian geologist comes up with a brilliant idea to save his nation at the outbreak of the Second World War,

Nova Lituania is a complete one-off and a challenge, but stick with it and you will be rewarded. Kaupinis dabbles in some obscure alternative history. He also intercuts his drama with disturbing family scenes of the anti-hero. And Nova makes up for an enigmatic finale with its pristine black and white camerawork filmed on an old-fashioned boxy 4:3 format by DoP Simonas Glinskis.

Lithuania in the late 1930s, and middle-aged Feliksas Gruodis (Kozanavicius) is a geology lecturer at the university in Kaunas. With his small country threatened by invasion from Germany, Poland and the USSR, he dreams up a wacky scheme: a mass exodus to Africa, along the lines proposed in 1938 for the resettlement of Jewish refugees to Alaska.

Presenting this ambitious proposal to government takes some nerve on the humble scientist’s part, but he accidentally bumps into prime minister Jonas Servus who is not unreceptive to the idea. His chief concern is logistics: moving 2.8 Million citizens would take some doing, and several years. But Gruodis is adamant, the arrival of 500 experts would create a good base for further emigration.

The two men put their heads together at a seaside rendezvous where they are embroiled in taking part in a military coup against the president. And homelife for Gruodis is also going through turmoil: his dominant mother-in-law (Gabrenaite) is at odds with his wife Veronika (Samuolytie). Luckily his neice Julyte (Sirgedaite) offers tea and sympathy.

Nova Lituania is very much a retro undertaking. The uncertainty of the mass exodus plan is reflected in the confused narrative structure, Kaupinis often losing sight of the storyline while indulging himself in the aesthetics and some impressive historical re-creations. Ideas are explored but remain unresolved, the overall feeling is one of discombobulation, as if the director has popped several intriguing plot devices into the mix, coming up with a riveting, but not always convincing potpourri. That said, this is a visually alluring and valiant re-imagining of history and as such should be applauded. AS




Luxor (2020) ****

Dir/Wri: Zeina Durra | Cast: Andrea Riseborough, Janie Aziz, Michael Landers | Drama, 85′

A war zone doctor’s inner turmoil gradually surfaces in this serene second feature from British director Zeina Durra (The Imperialists are Still Alive!).

Never before has heartache appeared so muted and contemplative than in Andrea Riseborough’s portrait of post-traumatic stress disorder. She plays Hanna, a thirty-something aid worker who has just completed a stressful tour of duty in a wartorn corner of the Middle East. In Luxor, she finds herself physically and emotionally depleted, quietly contemplating her next move in the gentle faded splendour of the legendary Winter Palace Hotel on the banks of the Nile.

The genteel location is the stuff of dreams providing solace and a sanctuary for exhausted minds, damaged souls or simply those seeking a seasonal break in Eygpt’s pleasant climate. Luxor also lends a luminous spiritual dimension of this portrait of midlife crisis. A professional woman who has seen things “no human should have to witness” finds herself slipping down a path of increasing melancholy bordering on misery with the gradual realisation that normality and nurturing is now the order of the day, rather than more frontline trauma. Recuperating on quiet days of solitude amongst the ancient sites, she comes across a lover from a more light-hearted era. The passage of time – some twenty years it soon emerges –  has not dimmed the candle she once held for Sultan (Karim Saleh), an archaeologist from America. Quite to the contrary, it now burns even brighter leaving the void inside her soul crying out to be healed rather than temporarily satisfied.

Surrounded by the pharaonic tombs and towering temples, Luxor is very much the star turn. The peaceful city exudes a majestic energy empowering the film with an ethereal feeling of calm beneficence. Hana’s hotel companions, predominantly female, are genial and considerate, the only awkwardness comes after a one night stand she meets in the bar (played gamely Michael Landes) and provides a twist of humour rather than annoyance. Durra keeps dialogue to a minimum focusing on mood and feeling to sublime effect. Days spent reconnecting with her ex-lover soon expose a desperate longing that sees Hana quietly dissolving into tears, a raw nerve he unwittingly triggers in moments that are palpable in their intensity. 

Riseborough is gloriously lowkey at first, her perfect manners and placidity belying the simmering turmoil that gradually makes her more inhibited. She gives an understated physical performance, all blue-eyes, loose limbs and creamy complexion. Luxor has echoes of Columbus its scenic settings and philosophical discussions providing the peaceful backdrop for Hana’s story to unravel. And although the final scenes feel trite in contrast to the film’s thematic concerns the redemptive journey has been a beautiful and illuminating one. MT

NOW AVAILABLE online from next week | LUXOR PREMIERED AT SUNDANCE and KVIFF 2020 | KVIFF Competition returns in 2021

Kubrick by Kubrick (2020)**** KVIFF 2020

Dir.: Gregory Monro; Documentary with Stanley Kubrick, Michel Ciment, Malcolm McDowell; France/USA 2020, 72 min.

Seasoned documentarian Gregory Monro (Michel Legrand: Let the Music play) unpacks more gems, this time the focus is legendary filmmaker Stanley Kubrick (1928-1999). Kubrick by Kubrick sees Monro teaming up with French film critic Michel Ciment and enriched by interviews with the maestro and stars: Malcolm McDowell, Sterling Hayden, Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall amongst others.

In the wake of Kubrick memorabilia docs Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes and Filmworker Gregory, Monro goes for the jugular, with the help of Michel Ciment (who wrote a seminal book about Kubrick in 1982). Probing for the meaning behind the films. What emerges is a dry witted perfectionist; a keen intellect whose craft was everything.

Ciment (“Kubrick tolerated me for while”) started his 20+ year relationship with the interview-shy New Yorker in 1968, after writing a major article about Kubrick, the first one in France, in Positif in 1968. Kubrick had by then moved permanently to live in England: first Elstree/Borehamwood, near to the studios, then in 1978 to Childwickbury in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, where he edited his films, surrounded by his third wife Christiane Harlan (niece of NS-director Veit Harlan), three daughters and countless cats and dogs. He literally run the film world from his house. Legend has it that Kubrick was a control freak, but actors contradict this strongly: he often came unprepared for the day’s shooting, actors writing their own lines. McDowell defends the maestro’s spontaneity, claiming it the key to true creativity. Kubrick has the last word: “It’s where the ball bonces on the set, that’s where opportunities arise”. 

Peter Sellers came up with the idea of Dr. Strangelove’s ‘independent arm’ rising for the Nazi salute. And Malcolm McDowell claims the choice of Singing in the Rain, was his in Clockwork Orange. Shelley Duvall, driven to tears by Kubrick on the set for The Shining, is quoted: “After a while, an actor would get dead inside – for maybe five takes. But then, they’d comeback to life, and you’d forget all reality other than what you’re doing.”  Which does not mean, that Kubrick the perfectionist didn’t exasperate his collaborators. “I like to get things right, and this can lead to personal conflict, which isn’t popular”. Sterling Hayden complains bitterly about the soul-destroying effect of repetitive takes. But Kubrick got what he wanted on the occasion: “the fear in your eyes, that’s what I’m looking for”. Composer Leonard Roseman (who conducted the Barry Lyndon score) told Kubrick after the 105th take: “We are dealing with an insane person. You have driven everyone crazy.” And even though Kubrick watched 100 hours of documentary footage of the Vietnam war, he still insists, “that one of the things that characterises some of the failures of 20th century art, is an obsession with total originality. Innovation means moving forward, but not abandoning the classical art form you’re working with.”    

In the end, Monro has to conclude that Kubrick’s films are, for the most part, about war and violence. The field of corpses in Paths of Glory or Spartacus are just some examples of human slaughter, but war or conflict can also be on a personal domestic level as experienced in The Shining and Lolita. There’s clearly ambiguity about the violence in Clockwork Orange, as McDowell concedes: “You are not supposed to be rooting for them, but…”.

So Munro comes away with more questions than answers to his film’s pivotal question: What are Kubrick’s film about?. From his early days as a photographer and as a novice filmmaker (Killer’s Kiss), he was obsessed with boxing, his love of the sport is documented by shots of an entranced young Kubrick. And chess which, he claims, taught him patience and discipline.

We end, quite aptly, with 8 mm films of Kubrick’s childhood with his younger sister (Al Bowlly singing ‘Midnight, The Stars and You” from The Shining), and his home life in leafy Hertfordshire, a recreation of the Royal Court’s afterlife scenes from 2001 as a doll-house set provides the leitmotif, rounding up a fascinating portrait of a filmmaker who was – to a large extent – all brain, but could never totally conceal the tough New Yorker beneath. AS

The 55th Karlovy Vary IFF will take place in 2021. Meanwhile Karlovy Vary IFF is organising KVIFF at Your Cinema showcase | SCREENING DURING KVIFF | 4 JULY 2020 

Last Visit | Akher Ziyarah (2019) **** Prix du Jury Marrakech Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan; Cast: Mousaed Khaled, Fahad Alghurariy, Osama Alqess, Abduallah Alfahad; Saudi-Arabia 2019, 74 min.

Times are changing in Riyadh. Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan’s realist portrait of father and son conflict serves as a moving metaphor for the underlying clash between past and present in the Arab world.

