Debut By Pascal Grenier
in 11st Geneva Festival Tous Ecrans
The 11th edition of the festival Cinema Tout Ecran in Geneva featured fourteen films in the official competition. This festival is unique, because as well as the official competition, it features television-films, long dramas, and series among other sections. Leo Kaneman, the General Director of the festival, wants to celebrate films with artistic qualities, regardless of what medium they were made for.
Since I attended the festival as a member of the FIPRESCI jury, let’s concentrate on the official competition and see which films were the highlight of this year’s edition. Among the fourteen films presented, three of them stand out of the group, and all of these three were feature films by first-time directors. Ryna, directed by Ruxandra Zenide, (born in Bucharest, currently living in Geneva), is a vibrant portrayal of a sixteen year old Romanian tom-boy who suffers neglect at the hands of her own family and the community, at an important time in her life. She does, however, manage to struggle her way through it without losing her dignity. The director portrays the vulnerable Ryna in a sensitive fashion that demonstrates a maturity unusual for a first-time director.
In the same vein, and in some ways similar to Ryna is Molly’s Way, the first feature by Emily Atef who was still attending the German Film and Television Academy when she made it earlier this year. The result is quite astonishing and you’ll never think for a second that Molly’s Way looks like a student project. The main character is a brave Irish woman who goes on a journey through Poland’s dirtier districts to find a man whom she met on a single weekend and who may or may not have change her life. Mairead McKinley gives a commanding and courageous performance as Molly. Emily Atef shows a real flair for directing and the gritty, grainy look of the film captures exceptionally well the Polish landscape, peopled with the illegal immigrants that work in a blind-shafted small city.
From Canada, Jeremy Peter Allen’s Manners of Dying presents a reflexion on a very crucial and important topic in today’s modern society: the death penalty. Supported by strong performances by the two lead actors, (Serge Houde as the prison warden and Roy Dupuis as the condemned man), this film was strongly praised by both critics and the public during the festival. But there’s more to this film than a simple reflexion on the death penalty. In fact, depending upon the way you interpret it, it may even be more of a political statement on society and individuals than upon the main subject of the film.
Besides these three very interesting first feature films, two other films were also worthy of mention. The strangely titled Kim Novak never swam in Genesaret’s Lake (Kim Novak badade aldrig i Genesarets sjö) by Swedish director Martin Asphaug, is a coming-of-age movie that combined elements of comedy, drama and thriller. This interesting film is visually arresting enough to overcome the not-so-original plot that borrows a few ideas from Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me, which was based upon a novel by Stephen King. On a completely different subject, The Deal marks the return of Stephen Frears to the BBC after an almost twenty year hiatus. Shot on Beat SP, this docu-fiction presents the close relationship between Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, played by British actors, in a not-too-long ago political period. Maybe a bit too narrow-minded and a nod too short to be entirely successful, this is still a very interesting joint by one of Britain’s most gifted filmmakers.
As for the rest of the competition, either the films presented were pretty average – Les Invisibles (Invisible); The Sacred Family (La Sagrada Familia) – or were marred by too many weaknesses to be of any real interest – Distortion; Love; Une saison Sibelius – among others.