Blesok no. 53, March-April, 2007
Gallery Reviews

47th Thessaloniki International Film Festival
The Contradictories Rest

Georgi Vasilevski

Back Home, Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche

Stagnation Means Regression

    European cinematography, in which aesthetic laboratories the film art substance of this new medium was crystallizing, a long time now only stands as a decorative, but firmly installed bastion of conformism. The 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival only proves this thesis, whose consequences – it seems so – aren’t making any real problems for the film producers: their serial-clichés film products has the audience of their own, who feels comfortable with this glamorous entertainment, falsely protected by the ‘evil tongues’ of the social, moral or political criticism. The list of the films with the themes, in which – with a lot of selectivity and care – the subtleties of the bourgeois small-hearted mentality are brought to the pedestal, along with the glorifying of the egoism and the hypocrisy of the modern-world ‘distinguished’ citizens. The vain and the privileged (and rich) citizens of the modern (Western) world have every right for cynicism – even in the cases of the collective drama s of whole nations.
    In the political drama Back Home, the French director Rabah Ameur-Zaïmeche, for instance, tries to judge the war and the war manipulators, without any deeper analysis about their interests and motives of the initiators of that kind of evil. And for irony to be greater, he places his film plot in Algiers, former French colony, in which today – ‘who knows why?’ – is in political anarchy, mass confusion and social chaos. Also, the German director Markus Herling attempts to forget the ‘tiny dirty’ details from the youth ideals of his film characters, in his film Riding up Front which was in the competition program of the Festival, and also forgets to reveal their hypocrisy into the whirlpool of the Christ’s Birth Celebration, when all sins are forgiven and the lie gets its form as a nicely costumed illusion.

Private Fears in Public Places, Alain Resnais

    The defense of the European cinematography ‘colors’ and pride, over their shaken dignity, remained only up to the doyen of the individualistic art-film, the French director Alain Resnais, with his latest film Intimate Fears In Public Spots, the Winner of the Silver Lion in Venice and of the French paralel to the Hollywood OscarCesar. Although the story about the six seekers for love of their lives was exploited by many in the past, especially by the distant predecessors since the Poetic Realism years. In the Resnais’s film, this theme sustains its freshness and inspiration, as of the actuality and validity of the moral conflicts along the poetry of the dream for happiness.
    The Polish film authors also remained us of their former glow and prestige in their cinematography, which all until the 90’s of the 20th century has its own privileged place at the top of the film nations in Europe. Their representative was the film Retrieval, directed by Slawomir Fabicki, the Winner of the Best Director Prize at this Festival: this film, with merciless criticism and strong sarcasm, pictures the social uncertainty of his young heroes, at the doorsteps of their complete moral degradation and emotional insensitivity. Besides the good director’s cut, one must mention the great acting performances of whole acting ensemble.

Thicker Than Water, Arni Olafur Asgeirsson

    Some reflections and remains of the former lyrical glow and lucid irony conceived and nursed by the famous Czech filmmakers as Jirí Menzel or Vera Chytilová, can be seen in the film mentality of the director Jan Hrebejk, the author of the melancholic comedy Beauty in Trouble, a film with deep sympathies for the young heroine Marcella’s loves and adventures, without objections even for her adulteries that are certainly degrading her personality. With some dark-humored resignation, the film emanates the message that – most probably – “the time for sustaining the moral principles as loyalty and faith in human relationships is diminishing and fading”… We can see the same kind of pessimistic syntagma in the Island film representative Thicker Than Water by Arni Olafur Asgeirsson, a syntagma with erosive power to illuminate the film characters, although they – with a certain pathological measure of hypocrisy cherish the illusion that they are faithful to the principles of love and morality.