Nasser (Alquess) is a respectable middle-aged business man who has moved with the times in Riyadh. His teenage son Waleed (Alfahad) is introvert, sullen and – like most teenagers – critical of his father. But his grandfather’s sudden illness causes him to take stock of his life back in the village where his father grew up. Waleed is passive-aggressive, and initially makes it clear – without words – that he’d rather be anywhere else than at his grandfather’s bedside. When he arrives in the village with his father, there is a police roadblock – several days previously a young boy disappeared from his home and the search for him has so far proved unsuccessful. Waleed is introduced to his uncles and his cousin Faisal (Alshahrani) for the first time. The family is gathered around the dying patriarch, interrupting the wake only for prayers. Nasser expects Waleed to join in but the boy feels the need to pose as the ‘obedient son’ overbearing. His upbringing has been traditional, although their life in Riyadh is secular. In some ways this has been a poisoned chalice, his cousin seems to be having a more entertaining time in the countryside but there are clearly differences. And soon enough Waleed discovers past traumas from his father’s life in the village as the boy’s disappearance  comes to a head making their drive back to Riyadh a morose one.

DoP Amine Messadi pans faces and objects with great care reflecting the mens’ fleeting thoughts and emotions in this documentary-style drama, where the camera is on the outside, observing. Just before Waleed and Nasser leave, the camera traces back symbolically over a few cracks in the room they shared – this and the total absence of women works as a solemn critique of a society caught between a religious yesterday and a commercial present. Significantly too, Aldhabaan keeps dialogue to a minimum, only the confrontation between father and son burns bitterly in this sombre and tight-lipped drama. AS



Patrick | De Patrick (2019) Bfi Player

Dir: Tim Mielants; Cast: Kevin Janssens, Josse de Pauw, Hannah Hoekstra, Jemaine Clement Katelinje Damen, Ariane van der Velt, Pierre Bokma; Belgium 2019, 97 min.

Peaky Blinders’ Tim Mielants won the directing prize at Karlovy Vary for this subversive tragicomedy that takes place in a Belgian nudist camp fraught with scheming machiavellians.

In his late thirties the naive main character Patrick (Janssens) is still living with his father Rudy (de Pauw) and blind mother Nelly (Damen). They run a summer camp fraught with  scantily dressed, middle-aged holiday-makers. Rudy is on his last legs but his son has no aptitude for business, and so he relies on Herman (Bokma), whose wife Liliane (Van Welt) projects her lust on the undersexed Patrick.

Into this bizarre environment comes Natalie (Hoekstra) whose unfaithful musician boyfriend Dustin (Clement) immediately strikes up a relationship with another adoring female. So Natalie decides to turn her attentions to Patrick whose sideline as a joiner now becomes central to the narrative, and the tool of his trade, a hammer, one of the main protagonists. When Rudy dies, Herman and Liliane plan to take over the place, declaring Patrick ‘not fit for purpose’, in running the camp’s affairs – not least because his hammer was the weapon of choice in a catastrophe that cost the commune their entire funds. It soon emerges that the hammer was also the weapon used in a murder in Brussels.

Even though the naturalists proclaim to be progressive, they are really straight out of the 1950s. Mielants’ humour does not always come off, and De Patrick often feels repetitive – the running time could be tightened up a tab. But there are enough contradictions to keep the show on the road, and Janssens makes for a brilliant anti-hero. AS


Half Sister (2019) Polsestra **** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Damjan Kozole; Cast: Ursa Menart, Liza Marijina, Jurij Drevensek, Peter Musevski; Republic of Macedonia/Serbia/Slovenia; 105 min.

Another tightly controlled and intriguing drama from veteran documentarian Damjan Kozole, who won best director at Karlovy Vary with Nightlife in 2016 . 

Irena and Nezha, the titular half-sisters hate each others guts – but when push comes to shove, blood proves thicker than life-long animosities. Irina (Menart) works in the local hairdressers: she is protected from the outside world by a half-open jalousie. And it soon emerges why. 

Separated from her violent husband Branco (Drevensek), she is looking for a place to stay and visits her mother. Clearly moving in with her mother is no option, the two have a fractured relationship and the same goes for her father handball coach Silvio (Musevski) who ran off with an Albanian woman when Irena was a little girl. But one of her half-sisters Anisa (Marijina) is moving to Ljubljana to study for an MA in communications, so she asks her father if she could live shares the flat with her rival Nezha, a tomboyish aggressor, who has a knife handy wherever she goes. Nezha immediately blames Silvo (who pays the rent) and Irena for setting her up. But blaming everybody – apart from her dog Jimmy – is Nezha’s default position in life. A vegan (for environmental reasons) she attacks Irena full on: “If Dad wasn’t such a pussy, he’d put you in a nuthouse”. Irena answers with well trained passive-aggressiveness. But when Branco assaults Irena, breaking her nose, the dynamic changes, Nezha going on the attack to defend Irena to the last.

Half-Sister is a brilliant character study, the near-perfect script an exception in today’s landscape of ‘atmospheric non-narratives”. DoP Miladin Colakovic’s intimate camera conveys the emotional range of the rollercoaster, and despite of the antagonistic characters involved, one cannot help but smile. Finally, Menart and Marijina gives remarkable performances, playing off each other like the real thing. AS

Karlovy Vary FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | Until 7 July 2019



El Hombre del Futuro (2019) *** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Felipe Rios Fuente; Cast: Antonia Giesen, Jose Soza, Maria Alche, Roberto Farias; Chile 2019, 96 min.

Director/co-writer Felipe Rios Fuente’s debut feature is beautiful to look at, but based on a rather misplaced ideology. Somehow his melancholic defence of absent fathers, caught up in their so-called independence, sticks a the throat: even in Chile, country of machismo, a little more honesty would be welcome.

We meet Elena (Giesen) at high school in Cochrane, north Chile, were she discusses her future with a friend. Not much of an academic Elena has set her heart on professional boxing. Sadly this becomes a pipe dream when she heads down south to a match in the wilderness of Patagonia. Meanwhile her biological father Michelsen (Soza), whom she has not seen since her childhood, is coming to the end of his life. He seems resigned to his fate setting off on his final trip taking sheep to Patagonia and on the way picks up a young hitchhiker, Maxi (Alche). At the same time Cuatro Dedos (Farias) picks up Elena. ‘Four Fingers’ is a younger version of Michelsen, he knows that Elena is Michelsen’s daughter, whom he holds in near mythical regard. Somehow, via the hauler’s radio system, Elena sends a message to her father. He arrives in time to see her beaten up in the ring by Patagona, a much heavier woman, who is supported by the local crowd. Elena and Michelsen now travel together, deliver the sheep, and try to come to terms with their relationship. Michelsen insists he never gave up being Elena’s father, but she reminds him he never knew her at all. Fuente insists on a reconciliation, but his pleas are hollow.

The beauty of the wilderness of Patagonia is captured on spectacular widescreen images by DoP Eduardo Bunster. Fuente’s opaque choice of the title is as superfluous as his insistence that old men should be forgiven for leaving their families. Four Finger and his hero Michelsen want their freedom and independence to roam the country, but leave the responsibility of childcare to the abandoned wives. They might talk about love for those left behind, but the words are empty. Elena’s dislocation is a result of her father’s negligence, and however hard Fuente tries to romanticise their relationship, his choice of independence has certainly created her emotional insecurity. AS














The Last Autumn | Sidasta Haustio (2019) Bergamo Film Meeting

Dir.: Yrsa Roca Fannberg; Documentary with Ulfare Eyjolfsson, Oddny Snjolang Bordardottir; Iceland 2019, 78 min.

Icelandic writer/director Yrsa Roca Fannberg follows Salome with this thematically related story set in the Icelandic arctic ocean village of Norourfjordur where a couple are getting ready to sell their sheep. This is their last autumn on the farmland they have occupied all their lives, and their daughter and grandchildren, who live in Reykjavik, come and pay their final farewells.

The black and white footage of the opening sequences reflects their contented past, the rough landscape and the sea, making an imposing background where humans are dwarfed by mother nature. Soon we switch to colour and intimate domestic interiors where Ulfar and Oddny are listening to a radio broadcast about the ecological tragedy that led to the entire population of Iceland being evacuated to Denmark after a volcano eruption during the18th century.

The old sheep dog Loppa watches Ulfar bottle-feed two lambs. Later, he drives out to sea in his fishing boat coming back with a decent catch, then cutting wood to repair the barn wall – even though he knows very well that there will be no more sheep to shelter there. His daughter arrives on a small plane and they reminisce about the barn repairs: “It is beautiful to sustain life, even if it is not for yourself”.

This honest existence has been the mainstay of their lives together, but eventually the day arrives for them to round up the sheep. Loppa, his master and some other farmers go into the mountains to collect the animals, about 75 of them, herd them into the barn, and then huge travel containers. Ulfar seems to live in the past, his only contact with the outside world is the radio which brings news of those who have recently passed away. Afterwards Ulfar gives his granddaughter a ride on the tractor regaling her with an old fairy tale about Vera, a woman who fell down the cliffs.

