About Francophone Cinema, and About Debuts

in 33rd Istanbul International Film Festival

by Olga Markova

After a long and stubborn struggle with the government, the Taksim Square has calmed down temporarily. Turkey has carried out the first of the envisaged three-stage elections that will illuminate the path for the country to take into the future. Public tension, however, has not receded even after the victory of the Justice and Development Party at the recently held local elections March 30th, 2014.

It is within this unstable political climate — following the referendum called by the ruling party, but contrary to the “resistance” of the picturesque spring awakening in nature that covers a decreasing territory of gardens and parks with blossoming tulips and trees — that the 33rd fight for the “Golden Tulips” kicked off in a two-week film marathon at the prestigious Istanbul International Film Festival. Viewers at the overcrowded halls of the eight central movie theaters viewed more than 200 films, grouped into twenty sections.

The indisputable success of this year’s forum was large-scale participation in numerous discussions, selections, film-shows, workshops and master classes with prominent names from Turkish cinema, and the celebration of its 100th year.

Two French-language films, with which the international competition began, raised the festival bar. Totally different in theme, style and tonality, they drew the attention of the audience with their bright cinematographic imagery and culture, and with their intense dramaturgical action. In both films the roles of screenwriter, director and actor are played out by a single creative individual.

The fourth feature film from Xavier Dolan Tom at the Farm (Tom a la ferme, Canada/France) — a psychological thriller, Hitchcock style, keeps the viewer in suspense with a script-intense game that shifts the ball constantly in unexpected directions. After the film Heartbeats (Les amours imaginaires), a work devoted to impossible love, Tom at the Farm casts its creator under a new light. “I felt an inner need to make a turn in my work,” Dolan says. “Then I recalled the play ‘Tom at the Farm’ and in the winter of 2011 began adapting it for the screen.” Intrigue is veiled in mystery, and everything, remains uncertain, including the characters, until the very end of the film.

It happens rarely — especially in a territory where comedy genre films are scarce — that a film is able to grip the audience with its artistic, witticisms and positive energy, yet these were presented in the second French-language work Me, myself and Mum (France-Belgium). Actually, the original, yet apt title for the film, which synthesizes the main theme, is Boys and Guillaume – at the table! (Garcons et Guillaume – a table!).

At the center of the story is an adapted one-man stage show starring the famous actor Guillaume Gallienne from Comédie Française. Owing to the quality of the unique theater, he proves, cinematically, that the theater trade mark can be used on screen. An interpretation rich in nuance, he attempts to “excuse” the mother complex that has fallen down upon the fragile shoulders of a teenager. This rampant autobiographical comedy, bordering at times on eccentric, withstands heavy burden with great vigor. This comedy traces the history of an actor who reflects upon his sexuality in the years of his adolescence, though he has never stopped loving women — on the contrary — defining him as a gay, his mother awakens a hesitation in him, one that the virtuous actor reveals to us through humorous situations.

I would especially like to highlight the contribution from francophone cinema to the level of this year’s festival. As well as the above-mentioned films, at the end of the forum, Canadian work Triptyque offered up a surprise. It was presented to the audience by Pedro Pires — one of its two creators, the second being Robert Lepage. This peculiar form of triptych, created after the original play “Lipsynch”, unifies the tragic fates of three people; Michel, Thomas and Mary; in a mutual drama that is provocative and contemplates human suffering and, at the same time, respect for the human spirit and our ability to save others.

Through slow-motion and a view of the masterly presented landscape, with expressive choral classics, these themes penetrate the small but individually significant stories, hidden in the bosom of a large contemporary city in order to persuade us that continuity across generations is a necessity, as every man lives at a cross-point between past, present and future.

I would like to add to this collection the film Violette (France/Belgium) where the director and screenwriter Martin Provost conscientiously acquaints the audience with one of the most curious pages from the history of French literature. At the center of the story is the contradictory fate of Violette Leduc — one of the first women writers in France who publicly expressed her stand on issues of female sexuality and abortion, as well as her long-lived friendship with Simone de Beauvoir and her literary circle. This film is useful as a piece of historicity, too, especially for a younger generation, who may not be familiar with the issues.

The most impressive titles in the International Competition, in my mind, are three bright debuts. I have already talked about the first, and in my view, most successful film, Garcons et Guillaume – a table! The other two films — 20.000 Days on Earth (United Kingdom), and Blind (Norway) — are also promising as first feature appearances in the realm of fiction film.

In the first of the two aforementioned films — 20.000 Days on Earth, awork of visual artists Jain Forsyth and Jane Pollard — there is an intimate confession, whose style varies between documentary aesthetic and fictional modes of storytelling. The main character — singer-songwriter Nick Cave, an emblematic figure in jazz, leads us through the stages of his career, assessing them from today’s point of view. He offers us his conception of the essence of the creative process; the sum total of a man who has lived on Earth 20.000 days. Unfortunately, the first half of the film, comprising of a cycle of dialogues is static and contrasts tartly with the expressive second half featuring concert footage. This disharmony impinges upon the otherwise orderly construction of its composition.

I would like to further highlight, as a special point, the final debut, Blind, which impressed both the public and the critic with its peculiar, original, amusing and absorbing drama, played among an atmosphere of surrealism. With sparse dialogue and humor, it has deservedly been awarded the “Golden Tulip” in the International competition. This debut focuses our attention on the problem not only of blindness, but also of loneliness in life and in the creative process. Director Eskil Vogt — co-writer with Joachim Trier whose acclaimed works include Reprise, as well as Oslo and August 31st — presented the film to the audience here, investigating, in an intriguing way, the mental processes and inner state of the woman-writer who has recently lost her sight, and is searching for safety in her own home. Ellen Dorrit Petersen skillfully portrays the complicated role. For this type of film, the camera work is of great importance, for it has to “see” through, rather than present, the heroine. In this instance, Thimios Bakatakis, with his deft touch, contributes to the creation of the crisp cinematography in Dogtooth. The score should not be underestimated either; the sounding of the wordless space volleys between noise and silence.

Finally, from the twelve competing films, which I saw, my preferences are for Garcons et Guillaume – a table! and Blind.

Edited by Tara Judah