The Film Bards Aren’t Afraid Of Isolation

The Island, Pavel Lungin

And now, “something completely different” – can be the comment of the Russian film representative Island, directed by Pavel Lungin, known here by his psychological thriller Taxi Blues. This Russian film The Island is – without any doubt – one of the most intriguing films at The 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival, although far away from the moral-conflict and social-consequences themes, that seem to be the theme-point of the other Festival films. The leading character of this film, the unordinary monk Anatoli, lives in the far-away monastery on some Siberian desert island. Seems like, in his solitude and healing powers, he fluently absorbs whole world wisdom, vanity beauty and evil the modern world lives in. Pavel Lungin – doubtlessly – belongs to the Aleksandr Sokurov generation, which has implicite inclination to dig within the metaphysical themes about the meaning of life and about the human emotional and physical existence. Lungin continues with the tradition introduced by Andrei Tarkovsky, finding in his visions new sources of contradiction and new reasons to fight the hollow emptiness of the soul and of the world…
    David Lynch, this year again, uses his personal creative enigmas in his latest film Inland Empire as a cognitive tool in the quest for the bizarre contradictories of his film characters’ personalities and their surroundings As usual, this year also, Lynch was one of the ‘most spoken of’ film personality at the Festival, dividing the audience and the critics in two: one as excessive apologists, and the other as strict opponents. But, the story of the film about a woman equally dedicated to love and exposed to the danger, should be followed with great attention, as the author equilibrates with the mysteries as with the harmless toys, and should be carefully analyzed.

Day Night Day Night, Julia Loktev

    Besides David Lynch, who presented the elitist spirit and loyalty to the Hollywood tradition conceived and cherished by Erich von Strocheim, but also by Stanley Kubrick, at the The 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival program, there was few more interesting films. As for instance, the debut-film of the young American female director of Russian origin Julia Loktev, the film Day Night Day Night, most directly pictures the atmosphere of uncertainty, danger and risk of practicing terrorist activities young Americans often involve in. Of all promises made by his early works, Darren Aronofsky, in his new film, the mega-spectacle The Fountain, remained only with shiny-colored empty shells, colorful visions without any meaningful or poetic substance.
    But luckily, the presence of the great author’s name of the world film in general with his film retrospective, the famous German director Wim Wenders (his appearance, among the filmophiliac audience, made an atmosphere as in the 60’s of the XX century!), brought back the hope that the artistic film and its makers didn’t completely lost the media vitality and the creative boldness and courageous ingenuity in making…

Translated by: Petar Volnarovski

Macedonia without a Representative of Its Own

    What one can say about this frustrating, film-deficitary-year, except to regret in vain? This year, Macedonia didn’t have any representatives at any International Film Festival around the world! At the 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival there were no Macedonian film representatives, although the hosts of the Festival euphorically “waved” the flag of the thesis that Balkan cinematographies should be treated more dynamically, in order to achieve greater quality in the knowledge of each others’ creative capacities and the aesthetic achievements of the other…
    In lack of any film artifacts from our production that should be presented at the Festival, the hosts of the Festival pointed – although with a lot of hesitation – at the surrogate, the ex-Yugoslav Republics’ co-production Karaula, directed by Rajko Grlić, as the representative film for all national productions from the region that didn’t find place at this Festival’s program. That’s poor excuse, considering the fact that this film is with such quality, that – nor the author nor the producers of this film (including the Ministry for Culture of Republic of Macedonia) – can ever be proud of… And, by the way: only Macedonia didn’t have its own representative, so this film was “covering” only for us, then?
    What we can say about our neighbors’ representatives? Serbia charmed the audience with the drama of several neurotic losers getting in the age of maturity – the film Tommorrow Morning