Focusing on long panoramic panning shots, and connecting with the narrative of surviving communities and rural existence this is a melancholic journey. Carlos Vasquez’ images focus on the close interaction of humans and nature, showing that animals are far more intelligent than we often give them credit for. The relationship between Ulfare and his dog is particularly close. Dialogue is sparing reflecting the importance of action and reflection rather than ideas. Fannberg handles this slow-burner with care and patience, every shot has a function – an enchanting portrait of another disappearing world. AS


Projectionist (2019) **** Karlovy Vary 2019

Dir: Yuriy Shilov | Doc with Valentin Speshylov, Volodymyr Mak, Halyna Speshylova, Yuri Speshylov | Ukraine/Poland 78’

64 years is the average life expectancy for a man in Ukraine. And Valentin is heading that way. Pleasant and voluble with his twinkling eyes and broad smile, he has spent most of his working life as projectionist at Kiev’s oldest cinema the Kinopanorama, that opened in 1958.

Preoccupation with his mother has clearly dogged and dominated his personal life. A chain smoker with false teeth – at one point he’s seen popping them in and swigging the cleaning fluid – he loves to visit the dancing girls in the next door casting agency nearby the cramped flat shares with his ageing mother who is confined to bed with chronic constipation. But Valentin is not the only colourful character, in this picaresque and gently humorous debut from promising Ukrainian filmmaker Yuriy Shilov, Valentin’s neighbour Silpa is a batty lonely old man who dyes his hair and drinks himself to oblivion.

Camerawork lends a voyeuristic feel to the semi darkness of pokey place where Valentin’s friends pass by to say hello through the brightness of the open window. Kiev is seen crumbling in its former grandeur, Valentin and his pals the idiosyncratic old guard keeping the show on the road in a rapidly changing world while several widescreen panoramas reflect the sheer vastness of Ukraine’s capital city with its traditional curative baths and magnificent Dnieper River, the fourth longest in Europe

But when the Kinopanorama finally goes up in smoke one night, its clearly time for Valentin to seek pastures new and this amiable Ukrainian is very much game. MT

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL | 28 June – 7 July 2019

Lara (2019) ** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2019

Dir.: Jan-Ole Gerster; Cast: Corinna Harfouch, Tom Schilling, Volkmar Kleinert, Andre Jung, Rainer Bock, Gudrun Ritter; Germany 2019, 97 min.

Jan-Ole Gerster enjoyed overnight success with his black and white comedy debut Oh Boy, his 2012 graduation feature from the Film and Fernsehakademie Berlin. His Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe hopeful is a hotchpot of banality dressed up as psycho-horror, proving once again that the second film is generally the most difficult one.

To say that LARA is muddled, is an understatement. To start with, Gerster and his writer Baz Kutin seem unsure about genre. As it turns out, Lara oscillates between neo-gothic horror and hyper realism, with a large dollop of misogyny.

We meet the titular Lara (a brilliant Harfouch) early in the morning, about to take her life – on her 60th birthday as it turns out – but a plan to jump from the window of her high rise is interrupted by a ring at the doorbell. Two policemen enter. They ask her to witness the search of a flat belonging to her neighbour Czerny (Jung), whose son is a drug addict. Meanwhile, her own son Victor (Schilling), is preparing for his debut piano solo, the premiere of his first composition. Lara has devoted her life to coaching him after giving up her own promising career on a whim. She will later meet her former teacher, professor Reinhofer (Kleinert) who also happens to know her son. Victor has since moved in with his grandmother (Ritter), in preference to his mother and girl friend – for reasons unknown. Victor’s attitude towards his mother is hostile. His father (Bock) seems to share his feelings. Undeterred, Lara makes a beeline for her grandmother’s house where she sneaks into Victor’s room, advising him not to perform his piece due to its being “too affected”. While Victor is torn between obeying his mother and revolt, Lara busily buys up the remainder of the concert tickets, distributing them among her former staff at the city council, who, so she is told, hated her. 

All the time, a dark cloud hangs over Lara, but we are never told what caused her mental breakdown a few weeks previously. After a lifetime of dedicated to her only son she has clearly lost her way with his leaving home. The other female characters (girl friend, council employers) are either weak or bitchy. By contrast, the men are reasonable and capable of conflict resolution. Only the grand mother emerges strong and sympathetic – being no sexual threat because of her age. Lara fails to solve the issues it raises, petering out in a limp ending, award winning DoP Frank Griebe unable to save the clumsy direction and clunky dialogue. AS



Karlovy Vary Film Festival | 28 June – 6 July 2019

Set in the peaceful charm of the former Bohemia, Karlovy Vary was once known as Marienbad. The annual Film Festival is one of the oldest and most prestigious in the World dating back to 1946. It is backed by the Ministry of Culture and hosted by the Grand Hotel Pupp. But most of the screenings take place in the Brutalist concrete Hotel Thermal which has now become somewhat of an iconic tribute to the country’s years under Communism. 

The 54th edition has unveiled the first competition titles in the Official Selection, East of the West and Documentary sections. Twelve films with compete for coveted Crystal Globe – 10 world premieres and two international premieres.

Cambodian-born, UK director Hong Khaou will be there to present his follow-up to the rather delicate LGBTQ drama  debut Lilting, (2014). Monsoon stars Henry Golding (Crazy Rich Asians) whose return to Vietnam is a stressful homecoming. Chinese director Zhai Yixiange’s Mosaic Portrait also joins the line-up along with a psychological drama Lara from German director Jan Ole Gerster and Martha Stephens’ black and white coming of age 1960s-set drama To the Stars. Slovenia’s Damjan Kozole, who won Best Director 2016 for Nightlife, returns with Half-Sister; and the competition also features a Chilean comedy Sci-fi from Felipe Ríos The Man From The Future and a Spanish drama from Jonas Trueba’s August Virgin. Patrick is the first film from Belgium’s Tim Mielants in a comedy drama starring Jan Bijvoet (Embrace of the Serpent). Turkey’s Kivanc Sezer’s La Belle Indifference adds more fun to the competition line-up.


The Father (Bul-Gre) – World premiere
Director: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov

Patrick / Patrick (Bel) – World premiere
Director: Tim Mielants

The Man from the Future (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Felipe Ríos

La Belle Indifference (Tur) – World premiere
Director: Kıvanç Sezer

Lara (Ger) – World premiere
Director: Jan Ole Gerster

Mosaic Portrait (Chi) – World premiere
Director: Yixiang Zhai

Monsoon (UK) – World premiere
Director: Hong Khaou

Let There Be Light (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Marko Škop

Ode to Nothing (Phi) – International premiere
Director: Dwein Baltazar

Half-Sister (Slo-Mac-Ser-Cro) – World premiere
Director: Damjan Kozole

To the Stars (USA) – International premiere
Director: Martha Stephens

The August Virgin (Spa) – World premiere
Director: Jonás Trueba


The East of the West brings the creme de la creme of East European films to the wooded Czech town and its usually very strong with some promising debut. This year opens with a Kosovan feature debut from Lendita Zeqiraj. Highlights this year include Ukrainian director Antonio Lukich’s  My Thoughts Are Silent, Kosovo director Lendita Zeqiraj’s female centric drama, Aga’s House, and Serhat Karassian’s Turkish prison drama, Passed by Censor.

Last Visit (Sau) – World premiere
Director: Abdulmohsen Aldhabaan

Arrest (Rom) – International premiere
Director: Andrei Cohn

The Bull (Rus) – International premiere
Director: Boris Akopov

Passed by Censor (Tur) – International premiere
Director: Serhat Karaaslan

Silent Days (Slo-Cze) – World premiere
Director: Pavol Pekarčík

Mamonga (Ser-Bos-Mon) – World premiere
Director: Stefan Malešević

My Thoughts Are Silent (Ukr) – World premiere
Director: Antonio Lukich

Nova Lituania (Lit) – World premiere
Director: Karolis Kaupinis

Aga’s House (Kos-Cro-Fra-Alb) – World premiere
Director: Lendita Zeqiraj

Scandinavian Silence (Est-Fra-Bel) – European premiere
Director: Martti Helde

A Certain Kind of Silence (Cze-Net-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Michal Hogenauer

Zizotek (Gre) – World premiere
Director: Vardis Marinakis


The 11-strong documentary strand features eight world premieres. Highlights will include Spoon (of the plastic variety) from Latvian filmmaker Laila Pakalnina; Over The Hills from award-winning Czech documentarian Martin Mareček (Solar Eclipse). and Todd Douglas Miller’s Apollo 11 with archive footage from Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong.

