A Breath of Youth in Kiev By Janine Euvrard
Coming back from Kiev, one’s head is filled with beauty and euphoria. There is magic in its welcome. It has sublime churches, magnificent trees, the bluest skies; it is spacious, nobody hurries, nobody jostles you on the sidewalks (a relief for a Parisian like me).There are many public parks and lots of greenery. The people are friendly, and although they speak only Ukrainian and Russian, one does not feel lost.
The twelve films in the competitive section (first and second features), the student films, one section of shorts are shown in what is called the Red Hall. The Blue Hall hosts the press conferences, a panorama of the Ukrainian films of 2004-2005, a section of « regional » Swedish films, a homage to Margarethe von Trotta which included the beautiful Sisters or the Balance of Happiness (1979) and another to Werner Herzog.
These two venues are in the city center in a big Stalinist- style three-storey building which also houses the two dining rooms in which we took our meals, a bar where everyone congregates for a vodka and a smoke, and the festival offices. Admission to the Red Hall’s four hundred or so seats is free; tickets are handed out to friends, employees et al. by the various sponsors, distributors and producers.
I wondered and marvelled at the fervour of the public, who filled the theater even at the afternoon sessions; they were a very varied crowd, with a predominance of young people, many of them students at the film schools. They reminded me somewhat of African and Arab audiences from the way in which they involved themselves in the films, clapped when the hero was in a favorable situation, booed when he was in a quandary. Granted too many mobile phones rang during the projections and there was much coming and going, but much will be forgiven to such receptive audiences!
Several theaters in the city showed the films of the non-competitive sections; for these you had to pay. In one of them I saw Lars Von Trier’s new film Manderlay. in Ukrainian! There was a large section of Russian films, but they were shown without subtitles and in a distant theater. A pity.
The twelve films in competition were of a rather high standard. The Russian Polumgla by Artem Antonov, awarded the Golden Iris at the new Montreal International Festival describes the relationships that developed between German POW’s and Russian women at the end of WWII in the little village of Polumgla. It is a strong, beautifully controlled first feature with an outstanding soundtrack, an infrequent achievement.
Ahmed Imamovic, born 1971 in Sarajevo, directed Go West, a film about the war in Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. Milan, a young Serbian judoka, and Kenan, a Muslim cellist, live in Sarajevo. During the siege, they flee the city, with Kenan disguised as a woman, and find refuge in a village. Milan will go to the battle front and be killed, and Kenan will, with the villagers’ help, leave the country. On a subject already treated in many films, Imamovic’s script is original and suspenseful.
The characters in the Danish film Anklaget (Accused), by Jacob Thuesen, seem at first to belong to a « normal » family: Henrik, the father is a swimming instructor, his wife Nina a secretary; their fourteen-year-old daughter Stina, however, seems to be going through a difficult stage. Eventually, she confesses to a therapist that she has been sexually abused by her father, and this ruins the family’s apparent harmony. A clean but unremarkable cinématography, rather commonplace dialogue, all in all a rather conventional film Anklaget was awarded the festival’s grand prize by a jury who were probably touched by its subject, until quite recently taboo.
Sorstalansag (Fateless) by Hungarian director Lajos Koltai, based on the 2003 Nobel prize winner Imre Kertesz’s eponymous work, is another « holocaust » film. A Budapest family is deported in 1944, the young boy Koves to Buchenwald. The film’s originality resides in its depiction of the boy’s personal development: he does not rebel, yet does not submit to his fate but rather observes; he will survive the camp and return to Budapest at the end of the war, matured and increased in stature by this terrible experience.
Sorstalansag was awarded the prize for best feature, ex-aequo with the Belgian Iceberg by Fiona Gordon, Dominique Abel and Bruno Romy. This is a slapstick comedy in which Fiona, who works in a fast food factory, is accidentally locked up one evening in the cold storage room. After a long cold night, she goes home only to discover that neither her husband nor her children seem to have noticed her absence.
Comedy is the most difficult genre, and if you start full speed, you are likely to find yourself with nowhere to go. The international jury liked it, and we are happy for the three film makers. I shall only mention the beautiful Iranian film Sakenine sarzamine sokoot (From the land of Silence) by Saman Salur, since it is written up by another FIPRESCI juror; its delicacy and simplicity made it for us the choice for the FIPRESCI award.
It is impossible to include all the films in competition in this brief report but I have tried to say something about the more impressive ones. Let me just say that both Kiev the city and its festival offered us a warm welcome and an interesting program. Our guardian angel Alona, bilingual in French and English, was constantly available to facilitate our work; the drivers who took us all over town spoke only Ukrainian, but they did choose the places most likely to enchant us. Add to this, I had the oportunity to listen to La Traviata in Kiev’s sumptuous Opera house, and the voices, direction and staging were a feast! with a friendly salute to Visconti.