Tomorrow Morning, Oleg Novkovic

by Oleg Novković. The Croatian-Bosnian coproduction, the film Grbavica by Jasmina Zbanić, arrived at Thessaloniki Festival with the “Golden Bear” aura. Romania, closer and closer to the European cinema quality, had even four films at this Festival: the film 12:08 East of Bucharest by Corneliu Porumboiu, the drama about the common citizens in the transitional period after the communism; then, the film Marilena de la P7, by Christian Nemescu; the veteran’s Lucian Pintilie film Tertium non datur; and finally, the film The Paper Would Be Blue, by the young director Radu Muntean, the film chronic about the cruelty of the Ceausescu regime. The Slovenia in co-production with Germany, presented the war drama Warchild, by Christian Wagner, with our Labina Mitevska in the leading role; Albania, with a poor appreciation of the Festival’s standards, presented their veteran’s Kujtim Çashku film Magical Eye, with a vague reconstruction of the Civil War in 1977. Turkey, again unjustly ignored by the jury, pleasantly surprised the Festival audience with the picturesque chronicle of the isolated life of the villagers of a typical Turkish inner-country village – the film Times and Winds, directed by one of the greatest Turkish film directors, Reha Erdem; Bulgaria also didn’t missed ‘to spit’ on the anomalies of the old communist regime, in their representative, the film L's Revolt, by Kiran Kolarov.

L's Revolt, Kiran Kolarov

    Of course, the films from the Festival section named by the hosts as Balkan Review weren’t the most attractive part of the Festival program. In comparison with the representatives of the other cinematographers, unfortunately, the only conclusion that can be drawn is the fact that the authors of the Balkan region are fading in their invention and creativity, even on those who were ‘marked’ as ‘great hopes’ of their own national cinematography, as well of the future European one.
    But, also, the past ‘great film nations’ didn’t really preserved their vitality and their prestigious status as ingenious innovators in the film art and as lucid observers of the social and psychological changes of the society. The festival’s chronic-writers not only here in Thessaloniki, but also at the Film Festivals in Berlin, Venice, Cannes, etc., can say that they look for their festival favorites among the ‘great film nations’ as Italy, France or Great Britain, or even Hollywood, but in vain: their pompous introductions for the films that come from those milieus, and their aggressive marketing through the world film market are poorly compensating their lack of originality and freshness.

Bamako, Abderrahmane Sissako

Meaningful Hopes In the Perspectives of the Anonymous Cinematography Nations

    The 47th Thessaloniki Film Festival permanently strives to diminish the domination of those ‘cinematography giants’ and to ignore their aggressive approach on the film market and film festivals (as many others film festivals in Europe, Asia and even in America). At this year’s competition program at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, as well at the other ten, nicely conceived and realized Festival sections, were films that can be hardly find at the Programs of any glamorous film festival, and even less on the commercial cinemas’ repertoires. Must be mentioned that after the appointing of the energetic Despina Mouzaki at the wheel of the Festival, this tendency gets its highpoint. Seems that the anonymous film authors became favorites not only of the audience, but also of the critics, and of course, at the critics it comes with a significant portion of anxiety about the eventual success or failure of their favorite film hope. Indicative is the fact of the new trend of the audience’s interest for the authors they never heard of. It was really ‘cute’ phenomenon – their persistence and firmness in the intention to get an extra ticket even at the third projection of the film that came from Mali, called Bamako, directed by Abderrahmane Sissako, a social drama in which, without any pathetic and pompous intentions, the vanity, manipulation and the corruption of the American and European humanitarian organizations. Along with the almost documentarily projected hypocrisy of the wealthy societies upon the poor inhabitants of this African country, Sissako tells the tragic story of the freshly married couple’s agony between their vain expectations for thorough understanding and sincere help by their ‘supposed to be’ benefices.