17 Blocks (USA) – European premiere
Director: Davy Rothbart

Apollo 11 (USA) – Czech premiere
Director: Todd Douglas Miller

The Fading Village (China) – World premiere
Director: Liu Feifang

Over the Hills (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Mareček

Up to Down (Ita) – World premiere
Director: Nazareno Manuel Nicoletti

In the Arms of Morpheus (Net) – World premiere
Director: Marc Schmidt

Spoon (Lat, Nor, Lit) – World premiere
Director: Laila Pakalniņa

Confucian Dream (Chi) – European premiere
Director: Mijie Li

Projectionist (Ukr-Pol) – World premiere
Director: Yuriy Shylov

The Last Autumn (Ice) – World premiere
Director: Yrsa Roca Fannberg

Immortal (Est-Lat) – World premiere
Director: Ksenia Okhapkina

Official Selection – Out of Competition

Mystify: Michael Hutchence (Aus) – European premiere
Director: Richard Lowenstein

Old-Timers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Martin Dušek, Ondřej Provazník

The True Adventures of Wolfboy (USA) – World premiere
Director: Martin Krejčí

Special Events

The Sleepers (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Ivan Zachariáš

Forman vs. Forman (Cze-Fra)
Director: Helena Třeštíková, Jakub Hejna

Jiří Suchý – Tackling Life with Ease (Cze) – World premiere
Director: Olga Sommerová

The Downfall of the Secluded Berhof (Cze)
Director: Jiří Svoboda

Karlovy Vary INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | 28 JUNE – 7 JULY 2019 

Oscar Foreign Language Academy Awards 2019

Nine films were on the short list for the coveted Academy Awards Foreign Language title at the end of last year: Some are well known (COLD WAR, CAPERNAUM, SHOPLIFTERS) but AYKA comes from a country where there is hardly any structure let alone financing available for filmmakers, so Kazakhstan’s entry should be particularly applauded.

Denmark: The Guilty (Gustav Möller)

Möller’s feature debut premiered at Sundance in January 2018, winning the audience award in the world cinema dramatic competition. The entire film takes place in the claustrophobic confines of a Copenhagen emergency services station, where a former police officer (Jakob Cedergren) has to deal with gruelling telephone calls from a kidnapped woman.

Germany: Never Look Away (Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck)

von Donnersmarck is very well thought of in German cinema circles and has a previously won in the category back in 2007 for his Cold War spy thriller The Lives Of Others. His latest sees an art student involved in a difficult situation at his college. We reviewed the film at Venice where it premiered in August 2018.

Poland: Cold War (Pawel Pawlikowski)

Pawlikowski’s film opened in Cannes Competition in 2018 and won him a best director prize. Searingly beautiful, it chronicles a love story between two people from different walks of life, set against the backdrop of the Cold War in the 1950s in various cities in Europe. Pawlikowski has previously won this award back in 2015 for his war-themed drama Ida – but his multi-faceted films have been arthouse staples since he started out in the 1980s with his TV fare (Open Space and From Moscow to Pietuschki in 1990), his first feature was The Stringer (1998).

Colombia: Birds Of Passage (Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra)

An arthouse title that explores the narco-trafficking industry and its profound effects on Columbian society. Gallego and Guerra’s film opened Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes in 2018 but their breakout success was with Embrace Of The Serpent (with Guerra directing, Gallego producing).

Mexico: ROMA (Alfonso Cuarón)


Cuarón’s latest is a semi-autobiographical take on his own Mexico City upbringing, focusing on a middle-class family and their live-in housekeeper. With so many interesting stories coming out of Mexico, this is Cuarón’s first nomination in the category, although he has been nominated for six Oscars previously, winning best director and best editing for Gravity in 2014.

Japan: Shoplifters (Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Kore-eda’s cheeky story of a family living on on its uppers won the Palme d’Or in 2018.

Kazakhstan: Ayka (Sergey Dvortsevoy)

Living in abject poverty in Moscow, a young Kyrgyz woman tries to survive after abandoning her newborn, to return to her job. It premiered in the official Competition at Cannes in 2018.

Lebanon: Capernaüm (Nadine Labaki)

After her lively social drama Caramel, Labaki’s Cannes 2018 Competition entry is a more heavyweight but enjoyable story for its humanity and insight. Shot on the streets of Beirut using non-professional actors, the story follows the fate of a precocious but endearing 12 year-old boy who takes his parents to court.

South Korea: Burning (Lee Chang-dong)

Lee’s Cannes Competition title was the favourite amongst the critics at Cannes last year. It’s a psychological thriller but also a subtle love story based on Haruki Murakami’s short story Barn Burning.

THE AWARDS TOOK PLACE in Los Angeles on 24 February 2019 

Jumpman (2018) Podbrosy **** Russian Film Week 2018

Dir.: Ivan I. Tverdovsky; Cast: Denis Vlasenko, Anne Slyu, Daniil Steklov; Russia/ROI/France/ Lithuania 2018, 87 min.

Ivan I. Tverdovsky follows up his zany Zoology with a darker feature, another harsh critique of Putin’s Russia. Very much in the mould of Loveless, Jumpman is a portrait of callous exploitation, the young victim literally sold by his mother to perform life-threatening stunts, just to fill her pockets and those of her cronies.

Sixteen years ago Oksana posted her newborn Denis through the baby-hatch of an orphanage where he has lived ever since, handicapped by a rare disease, congenital analgesia, which affects his ability to feel physical pain, and needs to be medically controlled. Now, forbidden from taking care of her son, Oksana (Slyu) tricks the orphanage staff, literally kidnapping little Denis (Vlasenko) and taking him home. It soon emerges that Oksana’s motive is anything but motherly. Denis does not fee pain when injured (his mates in the orphanage played some cruel games with him), and is trained to jump on cars so his mother’s friends can extort cash from the driver. First in line is Denis’ ‘instructor’ policeman Kusnetzov (Steklov), who drives a police vehicle alongside the one earmarked for the ‘accident’, and is first on the scene when Denis lays motionless on the ground. Kusnetzovs’s mother is a doctor at the hospital where Denis is taken by an ambulance crew (also on the make). But the most profitable jobs go to Judge Olga and the bribed defence lawyer. The driver is forced to pay up a huge sum of money – and Denis gets hardly a penny, after everyone else has taken their share. At home his mother treats him more like a lover, running around half naked in a drunken state, even trying to seduce him. That all changes after Denis puts his foot down –  and this leaves only one solution.

Jumpman is a portrait of a society corrupt on every level, a society where the most vulnerable victims are treated like commodities – whether they are rich, poor or just disenfranchised.. When Denis finally quits, Kusnetzov spits in his face: “We’ll find another one, the city is full of trash like you.” AS



Made in Prague | Czech Cinema 100th Anniversary

This October marks the 100th year anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. The celebrations begin with an opening night gala screening of Jan S. Kolár’s silent epic St Wenceslas from 1929; accompanied by a musical ensemble specialising in medieval polyphony.

The 22nd MADE IN PRAGUE Festival showcases the best of contemporary Czech cinema cherry picked from international film festivals’ circuit. It features Barefoot by the Oscar-winning director Jan “Kolya” Sverak; Insects, the legendary filmmaker Jan Svankmajer’s swansong; the UK premiere of Martin Sulik’s drama The Interpreter starring the Oscar-winning director of Closely Observed Trains Jiri Menzel and German star of Toni Erdmann Peter Simonischek, fresh from the 2018 Berlinale. Also screening will be Olmo Omerzu’s Winter Flies, winner of the 2018 Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Director’s Prize. Complemented by Vit Klusak’s The White World According to Daliborek, a hilarious stylised documentary portrait of a Czech neo-nazi, and Cervena, Olga Sommerova’s portrait of a vivacious 92-year-old world famous opera singer, the mixture of fiction and documentaries with accompanying debates and Q&A showcases the best of Czech cinema mapping the country’s past and current achievements.

MADE IN PRAGUE | Czech Centre London and other venues across the city, including the Barbican, Design Museum, Regent Street Cinema, Tate Modern, UCL, plus others.


Open City Docs Festival 2018 | 4-9 September 2018

Open City Documentary Festival is back this Autumn for the eighth year running with a dynamic new programme celebrating documentary and non-fiction filmmaking taking place  from the 4th – 9th September in a host of great venues across central London.

This year – through films, audio and immersive (VR/AR) projects, across screenings, special events, parties, panels, workshops and masterclasses – Open City Documentary Festival will be celebrating the art of non-fiction.

The Festival opens with the UK Premiere of Baronesa (2017, Brazil, 71’), directed by Juliana Antunes and in partnership with MUBI. Her astonishing debut follows friends Andreia and Leid as they navigate the perilous reality of daily life in the favelas of Belo Horizonte. At first glance, their days seem calm and untroubled, but the threat of violence is never far away and Andreia dreams of moving to the safer neighbourhood of nearby Baronesa. Antunes spent five years in Belo Horizonte, working with a non-professional cast, to create a work of rare intimacy and authenticity which—despite its simple structure—emerges as a complex, multilayered and moving portrait of contemporary life in the favelas. Baronesa announces an exciting new voice in Brazilian cinema.

The Closing Night will be the UK Premiere of The Swing (2018, Lebanon, 74’) directed by Cyril Aris. An assured, emotionally rich film about the lies a family tells to keep their patriarch happy and the unattended costs of their falsehood. After sixty years of marriage, Antoine and Vivi have lost their most beloved daughter; but no one has dared to tell the bedridden nonagenarian Antoine, lest his heart crack. A simple solution, though everyone else in this densely interconnected family has then to live the same lie, giving no expression to their grief. A deeply affecting, beautifully shot cinematic novella; like all the best stories The Swing is a simple tale, but one that never short-changes its viewers.

