50 years of Valladolid By Jerzy Płażewski

in 50th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Jerzy Plazewski

Only a few festivals have been out there long enough to celebrate their 50th anniversary and one of them is Valladolid. Therefore the festival authorities have not only added – apart from the traditional Golden and Silver Spike – a special 50th Anniversary Prize (EURO 50.000 for the director and the producer!), but have also come up with an excellent idea of “We have been loving cinema for the last 50 years” – a collection of 50 remarkable movies awarded at the Valladolid festival over the years. The result is a truly enviable lesson of film art – starting from The Seventh Seal (Sjunde inseglet), Nights of Cabiria (Notti di Cabiria), or The 400 Blows (400 coups), through A Clockwork Orange and Land of Promise (Ziemia Obiecana) to Dancer in the Dark and 3-iron.

This year, the official section was enriched with The Child (L’enfant) by the Dardenne brothers (Palme d’Or of the Cannes festival), and Brokeback Mountain by Ang Lee (Grand Prix of the Venetian Film Festival). Even though none of those movies was presented within the competition section, Hidden (Caché), by Michael Haneke (the third prize winner in Cannes) was, which allowed the Austrian to reach for the reward one more time. All that – according to Spanish critics who participated in the San Sebastian even a month earlier – made the overall standard of the Valladolid event higher.

The policy of the Castilian festival authorities was additionally justified by the composition of the jury (the celebrities of the movie world included director André Téchiné and actress Maria de Medeiros). The 50th Anniversary Prize was awarded jointly to two truly superior movies, to “European filmmakers of great maturity and individual style”, namely Haneke for Hidden and Lars von Trier for Manderlay (the latter was also screened in Cannes , but did not receive any prize). Hidden is worth awarding for a subtle and thought provoking portrait of the French society confessing its sins against Arabic ethnic minorities. Manderlay, at the same time, is a far more perfidious movie! Seemingly it propagates benefits offered by the authoritarian system to those dominated by it. Of course, it is not a praise of slavery, but a comment made by the Danish director in protest against the United States forcing its only correct solutions upon others in order to make the entire world happy whether it wants it or not.

The traditional Golden Spike went deservedly to still unknown Chilean director Matias Bize for In Bed (En La Cama ). The title very aptly conveys the content – the story of a sexual intercourse between two people who meet that very night begins not even with the encounter or seduction scenes, but with the coitus and moans of orgasm right away! The climax? So what shall the audience watch for the next ninety minutes, if the setting is limited to a small hotel room, while the narrative is shown in the real time? What they will be given is a wise introspection of two complex personalities, with a really revealing juxtaposition of the male and female nature. Young Bize saved the honour of the Iberian cinema, which definitely did not shine in Valladolid this year (the prize to the best new director rewarded to Daniel Cebrián for Second Round (Segundo Asalto) was nothing but a misunderstanding). The audience enthusiastically approved the Best Actress Prize for Krystyna Feldman and her performance in My Nikifor (Mój Nikifor) directed by Krzysztof Krauze. It was the tenth prize awarded by the sixth international film festival to this movie about a primitive painter, the Polish Rousseau Le Douanier. The Polish cinematographers (and their advocates) have been waiting for a success like this for years.

Finally, the Best Actor Award and the Silver Spike went to Melvil Poupaud for Time To Leave (Le Temps Qui Rest) by François Ozon. Ozon tells us a story of a young photographer who finds out all of a sudden that he has cancer and has no more than a month or two to live. Against all clichés – he is not miraculously saved.

The FIPRESCI award went to a war epic called Merry Christmas (Joyeux Noël) by Christian Carion, almost a novice from France. The movie takes place on Christmas Eve of 1914 in the Flandre trenches and is based on a true story. During the first months of an unprecedented bloody war, the atmosphere of hatred, boosted by propagandists, was not that much inflamed. At one front section three hostile armies called a one day truce, singing carols together, treating one another to cigarettes and champagne, having a football game, and listening to a concert given by the tenor of the Berliner Opera House. Even though the movie is very traditional in its character, what influenced the verdict the most was the humanistic message free of obvious bias and preaching.

Of course, the critics noticed other valuable movies as well, especially those premiered at Valladolid. The German-Belgian movie Bloody Wedding (Bluthochzeit) by Dominique Deruddere is almost the opposite of Merry Christmas. A sunny wedding of a young and beautiful couple organised at a picturesque gradually turns into an unexpected outburst of hatred, spread like a contagious disease.

Water by Deepa Mehta from India struck us with the power of mass despair. The author revealed an unbelievable fact that even 70 years ago – at the dawn of the Ghandi’s reforms – all the widows from old women to little children (as it was a common practice to marry kids off) were forced to spend the rest of their lives wearing nothing but white and living at special poorhouses with strict discipline. It is not difficult to make a shocking melodrama depicting such terrifying dictates of Hindu culture.

Arcadia (Le Couperet Género) by Costa-Gavras – who still prefers problem cinema – provoked rather controversial reactions. The director devoted his latest movie to the most recent curse of our times, namely the “restructuring” – a common practice at international concerns that tend to let their top staff with the highest salaries off in order to reduce costs. Such professionals – being well aware of their competence – initially are not too concerned about reduction. They believe they can easily find employment at competitive companies. But those firms apply the same logic! Costa-Gavras depicted one of such cases in order to sketch a portrait of an unemployed embittered with his hopeless situation, who decides to work his way up the career ladder against all odds applying rather radical means. The protagonist is patronised by the Chaplin’s “Mousier Verdoux” and the director provocatively does not punish him in the last scene.

In such a context we were really glad to see an Argentinian-Spanish comedy entitled Elsa and Fred (Elsa y Fred) by Marcos Carnavale – also about widowhood – but in an entirely different environment than that portrayed in Water. An elderly man, devastated after his wife’s death meets an even older, but very agile and vigorous widow, who got into her head that she had been Anita Ekberg in Fellini’s La Dolce Vita. This is something that can really make you laugh like a drain, and drain the tears of compassion afterwards.

The history of the Castilian Valladolid Festival has always been shaped by its competitive position against the Basque San Sebastian. The latter has always been the A category event – forced to show within its competition section nothing but “virgin” movies, not screened at any other festival before. The former, at the same time, has always belonged to the B category, thus theoretically its position was inferior. But thanks to making very smart use of its category, along with “virgin” movies, its authorities have been inviting, or even rewarding films that won in Cannes or Venice.