31st Moscow International Film Festival

Russia, June 19 - June 28 2009

The jury

Christina Stojanova (Canada), Yael Shuv (Israel), Beat Glur (Switzerland), Kristiina Davidjants (Estonia), Dilyara Tasbulatova (Russia)

Awarded films

This year the Moscow International Film Festival (June 19-28) turned fifty. And albeit this resspectable forum came into existence in 1959, 2009 marked only its 31st edition since it has been alternating with the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival until 1990.

Opened amidst the usual pomp in Pushkin Film Theatre by its long-standing President, the famous actor and director Nikita Mikhalkov and speeches by the guests of honor Hannah Shigula (who also opened the major retrospective of Marco Ferreri) and Adrian Brody (the star of Cadillac Records, which kick-started the Gala Screenings), it nonetheless yielded some of its festive spirit to a somber tribute to the recently deceased actor Oleg Yankovsky (1944-2009), a Russian mega star, known abroad mostly for his major roles in the films of Tarkovsky. His last role was that of Metropolitan Philip, the only person historically known to have attempted to – if not openly oppose than at least stubbornly question – the absolute rule of horror unleashed in the 16th century by Ivan the Terrible, the Tsar in the eponymous mega historical production, directed by Pavel Lungin, with which the festival opened.

Along with the official competition, the festival featured a parallel one, Perspectives, as well as nine – very intriguing and expertly put together – out-of-competition programs including, among others, subsequent installments of the on-going selections Moscow Euphoria, 8 1/2 films and Blasts from the Past and others, curated over the years by three of the most prominent Russian critics and film scholars – respectively Andrei Plakhov, Peter Shepotinnik and Kirill Razlogov, the new programming director of the festival. The accompanying programs offered also Asian Extreme, Focus on Bulgaria and Free Thought Documentary Cinema as well as a number of Retrospectives: the already mentioned one of Marco Ferreri; of Jerzy Skolimowski, of Shyam Benegal, etc., and Tributes: to Socialist Avant-Gardism, Part 2 and to Georgian Cinema – from the hard core Socialist Realist The Vow/ Klyatva/ Pitsi (1946, Mikheil Chiaureli) to the harbinger of Glasnost and Perestroika Repentance/ Pokayanie/ Monanieba (1984, Tenghiz Abuladze).

The competition offered a very diverse selection of sixteen films, ranging from the mainstream genre cinmea to highly sophisticated social allegories via (neo) realistic, even naturalistic takes of contemporary reality to post-modern collages of all of the above. The openly melodramatic love story of the Polish Little Moscow, for example, was juxtaposed to the masterful rendition of the bleak detective in the Georgian-German The Mediator and to the elegant bitter-sweet tenor of the Mexican family drama Five Days Without Nora (one of the best-made films in the program), and to the more or less failed attempt of The Missing Person (USA) to resuscitate the traditions of the hard boiled Film Noir. The Russian allegory Miracle and the Ukrainian Melody for Barrel Organ were amongst the unanimously acknowledged favourites. Yet another highlights were the Russian film, Pete on the Way to Heaven and the Israeli Burning Mooki for their unorthodox take of the life and times in the 1950s Soviet Russia and Israel from the 1960s. The intricate social metaphors of the Bulgarian entry Crayfish, the interpretation of Chekhov’s Ward No. 6 as a contemporary docu-drama as well as the audacity of the Italian film As God Commands to tackle hot social issues through a loving father-son relationship were also acknowledged, along with the elegant visuals of the Hungarian entry Prank and the neo-realist honesty of the quiet Iranian drama Bibi.

The FIPRESCI jury selected Kira Muratova’s Melodiya dlya shramanki/ Melody for Barrel Organ (Ukraine, 2009) for “its ingenuous manipulation of sound and image in rendering its powerful critique of the universal alienation and deepening social divide between the New Rich and the New Poor as a macabre picaresque of two orphaned children on a Christmas Eve.” (Christina Stojanova)

Moscow International Film Festival: www.moscowfilmfestival.ru