Suely in the Sky, Karim Aïnouz

    Bamako is only one of the many examples that confirm the thesis that the audience – with high sympathies – shares the pre-occupations of the new generations of film authors who aren’t really in some ecstatic quest for new themes and visual expressions, but in an attempt to show the things and ideas through their own individual sensibility. And this new sensibility isn’t a cliché in which the usual themes of solitude, boldness, motherhood, family or friendship aren’t fixed or rigid, so they don’t turn into a vague emblem of the past, or of even distinguished desires and intentions. It’s a certain new look upon the issues that we meet on daily bases, trying to comprehend them and their source of origin. The hero’s destiny, as of the leading character in the Brazilian film Suely in the Sky by, Karim Aïnouz – this year’s Winner of the FIPRESCI Prize, is a destiny of a film characters that repeat from one to another film consequently since the years of the neo-realism. But the character of the female leading role, the young Hermila, is the complex and unpredictable in a unique and refreshing way. Why she – such light-minded, starts to hook herself on the streets, the viewer would ask, usually conditioned to take the traditional psychological and ethical clichés for granted, when there are other solutions for her to save her integrity and protect her son. Why she casts away her friends and accepts the support of those dubious drifters? The author of the film doesn’t hold the ambitions to unsolved this dilemmas, but none can dispute with the bizarre universe of the Brazilian province, fulfilled with fake and exotic phantoms, served by Hollywood dream-factories, in a manner such as its clients desire – to see how those fake phantoms allude and seduce us. Not less intriguing are the dilemmas of the protagonists of the South-Korean representative, the film Family Ties, directed by the young Kim Tae-yong, the Winner of the Main Prize – The Golden Alexander. They live in the urban ambient of a Korean metropolis and they live by the traditional bonds of their society; in many aspects they seem like any other Korean average family. But their solitude and their wish to perform the happy and fulfilled life together as all other families do, have such bitter sorrow, that one wishes (during watching the film) those golden chains of enforced (by tradition) community to be broken once for all, so the repressed dreams, silenced sins and the sweet lies ‘hidden under the rag’ to emerge out and free themselves.

The Peter Pan Formula, Cho Chang-Ho

The Modern Legacy of the Ancient Asian Civilizations

    And, when speaking of the Asian film, we must mention the critic’s and the film chronic-writers’ notion that the nations neighboring China overtake the strong mythical and metaphysical film poetics of this great country, that is in a strong expansion in the last decade or so, bringing along the hope for global film-art-and-culture healing process. Except those fascinating screening of the ancient legends and myths that sharpen the modern audience’s senses of the subtle and unpredictable transformations of the human spiritual and higher dimensions, of the young lovers, or of the cult heroes, etc., Korean film also undertook the challenge to analyze the deviant phenomena in the society, the militant divisions, wars and national confrontations. Among all those – maybe mostly successfully – the Korean film brings to us astonishing, shocking and lucid vivisection with vivid images of the moral deviations and decay in the modern world. Besides the above mentioned Family Ties, in the Independent Film Section of the Festival, as always, one can really find a genuine, but not (yet?) acknowledged master-piece, as the film Between Days by the young film director So Yong Kim. She is the graduated student in film directing at the Art Institute in Chicago. It is a subtle analysis of the relations between the Korean immigrants in America (USA), like the youngsters Emi and Tran, in the country, which not only determines their new model of citizen behavior, but it seriously undermines the very bases of their moral and emotional integrity. This film also brings us the problem expressions within the spiritual world of the characters, as well as a benefit for the narrative expression of the film as many other films from this region. And the other Korean films like The Peter Pan Formula, by Chou Chang-Ho, or the film Boss, by Bong Jun-Ho, a tragic moving image that treats the student protests in Korea and the extremely cruel and inhuman response of the police authorities. Another film that deals with the tragic of the conflict between the Eastern traditional morality and the imported Western civilization norms, is the film that came from Singapore – the film Fifteen, by Royston Tan. The bizarre and melancholic image of the two teenagers’ deviations in life. Those two youngsters make the choice to explore all modern evil on their skin personally, fully surprised as their domestic, as well the foreign audience and critics, all unprepared to see the dark side of the technological progress brought up in a different civilization's context. The Royston Tan’s vision isn’t some trendy flirt with the ‘evergreen’ themes of the rebellion, moral degradation and solitude at all, but a dangerous agent that undermines the very bases of a very old, rich and great culture. This notion is proved by his other film shown at the Thessaloniki Film Festival, the film 4.30, whit the action ‘playground’ are the premises of the knowledge and progress, but also of the evil and violence – the premises of the school institutions.

