Croatia has two film festivals during the summer, in Pula and in Motovun. Both are on the Istrian peninsula. The main difference is that Pula is a big town on the Adriatic coast, whereas Motovun is a really small inland village. There is also a difference in the character of the festivals: Pula is a national festival, where everything is official and the distance between moviegoers and filmmakers is as high as a mountain. Motovun is quite the opposite: everything is unofficial (which doesn’t mean unprofessional), speeches are casual and the whole idea is that movie-lovers meet filmmakers. There are a lot of young people, which can become a problem if you’re not a party-lover. But, as much as you sometimes become angry because the extremely loud party music stops you from sleeping, you must also be pleased to see young people literally fighting for cinema tickets.
In the cinemas (which are both indoors and outdoors), people are “hanging” from everywhere in order to see a movie. And they are not necessarily looking for blockbusters and action movies, as one would expect from young people. They are also keen to see documentaries (like Byambasuren Davaa’s and Luigi Falorni’s The Story of the Weeping Camel, which won the Audience Award), semi-experimental films (such as The Five Obstructions, which was really crowded during the screening at the open-air Barbacan cinema), and love stories touching on religious and national problems (such as Ae Fond Kiss by Ken Loach which got the main prize, Propeler Motovuna), or Croatian movies (such as One Hundred Minutes of Glory by Dalibor Matanic).
Unlike Pula, Motovun is an international festival, and therefore not limited to Croatian films (interestingly, Croatians don’t like these except, as mentioned above, when they are playing in Motovun). Instead of having nine Croatian movies in the main programme (as Pula did this year), Motovun had 25 international films in the main programme, only three of them Croatian. There were other programmes: Made in India, Somewhat Shorter Films, Test Screening and Jameson Short Films & Motovun Online – in fact, altogether there were 90 films from different countries. By following the main programme, you could see movies from all over the world: Austria, Australia, Brazil, Belgium, Bulgaria, Denmark, Finland, Croatia, Iceland, Italy, Korea, Hungary, Germany, Russia, USA, Serbia and Montenegro, Spain and the United Kingdom.
At first it seems as if there is no guiding principle behind this collection of movies from many different countries. But, by watching them, it is possible to discern a common way of thinking in certain regions and parts of the world. And, sometimes it seems as if they had been grouped according to country. For example, on one day you could see two Croatian films – Going Home (Heimkehr) by Damir Lukacevic and One Hundred Minutes of Glory (Sto minuta slave), almost one after the other. And they are quite different: One Hundred Minutes of Glory is, let’s say, a typical Croatian movie (it is about a deaf and mute female painter, Slava Raškaj. Her name, in fact, is incorporated into the title: Slava means Glory). In other words, the story was very confusing: instead of relying on painting, art and the creativity of Slava Raškaj, it relied on the love affair between her and another painter, Bela Csikos. The screenplay was weak, especially in the second part of the movie where one loses a sense of the line between reality and non-reality, art and artifice.
In Heimkehr, the story is clear (the film is about a Croatian familly in Stuttgart), though a bit too slow. It is also different because Lukacevic is, like his characters, a Croat living in Germany. Consequently the film shows a deep understanding of “Gastarbeiter” and their problems, especially the younger generation (both sons of the family refuse to go “home”). Heimkehr is a German coproduction and, in fact, is more German than Croatian (Croatia put up only 4.8 % of the budget).
The next day we could see two films from Serbia and Montenegro: Kordon by Goran Markovic and When I Grow Up I’ll be A Kangaroo by Radivoje Andric. Compared to the Croatian films, especially One Hundred Minutes of Glory, these two have more developed stories, but were from very different genres. Kordon is a drama and When I Grow Up… is a comedy. Although the latter got the ‘From A To A’ award, I preferred the first one. It shows a national conflict (the 1997 demonstrations in Belgrade) which divided father and daughter, man and wife, families and friends. Both films are marked by the postwar period – poverty is everywhere, even in Andric’s comedy. Serbs are well known as a people of unbreakable spirit, people who laugh at all problems in order to solve them.
Apart from the movies from the Balkan region, there were very interesting films from across the world. North European countries were represented by some rather strange films. Cold Light by Hillmar Oddsson is (again) about a painter seeking his place in the world. His flashbacks from childhood are interwoven with his present-day life as he discovers his strange ability to foretell the future. The movie leaves the observer empty – the feeling is that it has nothing to say. Niceland by Fridrik Thor Fridriksson is also bizarre (a young man seeks “the purpose of life” in order to marry his girlfriend, who is in hospital whining over her dead cat), but touches on some real-life problems, such as losing the meaning of life after years of living together. It is easier to follow than Cold Light since it doesn’t go back and forth in time and space. The FIPRESCI jury gave its award to another Nordic film, The Five Obstructions by Denmark’s Jørgen Leth and Lars von Trier. There is no story here, only interesting obstructions by von Trier and Leth’s even more interesting ways of overcoming them. It is a seductive masterpiece in every sense.
There were many other interesting films. Let’s mention Schizo from Khazastan by Guka Omarova which, regretably, was out of competition. Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter… and Spring by South Korea’s Kim Ki-Duk was considered by the various juries as a serious candidate for a prize, though it didn’t win any. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Michel Gondry was a real surprise – a film which you wouldn’t expect from the USA (it turned the play with time and space within the human memory into a very interesting theme). Another surprise, though in a very different sense, was the Hungarian film Kontrol by Nimród Antal, which imitated the American action movie, much like Walter Hill’s The Warriors.
All in all, the Motovun Film Festival was a colourful kaleidoscope of different ways of thinking, different ways of making movies and different ways of watching them. I am only sorry that many of these films will never come to Croatian cinemas and that only a few of them will be shown to the “ordinary” viewers who weren’t at the festival.
© FIPRESCI 2004