Surely the festival would have seen this coming. “Jewish groups in the Czech Republic have protested against the decision to honor the disgraced actor and director Mel Gibson with a lifetime achievement award at the Karlovy Vary international film festival,” reports Ben Child in the Guardian. The protest comes in the form of an open letter from the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic citing the portrayal of Jews in The Passion of the Christ (2004) as “evil and bloodthirsty” and, of course, the infamous rant of 2006. The response from KVIFF spokeswoman Uljana Donátová: “The award is to recognize Gibson’s filmmaking skills and his career. We don’t feel that we’re entitled to comment on the rest. The Passion of the Christ won’t be screened at the festival.”
“Fear of rising anti-Semitism in Europe has prompted nearly a third of European Jews to consider emigration because they do not feel safe in their home country,” reported Andrew Higgins in the New York Times just last November. Does recognition of Gibson’s debatable accomplishments as a filmmaker really warrant the risk of appearing, intentionally or not, to ignore the current climate on the continent? Last month, in the wake of the shooting at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in May, Bernard-Henri Lévy warned that “hate for the Jew [may] become once again the blind spot, the accursed share, of a depressed Europe.”
As Gary Oldman has been recently reminded, the very name “Mel Gibson” is a hot button. Press it in 2014 and one thing and one thing only comes to mind. That’s because he hasn’t directed a film in eight years and, Jodie Foster’s The Beaver notwithstanding, we’d have to reach back even further to recall a noteworthy headlining performance. KVIFF’s selection for this year’s recipient of its “highest award” may have kicked up a bit of publicity—Variety‘s Leo Barraclough is among the many to have interviewed Gibson in the past few days—but otherwise, it’s just odd.
And it’s stolen some of the thunder from KVIFF’s program. Artistic director Karel Och tells Martin Kudláč in Cineuropa that the team has “been working harder on the strategy to present as many new and remarkable films from Central and Eastern Europe as possible. We added Greece and Turkey to the countries we focus on in the East of the West competition, and we now feel closer to the geographical definition (east of Prague) than to the political one (the former Eastern Bloc, post-Soviet countries).”
Back in Variety, Nikara Johns talks with Mike Cahill, whose I Origins opened this year’s edition on July 4 (KVIFF 2014 runs through July 12) and Leo Barraclough notes that the festival has presented the European premiere of Björk: Biophilia Live, “with directors Peter Strickland and Nick Fenton attending the gala presentation.”
Before turning to the reviews, let’s note that Anne Thompson‘s posted a couple of dispatches and that Variety‘s Guy Lodge has spoken with juror Chad Hartigan, who tells him that he’ll be following up on This Is Martin Bonner with Morris from America: “Centered on an overweight African-American child living in small-town Germany and falling in love with a local girl, it’s a project he describes as ‘part coming-of-age tale, part fish-out-of-water tale, but hopefully not reliant on the tropes of either genre.’”
And in his new capacity of “film critic and features writer,” Guy’s sent in two reviews. First: “Generally under-represented in queer cinema, the ‘B’ quadrant of LGBT culture gets some gentle, thoughtful attention in David Lambert’s refreshingly polysexual romantic comedy All Yours.” (More from Jessica Kiang [Playlist, B] and Boyd van Hoeij [THR]). And: “Junkie life is as chicly miserable as its most vapid chroniclers have always had us believe in Asthma, a feature directorial debut from actor Jake Hoffman that is sorely in need of its own inhaler.” More from Jessica Kiang, who gives Asthma a C- at the Playlist.
“Serbian director Ivan Ikic’s first feature film could easily be added to the trend of recent festival hits from the territory such as Clip and Tilva Ros, as it explores the position and lifestyle of teenagers in the current situation (though this situation has not changed much for the past 20 years) using non-traditional cinematic means,” writes Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa. “However, there are qualities in Barbarians that transcend the simplified formal groupings and separate the film from its predecessors…. Barbarians is a hyper-realistic film starring mostly non-professionals: all the main protagonists are played by a group of school drop-outs from Mladenovac.”
And Fabien Lemercier finds that Pascal Rabaté’s Patchwork Family casts “an affectionate glance at some simple characters who are grappling with the decisions of day-to-day existence: agreeing to open up to others, whether or not to be honest, loving and being loved, fitting into a community and so on. The film employs a delicate psychological approach coupled with a form of direction that takes a step back from realism so as to glide gently towards a fable, but without actually veering off into caricature territory, nor neglecting to inject some elements of reflection on the social context and modern life in small-town, provincial France.” More from Jordan Mintzer in the Hollywood Reporter.
Updates: “One of the great things about the broad-based programming of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is that it gives us an opportunity to pick up a lot of films that slipped through our Cannes net, and one such title was Self Made,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “The sophomore feature from Israeli director Shira Geffen, who won the Camera d’Or in Cannes 2007 for her debut Jellyfish, which she co-directed with her husband Etgar Keret, Self Made is a small but distinctive, beguiling film, which takes a central unexplained mystical event and spins the outcome in surprising real-world directions, while always maintaining an eye for the gently absurd.”
