All That Doesn't Glitter is Gold

in 29th Mar del Plata International Film Festival

by Federico Karstulovich

Every film festival, in so much as it is alien to our vital centre (in my personal case, Buenos Aires), is the closest thing to a football world cup or a massive and open event: it affects a given group of people in a finite period of time, engaging them from head to toe with the aim that brought them together in an also limited space. The result is a lot of people who know one another or are getting to know one another, doing the same thing or similar things and speaking exclusively about that particular matter. The feeling one gets is that of suspension of time, as if we entered into a cryogenic capsule.

Mar del Plata met that expectation (and reinforced the reality I just described) by far. And, as in every good world cup of any sport discipline (so as not to leave out those who are not football fans), sometimes the big teams, the big promises, are not the ones that stir up the love for that sport; instead, the air, vitality, pleasure and joy, each and every one of them, come by the sidelines, like those teams that may not get to the final but that definitely gave us everlasting excitement, moments of reflection and endless creativity. Thus, in the blissful atmosphere of a festival – as I said before – away from home, I thought it was important to think about the things that took place at the parallel sections and the retrospectives, because in Mar del Plata, life’s underground flow lay there.

If I think about the retrospectives, it is inevitable to consider two directors with completely opposite perspectives on cinema, but with furious vitality. I am talking about the films by the extraordinary classic Argentine director Daniel Tinayre, from whose retrospective stand out: “Dance of Fire” (Danza de fuego, 1949), “Dishonor” (Deshonra, 1952), “The Gang” (La patota, 1961) and “La Mary” (La Mary, 1974), films of an outstanding visual refinement, unusual for the Argentine studio system, also formal and thematic experiments around some of the director’s obsessions: sex and violence in society, and how that dynamic builds power relationships. Also, as part of the retrospectives, many film lovers came across the films of a masterful modern director, the practically unknown Alexei German, with only six fabulous feature films, of which we can highlight the distressing “Khrustalyov, My Car” (Khrustalyov, mashinu!, 1998) and “Hard to be a God” (Trudno byt bogom, 2013), two amazing films about the relationship between politics, power, the exercise of violence, subjugation and torture. The most outstanding thing is how German manages to mix the impossible conditions of a complex succession of long shots with a thorough work regarding the actors’ actions inside the frame, thus creating a baroque, noisy cinema, filled with information but, at the same time, lyrical, maybe all of the things that a great deal of international film critics once tried to find in Kusturica’s filmography.

At the Panorama section we found the gelid, asphyxiating and Rohmerian (remembering “The Marquise of O” – La marquise D’O…, Eric Rohmer, 1976), “Amour fou” (Jessica Hausner, 2014), focused on the relationship between Heinrich von Kleist and Henriette Vogel, proving how love triangles, in the Eighteenth Century, could also be uncanny and perverse, but without abandoning the forms of the socially accepted. I also had the chance to watch “Don’t Go Breaking My Heart 2” (Daan gyun naam yu 2, Johnny To, 2014), where the director from Hong Kong toys with the romantic comedy, similar to Stanley Donen’s “Charade” (1963), succeeding in reversing the most common-or-garden conventions of a more-than-famous genre, turning crossed couples into a perfect system of duplications, simulations and sacrifices. The result is a romantic comedy halfway between the most barefaced irony and the most basic romanticism.

Not to mention the uncomfortable and unerring “Maidan” (Sergei Losnitsa, 2014) where, something unusual in cinema, a political dimension through the use of the long shot is achieved, facing the violence of the established power, within the framework of the 2013 popular uprising in Ukraine.

In the extraordinary section “Midnight Screamings” I enjoyed the huge “What We Do in the Shadows” (Taika Waititi – Jemaine Clement, 2014), very much resembling the bright “This is Spinal Tap” (Rob Reiner, 1984), but focused on vampires, as if the Twilight saga would have lent its archetypes for a higher purpose. The result is – paradoxically due to the presence of vampires – a film of overwhelming humanism, which turns the blood drinkers into the most adorable characters ever to have set foot on a festival.

Onto the Tributes sections, one of the highlights was the Texas trilogy, by Roberto Minervini, a triad that includes “Marfa Red” (The Passage, 2011), “Low Tide” (2012) and “Stop the Pounding Heart” (2013), three variations on the desolation of the USA, outlined by a spirit moving along Neorealism, American indie films, a nature very much in tune with the Dardenne Brothers cinema, and a harshness not completely devoid of humanism. The result is the encounter with something we believe to have seen before but which also presents itself as a novelty. An absolute must-see, discovered at the final moment.

Last but not least, at the VHS Generation section I came across the hilarious “Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films” (Mark Hartley, 2014), a traditional documentary in its form (interviews + footage) but gigantic in its love for the characters it portrays, maybe the involuntary partners of an insane endeavour such as Golam-Globus’: to turn the disgraceful Cannon Films into an economically profitable company but ridiculous in the final result of its products.

In any of the said cases, the prevailing feeling was the escape from the foreseeable, the elision of the expected, the game, the leap into the void, the perception that the world of cinema is much more than a system of rules and compromises with Festivals in order to find a new star.

Before any possible speculation, film festivals keep breathing, outside the competitions, dwelling in the community of a world that gets suspended for some days: A world where cinema and people are more important than agreements and contracts.

Farewell, Mar del Plata!

Edited by Steven Yates