This year the festival hosts an outstanding Jury panel for each of its competitive Awards. For the Open City Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Baronesa, dir. Juliana Antunes (Brazil); Casanova Gene, dir. Luise Donschen (Germany); Flight of a Bullet, dir. Beata Bubenec (Russia); and The Swing, dir. Cyril Aris (Lebanon). The Jury will be chaired by esteemed director Sophie Fiennes (Grace Jones: Bloodlight, Bami), and features Beatrice Gibson, Nelly Ben Hayoun, May Adadol Ingawanij and Mehelli Modi.

For the Emerging International Filmmaker Award the following documentaries have been nominated: Angkar, dir. Neary Adeline Hay (France); Those Who Come, Will Hear, dir. Simon Plouffe (Canada); Home of the Resistance, dir. Ivan Ramljak (Croatia) and The Best Thing You Can Do With Your Life, dir. Zita Erffa (Germany, Mexico). The award will be Chaired by independent Dutch documentary programme cultural advisor and filmmaker Tessa Boerman (Zwart Belicht), Luciano Barisone, Cecile Emeke, Chiara Marañón and Tadhg O’Sullivan.

There will be two retrospectives in honour of non-fiction filmmaking: The innovative found footage documentarian Penny Lane and Japanese pioneer of ‘action documentary’, Kazuo Hara. Both filmmakers will be at the festival to present their work.

For the first time the festival has invited artists to present films that have informed their own practice, with special selections from DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal and filmmaker Marc Isaacs as well as short films chosen by a number of the filmmakers with new work at the festival, screening before their own features.

The festival will also be hosting an Industry Bootcamp aimed at students and recent graduates. These sessions will be about preparing for the next steps in your career and getting ready to enter the industry. Each event is £5, or free with student accreditation.

Open City Documentary Festival is looking forward to hosting a number of exciting festival parties this year including the Opening and Closing Night Receptions at the Regent Street Cinema as well as the Nabihah Iqbal after-party at the ICA, where the DJ, Producer & NTS Radio presenter presents an evening of music inspired by 1972 documentary Winter Soldier, featuring protest songs and music from the anti-war movement from 1950-1975. Other various festival parties will be listed in the festival programme.



Blossom Valley (2018) **** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Laszlo Csuja; Cast: Reti Laszlo, Berenyi Bianca, Kozma Karoly; Hungary 2018, 83 min.

The original Hungarian title of Laszlo Csuja’s debut drama is symbolic: Viragvölgy is the last stop on a children’s railway that runs through Buda Heights and the woods near Budapest.

BLOSSOM VALLEY’s impressive cast of non-professionals, Laszlo Reti (a former Special Olympics skating champion) and Bianka Berenyi) performer and lead singer of Cannibal EU are largely the reason why this eerie, melancholic and angst-ridden road fairytale won the Grand Jury Price of the ‘East – West Section” of this year’s Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Just for the hell of it, feisty Bianka (Bianka Berényi) has decided to kidnap a baby but she soon meets young Laci (László Réti), who provides a calming influence despite having been declared mentally unfit to make his own decisions. The couple and their new baby settle into a family unit of sorts and – after stealing a caravan – the police are soon in hot pursuit of the trio.

Bianca is a borderline sociopath who loves nothing more than attention and mischief. Like Laci, she has issues with regressive development, but unlike him – naïve and wanting to please – she has a certain malice, which is hidden behind a childlike demeanour. Her attention span is limited, she must be entertained and worshiped permanently. Contrary to her ex-boyfriends, who see her at a nuisance, Laci adores her non-stop, accepting most of her changing moods.

Mentored by Enyedi Ildico (On Body and Soul, last year’s Berlinale winner), Csuja, very much like Enyedi, goes all out to achieve a frightening atmosphere managing the film’s tonal shifts with surprising dexterity and adding a punk rock twist to the mix. The baby – played by two sets of twins, one actually named Laura – is in constant danger, but the ‘parents’ are too focused on themselves, even though there are some moments of closeness and intimacy. The impulsive Bianca and the love smitten Laci are always a step away from disaster.

Gergely Vass’s images are full of saturated colours, the scenes in the countryside are full of magic and the car journey’s a nightmare, but there are moments of grim social realism too. All said and done though, this zany drama belongs to the leading actors. MT


I Do Not Care if We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018)*** Winner | Karlovy Vary 2018

Writer/Dir: Radu Jude | Cast: Ioanna Iacob, Alex Bogdan, Alexandru Dabija, Lon Razia| Drama | Romania | 140′

After his contemplative paean to Romania’s lost Jews (Dead Nation), and Berlinale winner Aferim!, a drama exploring life in 19th century Jewish settlements, Radu Jude is back with another playfully bolshy and bruising indictment of ethnic cleansing, this time concerning the events leading up to the Holocaust.

Romania was as a Nazi ally – along with several other European countries – and it’s a subject that is close to his heart, and one that has divided his homeland. The film’s title refers to the words spoken by the Council of Ministers in the Summer of 1941 that announced another episode of genocide, this time on the Eastern Front. History always repeats itself and Radu Jude choses to depict this tragic era with a dark and spiky farcical doc-drama that recreates the tragic events on the Eastern Front preceding the Holocaust 

Set in contemporary Romania this experimental film within a film takes the form of a theatre production incorporating archive footage, lengthy critical diatribes Godard style, all driven forward by the feisty character of Mariana Marin (Ioana Iacob in her debut). This is a comprehensive and ambitious piece of meta-filmmaking but its sprawling verbosity and indulgent running time makes it sometimes heavy going.  

We first meet Mariana in the grounds of Bucharest’s National Military Museum as she is preparing to stage her outdoor theatrical extravaganza based on the tragic events of Autumn1941 when Romanian troops joined Nazi forces to wipe out some 30,000 Jews in the Ukrainian city of Odessa. The military dictator Ion Antonescu had sanctioned the routing before going over to the German side in 1944. In the event roughly 400,000 Jews, Roma gypsies and other ethnic minorities were massacred. 

As in many other European countries, antisemitism is still rife even today and this sentiment is echoed during Mariana’s rehearsals when some of the non-professional extras voice their concerns about acting alongside Roma gypsies and even challenge her version of events as proceedings almost turn into a bun fight. Meanwhile, Mariana’s complex love life with her married airline pilot Stefan (Serban Pavlu) is threatening to cause 

Also taking part in the production is Romanian theatre veteran Alexandru Dabija (Afterim!) who plays Movie and tries throughout to pacify the public by appealing to Mariana to adopt a less controversial take on the Odessa massacre, namely one that doesn’t offend Romania’s wartime heroes. Sparks fly as the two engage in a dialogue that pays homage to Hannah Arendt, Elie Wiesel, Steven Spielberg,  Leni Riefenstahl et al in lively scenes captured by handheld cameras accompanied by an ambient score. Not an easy film to engage with but a worthwhile effort to bring these controversial events to the public domain. However, with its 140 minute running time this is a docudrama that may prove commercially unviable for most arthouse cinemas and will likely find its viewers on home entertainment front MT


The Guilty (2018) Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018 ***

Dir: Gustav Moller | Doc | Danish | 85′

If you enjoyed Locke (2013) then The Guilty will come as a disappointment. Running along similar lines as Steven Knight’s gripping ‘phone-call drama, this rather bland affair from Danish director Gustav Muller focuses entirely on a uniformed official speaking into a headset in an emergency call center, The Guilty  intrigues but never quite hits the high notes of the Tom Hardy dominated thriller – not least because Olivia Colman and Ruth Wilson added that extra ‘je ne sais quoi’ to the proceedings.

In his feature debut, filmmaker Moller gives us a tense time, but 85 minutes is too long to be looking at a little known actor wearing a blue shirt, as we drift off into a reverie about what to have for dinner after the film. There will no doubt be some viewers who will find this a winner, namely the Ecumenical Jury at Baltic Debuts Film Festival (2018) who awarded it their prize. But with an English-language script and a more starry performance (Tom Hardy?) this could well be terrific.

The narrative revolves round a demoted former officer Asger Holm (a decent Jakob Cedergren) who has the task of answering distress calls, the first is from a man claiming he’s been mugged by a woman in his car. As the camera slides back to reveals Holm’s monitor, and location is the red light district, this is somewhat of a non- starter. Then comes a stressed out woman’s voice (Jessica Dinnage, who we never see) speaking from inside a car, claiming she’s been abducted and forced to leave her children at home. All this is reflected through Holm’s facial expressions viewed intensively through Jasper Spanning’s intimate camera shots, with the sound effects of cries and traffic noises in the background. Lighting is sombre and almost sinister, as he sits in the semi-darkness giving a slight Noirish feel to the piece. Emil Nygaard Albertsen’s script is tightly packed, although the ultimate reveal doesn’t quite have the dramatic heft we’re hoping for. Clearly Holm is looking to redeem himself and make up for his past misdemeanours, and this extra dimension adds grist to the mill in firing up his desire to save the woman’s life. MT


Dream Away (2018) *** Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Marouan Omara, Johanna Domke | Documentary | Germany/Egypt 2018  | 86 min.