Also, “History of Fear is a tense, unsettling, evocative film that showcases terrific filmmaking talent and mastery of tone from neophyte [Benjamin] Naishtat and cinematographer Soledad Rodriguez, but it has almost zero sustain: it fades as quickly from the mind as a night terror does in the sudden light of day.” Earlier: Reviews from the Berlinale.
“Danilo Caputo’s first feature, Late Season, explores the lives of several characters in a small, unnamed town in southern Italy,” writes Stefan Dobroiu at Cineuropa. “Aided by three inter-connected stories, the screenplay written by the director together with Valentina Strada has disquieting, sometimes even menacing, undertones that suggest a drastic change is needed in order for the (film’s) world to survive.”
Update, 7/8: Vladan Petkovic in Cineuropa on Monument to Michael Jackson: “The old-fashioned storytelling that [Serbian writer-director Darko] Lungulov uses is the right choice for this touching and genuinely funny dark comedy.”
Updates, 7/9: Björk: Biophilia Live “is a faithful record of the show but also an imaginative stand-alone artwork,” argues Stephen Dalton. “The left-field British duo behind the camera are Peter Strickland, best known for his stylish 2012 retro-horror thriller Berberian Sound Studio, and Nick Fenton, an award-winning editor turned first-time director…. Memo to Lady Gaga: Cutting-edge glam-pop spectacle can have substance as well as style.” More from Guy Lodge (Variety) and Jessica Kiang (Playlist, B-).
Also in the Hollywood Reporter, Boyd van Hoeij: “A recovering alcoholic in a godforsaken village on the west coast of Iceland has to face his responsibilities and troubles when his beer-chugging father unexpectedly turns up in Paris of the North (Paris Nordursins), the second feature of Icelandic filmmaker Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson. Like in his successful debut feature, Either Way, which was recently remade by David Gordon Green as Prince Avalanche…, Sigurdsson again explores the male psyche through the prism of an uneasy friendship, though since the protagonists here are father and son, the overall dynamic is sufficiently different even if, stylistically, the two comedy-drama hybrids are clearly cut from the same cloth.”
Variety‘s Guy Lodge: “‘White Nights,’ Dostoyevsky’s melancholic 1848 story of loneliness fleetingly relieved, has inspired many a notable filmmaker to bittersweet heights—Luchino Visconti (White Nights), Robert Bresson (Four Nights of a Dreamer) and James Gray (Two Lovers) among them. A loose adaptation relocated to modern-day Kazakhstan, Nariman Turebayev’s short, sweet Adventure hardly stands shoulder-to-shoulder with those films, but has a groggy charm of its own. Following a milquetoast night watchman drawn by an enigmatic woman into a brief, bewitching change of routine…, it’s a film of quiet pleasures.”
Vladan Petkovic for Cineuropa: “Slovenian director Sonja Prosenc’s first feature film, The Tree, world-premiered in Karlovy Vary’s East of the West section. With its claustrophobic setting and fragmented narration that reveals much less than it hides, it is a bold work for a debutant, both for better and for worse.”
Emiliano De Pablos introduces an interview for Variety: “The 30 films produced to date by filmmaker Luis Miñarro at Barcelona’s Eddie Saeta, one of Spain’s best-known arthouse shingles, boast illustrious international recognition: a Cannes Palme d’Or (Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives), Karlovy Vary’s Crystal Globe (The Mosquito Net) and a Rotterdam Festival Tiger (Finisterrae). This year, Miñarro returns to Karlovy Vary with a double mission: He heads the fest’s main jury and will present Falling Star, his fiction-feature helming debut, a period melodrama inspired by the currently bleak future facing Spain’s cultural industries.”
Viewing (18’30”). Anne Thompson interviews Mel Gibson.
Update, 7/10: “Cherry Tobacco, by Estonian writing-directing duo Katrin Maimik (her first feature film) and Andres Maimik (his third)” is the “story of the growing-up and sexual maturation of a teenage girl,” writes Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa. It’s “executed in a traditional, linear fashion, but well-shaped characters provide it with an engaging development, despite the somewhat overstretched middle section.”
Updates, 7/11: “A Latvian family’s history of depression and suicide attempts is brought to life in animated form in Rocks in My Pockets, from New York-based Latvian animation artist Signe Baumane (Teat Beat of Sex),” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter. “Animated in a striking combination of real paper-mache sets and props and hand-drawn, 2D figures, the film explores with wit, surreal invention and insight something left far too often undiscussed.” More from Alissa Simon in Variety.
“Afterlife—the feature debut by Virág Zomborácz—is something of a delight,” writes Laurence Boyce at Cineuropa. “With some truly funny set pieces nestled within a world of misfits tinged with a hint of a ghost story, it’s a gratifyingly strange film.” More from Alissa Simon in Variety.
Boyce also reviews Paris of the North: “This is a tight piece of work that sets an intimate relationship drama against the vastness and majesty of Iceland’s mountains and countryside.”
