A Sharper Look at a World of Contradictions

in 27th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Hans Jürg Zinsli

A strong international competition, stars committing themselves to politics and social issues and 36,000 spectators setting a new all-time record: the 27th Fribourg International Film Festival (FIFF) made a big leap forward.

Thierry Jobin, who promised last year to popularise the programme (“I want to open the door to a new audience, to people who previously had the sense that the films in FIFF were basically boring”) managed to sharpen his view in his second year as Artistic Director. Jobin succeeded in presenting a broad lineup of films, various genres from around the world, to Fribourg — not only in the international competition, but also in carefully arranged side programmes (“Escape to Victory!” about sport-films or “Diaspora: Atom Egoyan and Armenia”).

In competition Jobin presented, for example, a “grumpy old man”-approach to loneliness and death (Bwakaw, from the Philippines), a slightly melodramatic piece of science-fiction (The Cleaner [El Limpiador], from Peru) or a 270-minute long TV-series thriller à la Hitchcock (Penance [Shokuzai], Japan).

A real coup was the first ever Saudi Arabian feature film ever screened: Wadjda from female director Haifaa Al-Mansour is centered around a young schoolgirl (by the name of Wadjda) who is desperately longing for a bicycle to challenge a boy to a race. Because women are not supposed to ride bicycles in Saudi Arabia, many obstacles have to be overcome. The dream about the bicycle in this film represents the hunger for freedom and self-determination of a younger female generation in conservative Islamic countries. For her first film (Wadjda premiered 2012 in Venice’s Orizzonti section) director Haifaa Al-Mansour won the FIFF audience award.

The most successful film of the festival — Three Sisters (San Zimei, Hong Kong/France) — gathered a total of four awards: the Regard d’Or (main award), the Don Quijote Award, the E-Changer Award and the Award of the Ecumenical jury. The 153-minute documentary reflects the monotone day-to-day-life of three sisters, growing up in the Chinese mountains above 3000 m without parents (Yingying, 10, Zhenzhen, 6, and Fenfen, 4). Although his film conveys social criticism, director Wang Bing does not manage to focus sharply on his main characters (as implied in the title) throughout the film.

For the first time there were two international stars present at the FIFF: former French singer Charles Aznavour and ex-soccer player Eric Cantona. They didn’t show up just to walk the red carpet but to discuss social and political matters in films out of competition. Aznavour spoke out for his home country Armenia, suppressed by Turkey, while Cantona promoted the documentary Les Rebelles du foot (France). In the latter, Ivorian superstar Didier Drogba was seen on TV kneeling down and begging his fellow countrymen to lay down their arms for peace. Cantona summed up the idea behind the film: “It is more important to be a human being than a champion.”

Social concern and entertainment — Thierry Jobin showed with the 27th FIFF that these two terms needn’t contradict each other. Quite the opposite: we see these approaches combining at the FIFF with the promise of an even sharper look into a world full of contradictions.

Edited by Alison Frank