Egyptian filmmaker Marouan Omara and Johanna Domke a visual artist from Germany create a near-absurdist portrait of Sun Rise, a deserted luxury hotel in Sharm El-Sheik in southern Egypt. The whole place is geared-up for Western tourists – but there are hardly any there nowadays, and the staff are left wondering about the future: will their pay-cuts end in redundancy? How can they reconcile their traditional upbringing with the western lifestyle forced upon them in their own homeland. The Arab Sprig and the confusion of the post revolutionary era has robbed the entire place of its livelihood, where once it offered warm seas, fabulous coral gardens as one of the best places for Winter sunshine and diving. And nobody is a winner now.

Horreya Hassan is a member of the housekeeping team, a euphemist title for a cleaner. She is looked down upon by members of the entertainment/animation team such as Shaima Reda (“To share a room with a member of Housekeeping, outraging”). Horreya is finally accepted by the women from Animation, who dance in front of a empty space where the audience used to be. Horreya tries to make up for her lowly status by reading self-help books which tell her “How to connect the mind gaps”. Meanwhile, D J Taki (Khaled Ahmend) has to support an ill mother, and has a foreign girl friend, although in the old days he used to see things from his parents’ point of view. Now, a female member of the animation team is divorced and enjoys running around in bunny costume at night in the eerie desert. Driver Hossam (Abo Salama) is married to a much older but very wealthy woman who has bought him an expensive Dodge. He defends himself with his friends: “It’s okay to marry an older woman, really”. Masseur Alaa (Abo El Kassem), dreams about foreign women wanting a “private massage”. But when he talks one of his friends into giving up a staff room, we watch him treating a mannequin, whose arm comes lose during the process.  All fear they’ll be sacked eventually, but at the same time know “that staying here you will get stuck”.

DoP Jacob Beurle evocative images create a atmospheric  sense of place, particularly in the desert scenes, which have a strong other-wordly character. A more structured approach  make have worked better; but then, life in the void somehow invites the fluent and elliptical style of the filmmakers. Dream Away is a melancholic portrait of a young generation left to fight for a new identity: trying hard to copy the Western heroes of all the films they watch, they are still stuck in a country which is on the brink of a return to traditional authoritarianism.AS


The Swing (2018) | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir: Cyril Aris | Doc | 74′

The business of dying is never going to be fun. But with the lightest of touch and always with humour the director films his parents’ final months in a documentary that will resonate with anyone familiar with the issues.

Viviane and Antoine have lived together for 65 years, and while Vivi still has her strength, he is largely bedridden with poor hearing and heart problems. At least they have the dignity and comfort of being cared for in their spacious apartment thanks to the services of a cheerful ‘Bonne’.

It soon emerges that the apple of Antoine’s eye – their adored daughter Marie-Therese – has died suddenly, and the family make the decision not to tell Antoine for fear of weakening him further. He is man of great serenity and religious faith, certainly the most positive of the two who tells his wife of his love for her everyday day – often signing the words in Italian. One can only imagine the final knockings of life as we wait quietly for matters to take their course – and, especially in the case of a couple – wondering who will go first. Vivienne suffers her daughter’s death in silence, but often dissolving into tears. Not only because Marie-Therese had promised her mother that they would sit together on their favourite swing, come Summer, but also because she cannot share her loss with her husband, who comes across as one of the most romantic and docile old people ever. Gracious, uplifting and deeply sensitive, Aris should be applauded for this light-hearted and lyrical love letter to the memory of his parents. MT


Diamonds of the Night | Demanti Noci (1964) | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir.: Jan Nemec; Cast: Ladislav Jansky, Antonin Kumbera, Ilse Bischofova; Czechoslovakia 1964, 63 min. 

This debut feature of director/co-writer Jan Nemec (1936-2016) is based on a short story by Arnost Lustig, to whom Nemec also turned for his graduation film at the famous FAMU filmschool in Prague. Shot in black-and-white with a mostly handheld camera by DoP Laroslav Kucera (Death of a Fly), Diamonds is one of the first examples of Czech feature films heralding the ‘New Wave’, which would be snuffed out by the Soviet invasion of 1968.

Set in 1944, two Jewish teenagers (Jansky/Kumbera) escape from a train destined to deliver them to Dachau KZ, and into the wooded hills. They are soon chased by a group of ‘Volkssturm’ or elderly soldiers (a bit like our own Home Guard) who had been called up for service by the desperate German Fascists. The boys’ flight is shown in parallel montages with their rather mundane past and fractured memories, not always in chronicle order, which not only adds heart-pumping suspense but also considerable poignance, as we feel for the boys in the plight. When they encounter a farmer’s wife, Jansky contemplates killing or seducing her in a dream sequence. But instead he steals a loaf of bread, and they make off again. Finally, the boys are rounded up by the cackling Germans, and are about to be shot, but not before the old gaffers enjoy their ‘hunting’ feast. Nemec ends the feature on a very ambiguous note: with the boys being spared their fate, or as walking away as ghosts.

Nemec got into trouble with the Stalinist censors because of his use of surreal Bunüel-like sequences, with  ants eating up everything around them. The director was accused of ‘Formalism’ by the authorities. His next feature, A Report on the Party and their Guests (1966), was seen as an affront to the ruling Party, and would have got him into more trouble, had The Prague Spring not intervened.

Oratio for Prague(1968) was Nemec’s answer to the invasion, and he was unable to direct any more films before he was exiled in 1974. He tried to establish himself in the USA and France, among other countries, but not as a filmmaker, he became a pioneer of video films. After 1989, he got back to his homeland and directed Code Name Ruby (1997), which won the Golden Leopard in Locarno. Later in life, whilst still working, he was critical of the current president Milos Zeman, whose anti-liberal laws Nemec opposed, sending his medals, received from President Havel, to Zeman –  completing the sad story of a truly liberal filmmaker, caught up in different form of authoritarian regimes. AS







Volcano (2018)

Dir: Roman Bondarchuk | Writer: Dar’ya Averchenko, Alla Tyutyunnyk | Cast: Serhiy Stepansky, Viktor Zhdanov | Comedy Drama | 106′

Roman Bondarchuk honed his craft during the Maidan uprising as co-director of the documentary Euromaidan followed by Ukrainian Sheriffs his tragicomic look at  lawless village life. His feature debut is a visually alluring, darkly sarcastic, wildly nostalgic portrait of quiet desperation set in a surreal backwater.         

In one of the most impressively-crafted opening sequences of this year, Lukas (Stepansky) an OSCE interpreter from Kiev, disembarks from a ferry in a car escorting four delegates that promptly breaks down on the road to a conference in the city of Beryslaw (Kherson). With no mobile signal, he stumbles off despondently looking for help in what seems like a forgotten Ukraine, abandoned after the collapse of the Soviet Union, of which it had been a part. The only sign of modern life is a dam that provided electricity   but at a human cost in flooding local villages – to whose memory the feature is dedicated. 

Lukas soon finds himself in a dusty smallholding where he meets Vova (Zhadanov), an ageing veteran of the Soviet system, and once was the director of a fishing collective. “After 1989”, he complains to Lukas, “they grabbed everything and paid me off with glue, and there’s no market for it”. Vova sees Lukas as his ticket out of the daily misery. But the two women in his household are dead against him leaving: his possessive mother (Sotsenko), who drove away Vova’s wife accusing her of infidelity, and an attractive daughter Marushka (Deilyk), who is keen for to him stay, for other reasons. Desperate to break away from this timewarp, Lukas’ existential angst takes over and after losing his belongings at a raucous party, he is beaten up by two soldiers, waking up in a deep manmade hole in the ground, from which there is no escape. After Vova rescues him, Lukas will have to make a choice. 

VOLCANO is clearly a metaphor for the current status quo and the contradictions of modern Ukraine echo all around: “Weren’t you a hero of Maidan?”, Lukas demands to know from Vova. The answer is, of course “yes’, but the reality of everyday life in this war-torn country is anything but heroic: this is a society stuck in the dark ages of the early 20th century – despite mobile ‘phones. Wages are so low that hardly anyone bothers to work, living on bribes and petty crime. While hating the Russians for stealing their country, they ambiguously hark back to a time of order and stability, paid for by repression. 

DoP Vadim Ilkov catches this nostalgia evocatively on the widescreen, and the under-water shots of the flooded villages are particularly impressive. Bondarchuk directs with great sensibility, never denouncing his protagonists, who are seen as children asked to play adults in a world whose rules they do no understand any more. The director tells the slow-burning story of loss and self-determination: the traditions that once made them proud are distant memories as they cling on to the  void between a past and a present they fear, not to mention a future of more uncertainty. Moving and passionate. MT


The Cranes are Flying | Letyat zhuravli (1957) ***** | Karlovy Vary 2018

Dir.: Mikhail Kalatozov; Cast: Tatjana Samoylava, Aleksey Batalov, Vasily Merkuryev, Aleksandr Shvorin; USSR 1957, 95 min

“That’s love – a little shared insanity”

THE CRANES ARE FLYING portrays a dark time with such playful elegance and grace. Its everlasting themes of love, war, and courageous sacrifice run through a story of longing that turns on the simple premise of a letter not read. This was to become the same plot device in Katatozov’s Letter Never Sent that followed in 1960.