And more from Cineuropa: Vladan Petkovic reviews Corrections Class, the “debut feature film by young Russian director Ivan I. Tverdovsky… Loosely based on the novel by Ekaterina Murashova, this is a simultaneously heartbreaking and hopeful story of physically and/or psychologically impaired teenagers whom the education system would prefer to sweep under the carpet, rather than putting any effort into easing their way into society.”
Updates, 7/12: “A film seemingly made to be screened at film festivals, where its scenes of characters logging into hotel wi-fi on their laptops and thrashing around in the throes of jetlag will pack an affective punch (for journalists, at least), [Pascale Ferran’s] Bird People has divided critics as neatly as its own bifurcated, his-and-hers narrative,” writes Adam Nayman for Cinema Scope. A “stretch of avian whimsy… has created the love-it/hate-it buzz around the movie. And, since I don’t think Ferran’s late flight of fancy works at all (and gets far too cute to boot), I guess I have to put down stakes in the second camp. But the film’s first half is problematic too, especially when juxtaposed with another movie making its regional premiere here in Karlovy Vary, Steven Knight’s Locke.” Earlier: First reviews of Bird People and Locke.
“On the surface, there’s no real reason why Violent, the debut feature film from Canadian director Andrew Huculiak, should be set so specifically in Norway, and be led by a Norwegian actress whose dialogue and voiced-over thoughts are also in Norwegian,” writes Jessica Kiang at the Playlist. “But as the film draws you in, or rather quietly casts its heady spell of sound and atmosphere around you, that eccentric choice begins to make a compelling kind of sense.” Grade: B+.
“On the river that forms the natural and disputed border between Abkhazia and Georgia, drifting islands are created and broken apart at the mercy of the seasons and the whims of the elements,” writes Domenico La Porta. “In cycles, local farmers move onto these small, fertile islands in order to grow what they need to survive the winter—but there are myriad dangers. And while these dangers are not armed conflicts, it is in fact nature that threatens to reclaim its rights and unleash the power of the river at any moment. It is against this backdrop that a grandfather and his granddaughter attempt to tame the river in the second film by Georgian filmmaker George Ovashvili…. Corn Island has risen straight to the top as the jewel in the crown of the Official Competition.” More from Variety‘s Peter Debrugge. Viewing (8’46”). Cineuropa interviews Ovashvili. More from Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter.
Also at Cineuropa, Vladan Petkovic: “For Some Inexplicable Reason, a Hungarian film about an awkward late bloomer by first-time feature director Gábor Reisz…, is a light-footed but sure-handedly executed comedy that employs a somewhat documentary-like approach as it infuses the main character’s world with real-life protagonists from the director’s circle of friends.”
Today sees a second update because the awards have been announced:
- The Grand Prix, the Crystal Globe, goes to Corn Island, which has also won the independent Ecumenical Jury Award.
- Special Jury Prize: György Pálfi’s Free Fall. Pálfi’s also won best director and spoke with the festival a couple of days ago:
- Best Actress: Elle Fanning for her performance in Jeff Preiss ‘s Low Down.
- Best Actor: Nahuel Pérez Biscayar for his performance in David Lambert’s All Yours.
- East of the West Award: Ivan I. Tverdovsky’s Corrections Class. Special Mention: Ivan Ikić’s Barbarians.
- Best Documentary Film (over 30 minutes): Teodora Ana Mihai’s Waiting for August. Special Mention: Lisa Weber’s Steadiness.
- Best Documentary Film (under 30 minutes): Boris Poljak’s Autofocus. Special Mention: Manuel Abramovich’s The Queen.
- Independent Camera Award: Ester Amrami’s Anywhere Else.
- Audience Award: Olga Sommerová’s The Magic Voice of a Rebel.
- FIPRESCI: Signe Baumane’s Rocks in My Pockets.
Updates, 7/16: “Paying skewed homage to the pulpy genre movies, garish New Wave fashions and post-punk synthpop sounds of the early 1980s, Norway is a feverish exercise in heavily stylized weirdness from the Greek first-timer Yannis Veslemes,” writes Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter.
Viewing (7’13”). Cineuropa talks with Serbian filmmaker Darko Lungulov about Monument to Michael Jackson.
Update, 7/19: “The bleak apartment building in György Pálfi’s Free Fall boasts seven floors, but not quite seven stories,” writes Variety‘s Peter Debruge. “In the opening scene, an unhappy Hungarian woman steps off the roof and plunges past them, but remarkably doesn’t die when she hits the pavement. (maybach.com) Over the course of the next 80 minutes, as she limps her way back upstairs, Pálfi takes us into each of her neighbors’ apartments, revealing strange, darkly comedic and inevitably surreal glimpses into modern life—vignettes that defy interpretation and don’t necessarily appear to connect, yet offer undeniably wicked fun.”
Updates, 7/21: Lauren Wissot posted a report at Filmmaker: “Taking advantage of the Czech Republic’s location as the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe, KVIFF sees itself as a cultural bridge—East of the West is one of four competition categories—but it also serves as a unique generational one. It’s hard