Posts Tagged ‘Karlovy Vary Film Festival’

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

WINNER | THE ECUMENICAL JURY AWARD | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2021

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.

EAST OF WEST | Karlovy Vary FILM FESTIVAL 2021

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.

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | 17 – 27 AUGUST 2021

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

NOW SCREENING AT GLASGOW FILM FESTIVAL ONLINE | THE FATHER IS BULGARIA’S OFFICIAL ENTRY TO THE OSCARS 2021

CRYSTAL GLOBE WINNER | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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 

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

NOW ON IPLAYER | BEST DIRECTOR WINNER | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | IN COMPETITION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

EAST OF WEST COMPETITION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2019

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

BERGAMO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 | KARLOVY VARY 2019 PREMIERE

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

IN COMPETITION | Karlovy Vary FILM FESTIVAL 2019 | WINNER Corinna Harfouch |  BEST ACTRESS 

 

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.

OFFICIAL SELECTION – COMPETITION

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

EAST OF THE WEST

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

DOCUMENTARY FILMS – COMPETITION

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 

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

RUSSIAN FILM WEEK | LONDON 25 November -2 December 2018 | BERLINALE 15-25 FEBRUARY 2018 | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018

 

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

GRAND JURY PRIZE WINNER | EAST OF WEST | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

CRYSTAL GLOBE | EAST OF THE WEST | KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 2018

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

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

SCREENING DURING KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

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

CZECH CLASSICS | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018

  

 

 

 

 

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

CLASSICS | KARLOVY VARY INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018

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

KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018 | 29 JUNE – 7 JULY 2018 | EAST OF THE WEST

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

DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018 

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

EAST OF THE WEST 2018 | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018

 

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
 
SPECIAL MENTION | KARLOVY VARY FILM FESTIVAL 2018
https://youtu.be/kjcg-6rSip4
 
 

Loves of a Blonde (1965) | Lasky Jedne Plavovlasky | Karlovy Vary Film Festival 2018 |

Dir.: Milos Forman; Cast: Hana Brejchova, Vladimir Pucholt, Vladimir Mensik, Milada Jezkova, Josef Sebanek; Czechoslovakia 1965, 90 min.

Loves of a Blonde, the second feature film by director/co-writer Milos Forman, who died this April age 86, is a bleak comedy about sex – but mostly about the absence of it. But couched in this seemingly innocuous little gem is a subtle and subversive critique of Stalinism that kept Eastern Europe under the cosh – politically and socially – during the grim 1960s, before the Prague Spring – for a while – put an end to it all.

In a small Czechoslovakian town, dominated by a shoe factory, the Forman attempts to inject a little fun  by inviting some soldiers to a ball, dominated by women who outnumbered the male of the sex by a staggering 16:1 ratio. But instead of hunky young men, pot-bellied reservists came to town, and gave those women no satisfaction at all. But there is one exception in the shape of Andula (Brejchova), who falls for Milda (Pucholt) the band’s pianist of the band, who comes from Prague. During their ‘accidental’ encounter Milda almost injures himself, trying to shut the blind and after the tender one-night stand, the musician goes back to Prague, and back to his parents. But that’s not the end of it, when Andula turns up with her suitcase to py him a visit, the whole debacle turns into the most hilarious ménage-à-trois in film history.

Almost three generations of viewers have been cheered as well as moved by this amusing tale which bears all the attributes of modern storytelling – a plot without classical dramatisation, an open ending, and straightforward characterisation. Even very early on in his career, Miloš Forman had already proved he was capable of creating an impression of sheer authenticity.

Visually Blonde is un-remarkable, shot in creamy, grainless, black and white by DoP Miroslav Ondricek who accentuates the shadows and the claustrophobic interiors of this rather touching scenario, where the working class are seen as an amorphous mass, struggling to gain individuality in a system where instead of collective joy, grey misery dominates but with a solidarity that is strangely comforting despite its hopelessness. Forman would repeat his melancholy chronicle of stunning mediocrity in his next feature The Fireman’s Ball. AS

LOVES OF A BLOND | KVIFF OPENING FILM IN TRIBUTE TO MILOS FORMAN | 29 JUNE 2018 | FIREWORK DISPLAY 

  

 

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