in 32nd Rotterdam International Film Festival

by Belinda van de Graaf

The Tiger Awards competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam is a showcase of new talents working in independent world cinema. The focus of director Simon Field, who is responsible for the selection of the 14 first and second feature length films in competition and who just announced to leave the director’s chair after the 2004-fest, is on filmmakers who dare to tell their stories in a different way.

This year 29-year-old Icelandic director Dagur Kari turned out to be one of the great discoveries. In NOI ALBINOI (NOI, THE ALBINO) the first time director and screenwriter, who, as a musician, took care of the ‘slow blow’-music on the soundtrack as well, shows a great sense for sad-comic situations. In Dagur Kari’s hands the story of a teenager, who is stuck in the snow on a remote fjord in northern Iceland and who begins dreaming up his big escape, becomes a fantastic tale on the powers of nature, beautiful and scary at the same time. Dagur Kari turns his Icelandic fjord into a far away planet, like it doesn’t really exist, with the Icelandic actor Tomas Lemarquis looking like the ultimate Boy from Mars. In all, it is as if Aki Kaurismäki, Petr Zelenka and Roy Andersson have been working on a great jam session.

Strangely enough, there was no Tiger Award for NOI ALBINOI. It was the MovieZone-jury, consisting of five youngsters, who did the honours with the MovieZone Award, a price that has, since 1999, been given to BUFFALO ’66 (Vincent Gallo), FUCKING AMAL (Lukas Moodysson), 25 WATTS (Juan Pablo Rebella and Pablo Stoll) and FAT GIRL (Catherine Breillat). For NOI ALBINOI it’s a great line-up to be part of.

On the other side, the professionals in the Tiger Awards Jury (amongst them former Venice-chief Alberto Barbera and French filmmaker Olivier Assayas) came up with three interesting character studies: WITH LOVE. LILJA by Russian filmmaker Larisa Sadilova, already crowned as the Russian Bridget Jones (but then as a mixture between Isabelle Huppert and Rita Tushingham), EXTRANO by Argentine filmmaker Santiago Loza and JEALOUSY IS MY MIDDLE NAME by South-Korean director Park Chan-Ok. The last two ‘Tigers’ are again a sign of the great and exciting forces working in Argentina and South-Korea today. Especially EXTRANO, which puts you in the head of a job-less Argentine doctor contemplating life, is a great work of art, intimate and intense, almost without words, giving full space to the delicate camerawork of Willi Behnisch.

The FIPRESCI Award for WELCOME TO DESTINATION SHANGHAI (by Chinese filmmaker Andrew Cheng), FIPRESCI special mention for COWARDS BEND THE KNEE (the ‘peepshow’-installation by Canadian Filmmaker in Focus Guy Maddin) and the KNF Award, given by the Circle of Dutch Film Critics to BLISSFULLY YOURS (by Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul aka Joe), came much closer to what can be called a New Pornographic Wave. Orgies, orgasms, penetrations, masturbations, ejaculations, ‘Rotterdam 2003’ was full of it.

Of course there was Larry Clarks KEN PARK, which generated a lot of discussion, people hating or loving it. And of course there was it’s co-director and cameraman Ed Lachman posing naked on the cover of the Daily Tiger, only wearing his shoes. But there was more, and maybe the title of the British ‘Tiger’ BODYSONG (simultaneously developed as a film, a website and an exhibition on the human body) encapsulated it all. There were ‘body songs’ in THE PRINCIPLES OF LUST, the ‘Tiger’ of British filmmaker Penny Woolcock who filmed an orgy-scene with actors suddenly doing ‘the real thing’. The amazing Chinese film ENTER THE CLOWNS started out with a moving scene: a son copulating in his dying mother’s mouth, out of love. And next to French filmmaker Catherine Breillat (SEX IS COMEDY) there was French Filmmaker in Focus Jean-Claude Brisseau, showing masturbating girls in CHOSES SECRETES, and redefining the power struggle between men and women via sex and violence. Much sweeter was POLISSONS ET GALIPETTES (THE GOOD OLD NAUGHTY DAYS) by French filmmaker Michel Reilhac, a new montage of 11 underground blue movies from the ‘roaring’ twenties, a kind of early black & white porn clips, simple, straightforward, clumsy, cheap an charming: a man doing it with three women (never the other way round), men doing it with men, women doing it with women, a dog in the middle.

In the discussion ‘Sex is Cinema?’ (named after a recent Cahiers du Cinema-article) French filmmakers Claire Denis (VENDREDI SOIR) and Philippe Grandrieux (LA VIE NOUVELLE) tried to shed some light on the subject. It was Claire Denis who offered that religion and politics were out, and that the body was left as a last resort for filmmakers. It was Philippe Grandrieux who then attacked Cahiers du Cinema (‘it’s off the track’, as he called it). To Grandrieux the answer to the question ‘What is Cinema?’ was not simply ‘Sex is Cinema’. It was more like: Cinema is body, light, sound, framing, editing, etcetera, and as an example of great sexuality in the cinema he came up with Hitchcock doing a slow camera movement towards a neck.

And why are the French so obsessed with talking and dealing about sex? Claire Denis: ‘Oh, it’s tradition. French culture. Libertinage!’

Belinda van de Graaf