Mikhail Kalatosov (1903-1973) led Soviet cinema back to the lyricism of Pudovkin and Eisenstein, and away from the hollow realism and personality cult of the Stalin era in a drama that used a purely cinematic idiom that accentuated graceful visual composition. The director owes much to the collaboration of DoP Sergei Urussevsky and editor Marya Timofeyeva – even though the stunningly beautiful actress Tatjana Samoylava in the centre role of Veronika got most of the attention at the Cannes Film Festival in 1958, where The Cranes won the Golden Palme and Samoylava Best Actress.

Boris (Batalov) and Veronika are deliriously in love at the outset of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Boris secretly joins the Red Army, to defend the Motherland, but is soon declared missing at the front. Veronika does not learn of the news until after her parents are killed in an air raid, when she moves in with her Boris’s father Fyodor (Merkuryev), a surgeon and his brother Mark (Shvorin). Mark declares his love for Veronica, and the shock of her loss sees agreeing to marry Mark after he rapes her during a bomb blast. As the windows shatter in on the couple, Tatiana walks through the broken glass, the scene morphing into the mud-drenched battlefield where we witness Boris’ demise, his final moments cascades down a staircase with Tatiana dressed in white for their wedding day. When Fyodor learns that Mark has bribed the authorities to avoid being drafted, he throws him out of the house. Veronica’s happiness turns to misery, but Samoylova’s face remains as ravishingly beautiful in anguish as in pleasure. Saving a child from the wheels of a military vehicle she devotes herself to his care moment, but never gives up on Boris when she is finally given the letter hidden in the toy squirrel that Boris’ left for her before his departure. Only at the end of the war does she finally accept that Boris is dead, giving the flowers she brought for him, to the returning soldiers.

Kalatosov (I am Cuba, Letter Never SenT) breaks many taboos of the Stalin period – where it was unthinkable to admit that citizens bribed officials so that they could avoid going to the front. Rape, even in this poetic form, was never shown before. And a heroine, who even seriously thought of suicide  – never mind being a second away from it – had no place in a cinema throttled to death by censorship.

Urussevsky’s often handheld camera is extremely mobile, and his moody black-and-white images depicting a private and public world in chaos are unforgettable. Dialogue is spare but speaks volumes. Samoylava’s heartfelt acting is never sentimental, and Kalatosov helps the re-birth of Soviet cinema with glorious scenes depicting the first hour after the revolution. Without any exaggeration, The Cranes  deservedly buried Stalinist film culture on the muckheap of history, where it belongs. AS/MT


53 Wars (2018) Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018 ****

Dir: Ewa Bukowska | Drama | Poland | 79′

Ewa Bukowska’s stunning feature debut is a visceral impressionist portrait of anxiety, longing and psychotic meltdown seen through the eyes of a woman whose husband is a war correspondent in Chechnya. Based on a best selling book by Grazyna Jagielska, Bukowska builds up a collage of snatched memories, archive footage, thoughts and scenes from the couple’s life together and apart to palpably convey how it really feels to yearn passionately and to fear desperately for a loved one until it hurts, quite literally.

Anchored by a quivering, neurotic tour de force by Magdalena Poplawska (she also appears in this year’s festival’s Panic Attack) this tightly scripted and searingly affective psychological thriller mesmerises during its compact running time. Bukowska makes use an evocative score of romantic tunes, requiems, electronic buzzings and moments of deafening silence as she deftly manages the subtle tonal shifts between the heart-pounding good times when the couple are united, during love-making and with their little son, and those of sheer, dry-mouthed palpitating terror when Anka imagines Witek (Michal Zurawski) dead or on a gurney in some foreign hospital.

Eventually dark dread and purple passion meld into one chasm of terror as Anka downloads her angst-ridden neurosis to everyone in her sphere  – summed up in an extraordinary scene where her head-splitting palpitations are chanelled into a builder’s jammering drill in the street outside. She begs him to stop – but the angst is inside her own head. Later she threatens an innocent woman passer-by in a hijab to ‘stay away from her husband”. Stylishly captured in intimate close-up and on the widescreen by DoP Tomasz Naumiuk this is an inventive and unique way to show how anxiety can eventually take over and become completely destructive. Clearly fear eats the soul. MT


Bridges of Time | Laika Tilti (2018) **** | Karlovy Vary 2018

Dirs: Kristīne Briede and Audrius Stonys | Doc | 90′

This meditative essay from Latvian writer Kristine Bride and Lithuanian director Audrius Stonys captures the essence of the Baltic New Wave through a series of velvet vignettes and short films from the lesser-known filmmakers of the 1960s. Taking each director in turn, this doc compendium shows how – in contrast to the French, English and Italian pioneers of stark social realism and cinéma vérité – these cinematic auteurs were developing a more sensory, romantic and often whimsical approach even though their stylistically diverse work was still primarily concerned with stories of everyday life: raising children, studying nature and providing food for their families and local communities.

Book-ended with a deeply affecting and poetic portrait of childbirth, we experience Baltic bird life and animal welfare, school children reciting their own poetry, folklore in Estonia, bringing home the catch of Baltic herring in Latvia, a Lithuanian marriage ceremony and even a visit to Israel. What makes this so enjoyable is its overwhelmingly tender and often amusing approach to life. Absolutely enchanting and expertly crafted. MT


Putin’s Witnesses (2018) *** Karlovy Vary 2018 | Best Documentary Winner

Dir: Vitaly Mansky | Doc | Latvia/Switz/Czechia | 102’

On New Year’s Eve 1999 the former head of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, became president of Russia. In his latest offering the exiled documentarian Vitaly Mansky (Truba) threatens to blow the lid on his own entente cordiale in a film that gives intimate and unprecedented acces to Putin himself and other protagonists on the Russian Political scene including Mikhail Gorbachev, and Boris Yeltsin, who chose the ambitious 47-year-old politician as his successor.

Ukrainian-born Vitaly Mansky bases his film on witness accounts of the events that happened in the years following that fateful day in December, perhaps the most important moment in 21st century Russian history. Making his presence known both behind and infront of the camera as he relaxes with his wife (who openly admits her hatred of Putin) and kids durimg the New Year holidays, the filmmaker offers his own telling perspective on the current man behind the iron mask who is seen delivering red roses and a hug to his former teacher and giving his own personal take on the responsibilities of being a president, while being driven to his private gym: “you have to create a world which you are happy to live in..and not hang you head in shame..when your term of office is over”. Throughout  all this bonhomie and bumfluffery, Putin smiles but remains cold-eyed.

During their voluble encounters, Mansky probes the president on his decision to restore the Soviet anthem and his reasoning behind doing appears candid and unguarded in a film that allows this entertaining expose to speak for itself. This is not about the here and now but how it all came about and throughout a sinister soundtrack signals doom and bleak resignation. At one point a sick and bloated Yeltsin puts a call through to Putin to congratulate him on his victory only to be told that Putin will ring him back. He never does. Although Mansky seems keen to humanise the whole affair, Putin’s glare never really melts, although he cracks the odd fake smile. He is man who plays his cards close to his chest, and we can see all see through the charm offensive. Mansky’s final words offer a chilly takeaway:  “Tacit consent turns witnesses into accomplices” MT








Suleiman Mountain (2017) | East of West Grand Prix | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Dir; Elizaveta Stishova | Cast: Daniel Daiybekov, Turgunai Erkinbekova, Perizat Ermanbaeva | Drama | Kyrgyzstan | 101′

Enlivened by offbeat humour and vibrant widescreen images reflecting the rugged beauty of this wild Central Asian nation, SULEIMAN MOUNTAIN is the first feature from Russian filmmaker Elizaveta Stishova. Largely funded by European finance this appealing arthouse drama explores an unconventional journey of discovery – both literal and metaphorical – for its passionate central characters: a woman, her long-lost son and husband and his other younger wife. In a drama fraught with tense uncertainty and often brutal rituals involving folklore and shamanism – a scene involving an unconscious woman is particularly alarming – Kyrgyzstan emerges as a region caught between the modern world and one of ancient traditions where women – predictably – get a rough deal as they compete vehemently for the attention of self-seeking macho men, in the hope that somehow, by smothering them with love and attention, they can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Sadly, twas ever thus.

Kazakhstani actor Asset Imangaliev plays the maverick male at the centre of the story, who cleverly plays his two wives off against one another. Karabas is an opportunistic adventurer who cons his way through life veering from violent outbursts to twinkling smiles as he tries to charm the pants off everyone he meets. Recently reunited with the couple’s thoughtfully endearing son Uluk, his older wife is a healing soul, desperately trying to hold the family together, while her coltish younger rival is also pregnant with Karabas’ child.

Kyrgyzstan initially feels exotic and remote, but the touching human story at its core is as familiar and everlasting as the hills. Stishova has certainly made a watchable and lively debut. MT



Reflections in the Dust (2018) ***

Dir.: Luke Sullivan; Cast: Sarah Houbolt, Robin Royce Queere, Aldo Fedalo, Ali Aitken; Australia 2018, 75 min.