Trouble Makers, Cao Baoping

    The claim that all of the neighboring cinematographies of China influenced the Chinese film poetics – would be a little excessive claim, but the fact that this influence isn’t ignorable, stays. Even those above mentioned films weren’t immune to this film poetics with unwiden metaphysical and lyrical plots and visualization. But, although the contexts between China and its neighbors aren’t the same, this way of film expression isn’t only mechanically copied from the Chinese authors, because it doesn’t ‘fit’ the same in South Korea, for instance, or in Singapore. But the similarities exist, as for instance: the principle of wisdom within the film action, the sustained lyricism of the spoken word or emotion and the sharpened analogy between the landscapes of nature and the spiritual world of the film characters, are more than obvious. This year, the China representative was the film Trouble Makers, directed by Cao Baoping, a drama from the China contemporary society milieu, but conceptually very close to the classic differentiation of Good and Evil. The conflict among the diabolic community of the Xiong Brothers and the bold Party Secretary Ye Guangrong in the ‘by God forsaken’ town named Black Well, evokes the well-known narrative structures, as in the ancient legends – as with the classic manifestation of the Evil, as with the classic way of weaving the conflict’s plot. These schemes we can recognize in the traditional Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese film production. Although in the Competition Section at the Festival, Trouble Makers simply couldn’t – in my opinion – to stand side by side with the others Chinese films, as for instance, with the film The Road by Jiarui Zhang, or Dreams May Come, by the former Eastern Asia film-star Xu Jinglei.

On a Friday Afternoon, Mona Zandi Haghighi

    From the other Asian countries, Iran enriched the Festival program with the nice example of their realistic film poetics. That’s the feature film debut of the young female film-director Mona Zandi Haghighi – On a Friday Afternoon. It’s a heart-breaking and tragic story about the sufferings of the lonely, sensitive and bold middle-aged Iranian woman Sogand: not only that she carries the yoke of the social norms repression upon the female individuals in her home country, but also, she feels even worse because of the emotional distance and the bad treatment by her son, to whom she gave all of her love, devotion and energy. The documentary-like film scenery and the authentic, not enforced brutality of the everyday’s images rescue this film from overdoing with the sentimentality shadows and the artificial sensitivity.
    The other Iranian film Fireworks Wednesday, by Asghar Farhadi, speaks of the vivid and picturesque ambient of the New Year’s Festivities, which in Teheran, traditionally, takes place in March. The young Roohi, waits for her wedding day even more than the New Year’s Eve. But she can’t have the complete happiness – even after all of her efforts and fights against the laws that place the Iranian women in a position of the servile servants. A vision of a bold fight against the dogmas of the society – that in the name of religion purity – proclaims cruel restriction upon the one’s strive for human happiness.

What Happens with the Latino-American Cinematography?

Drama/Mex, Gerardo Naranjo

On the other side of the world, in Latin America, the place where – ‘just until yesterday’ – the film masterpieces were emerging one after another, the film situation is obviously in stagnation. That is, at least, the impression after this Festival programs. Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, etc., didn’t find the worthy replacement for Hector Babenco, Marco Bechis, or Alejandro Iñárritu.
    The Mexican film Drama/Mex by Gerardo Naranjo, although in the Competition Section, didn’t make any strong impression nor in its content’s originality, nor in its conventional style that is even close to be imitation, judging by the known clichés of the love triangles – so close to the Hollywood film taste. The more significant step into the clearing of the film poetics in the issue of solitude, also wasn’t really successful in the intimate drama Born In Tremble, where the leading character, after the lost of his family in a car accident, falls into a deep solitude and self-isolation. The Argentinian director Pablo Tanero, who – at the beginning of his film career – was promising to revive and continue the tradition of Cinema Nuovo, seems to fail that expectations with this film. The only curiosity and attraction of the film are the fascinating photographed landscapes of Patagonia… Since the Robert Flaherty’s master-piece – The Man From Aran, such beautiful film photography hasn’t occurred until now.
    The conventional contents, the routine directing, all with the full and correct professionalism and beautiful actor’s performances in which we can see the spirit of the old temperament of Latino-American film stars that conquered the film world – are the qualities enough to praise the film Dog’s Heart by director Manuel Nieto Zass, who comes from Uruguay. The same can be said for the Mexican melodrama The Violin by the director Francisco Vargas, the Winner of many film Prizes in Cannes, San Sebastian, Mexico City, and in Finland.

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