A Young Festival for Films of the Young and Youthful

in 26th Ljubljana International Film Festival

by Tina Poglajen

Scheduled comfortably toward the end of the year and scooping the cream of the crop of major festivals such as Rotterdam, Berlin, Cannes, Venice and others, the Ljubljana International Film Festival always offers a good overview of the year’s film production, bringing to the small city of 300,000 inhabitants the national premiers of the past year’s hits such as Macbeth, Youth, The Lobster, and the likes, with this year offering an especially well-curated selection of films from all over the world.

There were two excellent retrospectives organised at the 26th edition of the festival: the films of the American independent director Hal Hartley (featuring a pair of his recent films Fay Grim and Ned Rifle) and “Technicolor 100!”, marking the centennial of the Technicolor process, which introduced  the colour film. The screenings of films such as Duel in the Sun, All That Heaven Allows and Gepard (Il Gattopardo) posed a difficult dilemma for festival goers who want to see as many new curiosities as possible, but also try not to miss the rare chance to see these classical cinematic gems on the big screen.

The competition programme “Perspectives” is targeting first or second feature films only. This year, there were quite a few great titles to choose from. One of them was The Creation of Meaning (La creazione di significato), a melancholic portrait of life somewhere in Italian Tuscany, in a place somehow stuck between the past and the present. Its protagonist Pacifico lives in a way not very different from the one of decades ago, in a rustic house with small windows, having to light a fireplace to make his breakfast, to stack hay, to sieve sand and do other manual chores around the house and on the estate he is taking care of. However, present-day reality is pushing in from all sides – the incessant public squabbles of politicians on the radio, the air planes flying by more and more often, the shifts in global and state economy and politics –  thus radically influencing his chances of working and living on the estate. Despite the wry observation of political and media reality, however, the film’s strongest point is the intimacy with which it conveys the details of its characters’ lives.

Similarly, The Project of the Century (La obra del siglo) exposes the ironic gap between politics and the reality of everyday life. One of the three winners at this year’s Rotterdam film festival, this film tells the story of the building of the “Electro Nuclear City” for workers of a power-plant, located near the provincial Cuban town of Juragua. It aims at a more comical effect than The Creation of Meaning by combining elements of fiction and news footage from the Cold War Cuban-Soviet collaboration. Shot for television, the film presents the archival footage in its original ratio and therefore, when juxtaposed with the sometimes absurd insensitivity of the wide-stroke widescreen images of the present-day scenes, throws in high formal relief the contrast between the objectives of macro-politics and the plight of individuals.

One of this year’s most lauded titles, Son of Saul (Saul fia), tackles the difficult task of making “another” Holocaust film. Still, that is precisely what Son of Saul is not – there is no good, which ultimately defeats the evil in the end, not even a trace of humanity that would offer a brief respite and shed some light amidst this darkness. It is a film that exhausts its viewers rather than coddle them with a tale of history, safely removed. It is not an account of the difficult journey of survivors of a concentration camp – rather, it is a cinematic account of how it feels to be inside one. Here, Nemes puts the means of the medium at hand to good use: more than anything, Son of Saul is a film of sounds and first-person point-of-view, resulting in a nightmarish perception of a crowded surrounding, rife with jostling, confusion and claustrophobia, where dead naked bodies are being dragged around in the background, and where faceless German officers are barking orders violently from all sides. In forcing the viewer almost physically into its scenes, Son of Saul in a way transcends the traditional dilemma between the distancing, feel-good mechanism of drama, which however tends to defeat its purpose when it comes to social and political impact.

The main award of the festival competition programme, the Kingfisher, went to Rams (Hrútar), with special mention for The Project of the Century. The FIPRESCI award went to Family film (Roddiny film), a second feature by the Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu, while the audience voted for The Second Mother (Que Horas Ela Volta?) as the best film of the festival and awarded it with the Ljubljana Dragon award.

Edited by Christina Stojanova