Conventional Films Cause Conventional Ideas

in 29th Festroia International Film Festival

by Jose Ramon Otero Roko

Setubal’s film festival Festroia presented in this year’s edition an official selection that can only be defined as imbalanced. There was a prevalence of Belgian film productions, Belgium being one of the sponsoring countries of the event through its official agency for film promotion Wallonie Bruxelles Images and the Audio Visual Flanders Fund (VAF).

Some films from minor film industries were included in the official selection, but in this case weren’t an exemplary representation of the film industry in those countries. The majority of films chosen by the Festroia selection committee, directed by the Belgian historian Guido Convents, had a low profile, lacking in artistic or aesthetic ambitions and suitable for the domestic market of their respective countries rather than for an international film festival. Thus the Belorussian film Viva Belarus! (Zyvie Belarus) from Krzystof Lukaszewicz, which was very controversial since it was accused of being propaganda for an ultra-conservative and ultra-liberal party whose leader is also the director of the film, was shown. With the narrative of a teenager’s blockbuster, the film depicts utterly serious events, only partially true, without the style of auteur cinema. The Chilean film The Passion of Michelangelo (La passion de Michelangelo) by Esteban Larraín had some interest, focusing on the identification of the Chilean dictatorship with the religious fervor of the fake apparitions of the Virgin Mary, but it ends with a confused finale which is intended to surprise the audience but doesn’t add up to consistency for the film as a whole.

Baby Blues (Bejbi blues) by Katarzyna Roslaniec presents in a scandalous way an archetypal event meant to satisfy the preconceptions of a conservative audience. The film is about a teenager mother who isn’t prepared enough to take care of her child. Any responsibility of the society in her situation is omitted. There’s no mention in the film of the use of contraceptives, or sexual education, the role of laws or the role of the state. We are merely confronted with a Polish teenager who is emotionally unstable, subdued by consumer society and images, who takes drugs and is unable to have lasting relationships. A character without depth, full of platitudes, and selected to force the public to come to a conventional conclusion. However it was the most daring film of the official selection, with visually impressive cinematography. Aside from that, there was Finnish film 8 Ball (8-pallo) from Aku Louhimies, which uses a conventional approach to portray a marginal underworld of drugs and addiction, and a lack of preparation to carry out the education of a child. But on the contrary we could find in this film the role of the state as a vehicle to position a person with the conditions from which to end up with marginalization. A well-paced, but rather clichéd thriller, it is suitable for Finnish cinema showing. It could even be a commercial film for the domestic market if its distribution wasn’t dominated by US majors.

The film 90 Minutes (90 minutter) by Eva Sorhaug was one of the stronger films. It is quite ambitious, though not particularly original, in style and in its intention to depict the inner destruction of the inhabitants of a northern country. Its characters, hemmed in by their families and their way of life, unravel when their order of things collapses due to economic or emotional problems. At that point the characters begin to behave violently towards their inner circle, preventing them from living a normal life. The three independent stories that make up the film are hardly connected except for their main characters’ response to the isolation and the problems that overcome them. The film also includes an interesting feminist message which allows the audience to think about the way in which some men consider their families to be their own property and how they come to destroy their own families because they think that they have no right to outlive them. It is a technically well-made film with a sometimes poor script which doesn’t realise its intention of more ethical and aesthetic consistency.

Finally the winner was the Belgian film The Broken Circle Breakdown by Felix Van Groeningen. It stood out from the rest of the official selection with a certain formal ambition, though it can’t be considered a masterpiece. It has a similar subject to the wonderful Declaration of War (La guerre est declaree) by Valerie Donzelli from 2011, with its daring presentation of characters with very edgy relationships, living an independent way of life apart from society with their emotional universe broken up when they learn that their little daughter has terminal cancer. A hard drama, softened by bluegrass-style music meant to make the film more easily digestible for a general audience, it convincingly solved the tensions of its plot with a dissertation against the false conservative morality which hinders stem cell research. In a festival that seemed to focus on Belgian films, it was perhaps not surprising that this also won the official jury’s award. The film was worthy of a prize in a context that did not offer many more alternatives.

Edited by Stephen Locke