Young Australian director/writer Luke Sullivan (You’re Not Thinking Straight) really pushes the boundaries out in this ominous post-aplocalyptic tale that combines elements of documentary and fiction by doing away with a conventional narrative, and casting a severely sight-impaired actress Sarah Houbolt, who is suffering from Hallermann/Steiff syndrome, in the lead role. And he succeeds. REFLECTIONS IN THE DUST breathes through claustrophobic, vivid imagery accompanied by an unsettling soundtrack.

In this tragic portrait of loneliness, we first meet Freckles (Houbolt) muttering ‘I don’t believe in love because I’ve never seen it’ to a faceless interviewer in the opening moments of the film. She ekes out an existence with her father who is an ageing paranoid schizophrenic clown (Queere) near a lakeside swamp, where the  act out a father daughter relationship, scavenging for food from washed up detritus. The clown oscillates between tenderness and aggression towards Freckles, who often blackens her face with shoe polish, and plays with an action man toy who she talks to like a child. One day she meets a moustachioed stranger in a beret, who reveals that her ‘Mom’ died in a circus accident, but the clown becomes aggressive towards the man and tells him to: “Go back! You are mad”. And later when a gypsy woman (Aitken) brushes Freckles’ hair lovingly, the clown sinks into a catatonic stupor, as he loses his adopted identity, acting out in bizarre ways: swinging a hammer, biting a tree and licking its bark. As fear, paranoia and anger consume these lost souls, the film sporadically switches between this fictional world and increasingly traumatic real-life interviews, until it reaches a shocking conclusion.

 It would be too easy to compare Reflections to a Beckett play or a drama by Tarkovsky, but Sullivan’s docu-drama is unique. This is total dystopia where everything is reduced to its lowest common denominator. The central characters play out base identities in re-enacting family life – symbolically, the few pieces of simple furniture slowly sink into the swamp.

DoP Ryan Barry-Cotter uses very little light for his grainy black-and-white images, and it comes as a shock when garish colour images occasionally flood the screen for a few seconds. But what really stands out is Houbolt’s tour de force that conveys the anguish of person lost in a world of voices and vague images. The ex-paralympian swimmer is simply stunning in her expressionist angst, in a performance that will resonate for a for a very long time.

Director Luke Sullivan is at the forefront of the next generation of Australian filmmakers. At a remarkably young age, he is now in the company of renowned Australian directors including Phillip Noyce (Rabbit-Proof Fence), Warwick Thornton (Samson and Delilah) and David Michôd (The Rover) who have previously screened at Karlovy Vary. MT

World premiere at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2018 | IMAGINA 

History of Love (2018) *** | Special Mention | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018

Writer/Dir: Sonja Prosenc | Cast: Dorothea Nadah, Kristoffer Jonah, Zita Fusco, Matja Vasti | Drama l Slovenia Norway | 106’

History of Love is a visually alluring mood peace with an enigmatic storyline that intrigues but never gets under the skin of its central character, despite a committed performance from Dorothea Nadah.

While exploring the various stages of family bereavement, an underlying enigmatic cat and mouse game plays out between the central character Iva and her mother’s ‘lover’ which ultimately fails to convince but provides food for thought in her denial phase when she is seeking someone to blame for the traumatic loss.
Seventeen-year-old Iva (an impressive Dorothea Nadrah) is in the process of coming to terms with the death of her mother. Influenced by this deep personal sadness and by the discovery that she didn’t know everything about her parent, she slowly immerses herself into a strange, almost dreamlike world where water is a recurring motif symbolising the ebb and flow or emotions.
Sonja Prosenc’s second feature is dominated by a sombre and reflective tone and a distinctive poetic style that uses visual impressionism to tell its loose-limbed, structureless story. She also makes good use of sound with an occasional elegiac classical score and soft ambient sounds conveying the shock, grief, denial and finally anger of post bereavement trauma.
The film captures the bosky riverside surrounds of its lush Slovenian locations creating a great sense of rus in urbis as Iva wanders around trying to come to terms with her grief. Discovering her mother’s things: a favourite scarf or a letter, delayed in the post, sends her spiralling into unspoken melancholy but the film is light on dialogue and never resorts to open displays of sadness or histrionics preferring to emote through Mitja Licen’s stunning visuals, a strong score and deftly managed tonal subtleties. MT

Karlovy Vary Film Festival – 4-12 July 2014

Focusing largely on Eastern Europe, the core of the programme is the FIAPF which this year includes can only include feature films that have not been shown in competition at any other international festival. Distribution pre-premieres and films awarded from other festivals also form part of the programme. A dazzling array of independent films, retrospectives and the latest Czech films are also screened and evaluated by an international jury headed this year by Luis Miñarro.

The 49th festival includes seven world and five international premieres, including two Czech films, in the main feature competition. rocks-in-my-pockets copy New York-based Latvian filmmaker Signe Baumane’s presents the festival’s first ever animation in competition: although ROCKS IN MY POCKETS can be described as a comedy about depression set against a backdrop of Latvia’s history at the start of the 20th century

Georgian filmmaker George Ovashvili (The Other Bank) will be attending with his film CORN ISLAND, that looks at the link between nature and the human race.  Russian director Angelina Nikonova’s second feature, WELKOME HOME is a black comedy about an immigrant community in today’s New York;  and Czech director Miroslav Krobot will present his debut, NOWHERE IN MORAVIA, a slow-burning bucolic drama shot through with moments of rueful comedy. all-yours copy From Belgium’s David Lambert will be there to present I’M YOURS, that centres on the unlikely relationship between a Belgian baker and an Argentinian man. Biting comedy PARIS OF THE NORTH from Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson (Either Way), focuses on an alcoholic teacher  and his hippy father. And from the US, Low Down, director Jeff Preiss latest drama explores Los Angeles’ artistic scene in the seventies, focusing on the drug addiction of talented but deeply flawed jazz pianist Joe Albany (John Hawkes), seen through the eyes of his daughter Amy-Jo (Elle Fanning). paris-of-the-north copy Before the Iron Curtain went up Karlovy Vary was a unique showcase of films from Central and Eastern Europe and the former-Soviet Union. The East of the West strand also covers Turkey and The Balkans.  This year is kicks off with AFTERLIFE, Hungarian director Virag Zomboracz first feature that presents a positive spin on bereavement. The World premiere of BOTA also screens in this section and is the debut of Albanian directors, Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci. Set in a remote and marshy location of the country, it looks at everyday life in a small cafe.  CORRECTIONS CLASS, by Russian director Ivan Tverdovsky, looks at the unusual but important subject of ‘special needs’ in schools. afterlife copy The 49th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival runs from 4-12 July 2014.

corn-island copy


Grand Prix – Crystal Globe

CORN ISLAND/ Simindis kundzuli
Directed by: George Ovashvili
Georgia, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, 2014

Special Jury Prize

FREE FALL / Szabadesés
Directed by: György Pálfi
Hungary, France, South Korea, 2014

Best Director Award

György Pálfi
for the film Free Fall / Szabadesés
Hungary, France, South Korea, 2014

Best Actress Award

Elle Fanning
for her role in the film Low Down
Directed by: Jeff Preiss
USA, 2014

Best Actor Award

Nahuel Pérez Biscayar
for his role in the film All Yours / Je suis à toi
Directed by: David Lambert
Belgium, Canada, 2014


East of the West Award

CORRECTIONS CLASS / Klass korrektsii
Directed by: Ivan I. Tverdovsky
Russia, Germany, 2014

Special Mention

Directed by: Ivan Ikić
Serbia, Montenegro, Slovenia, 2014


Best Documentary Film over 30 minutes long

Waiting for August

Directed by: Teodora Ana Mihai
Belgium, 2014

Special Mention

STEADINESS/ Sitzfleisch
Directed by: Lisa Weber
Austria, 2014

Best Documentary Film under 30 minutes long (5 000 USD)

Directed by: Boris Poljak
Croatia, 2013

Special Mention

The Queen / La reina
Directed by: Manuel Abramovich
Argentina, 2013

Independent Camera Award

Anywhere Else / Anderswo
Directed by: Ester Amrami
Germany, 2014

Audience Award

The Magic Voice of a Rebel / Magický hlas rebelky
Directed by: Olga Sommerová
Czech Republic, 2014,

Crystal Globe for Outstanding Artistic Contribution to World Cinema

William Friedkin

Mel Gibson

Festival President´s Award

Zdeněk Svěrák
Czech Republic

Award of International Film Critics (FIPRESCI)

Rocks in My Pockets
Directed by: Signe Baumane
USA, Latvia, 2014


The Ecumenical Jury Award

CORN ISLAND/ Simindis kundzuli

Directed by: George Ovashvili
Georgia, Germany, France, Czech Republic, Kazakhstan, 2014

Special Mention

Directed by: Signe Baumane
USA, Latvia, 2014


Directed by: Iris Elezi, Thomas Logoreci
Albania, Italy, Kosovo, 2014

Europa Cinemas Label Award

FREE FALL / Szabadesés
Directed by: György Pálfi
Hungary, France, South Korea, 2014

Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Karlovy Vary, Carlsbard, Czech Republic. MT


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