Deranged families and gripping stories

in 27th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival

by Tõnu Karjatse

New directorial and acting talents in BNFF debuts competition

Estonian writer and director Eeva Mägi is a new talent to keep an eye on, as her debut film Mo Mamma stuck in mind even after watching all the other entries in the first feature competition at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival BNFF.  As Jean Renoir has written, a picture is a state of mind – it is the result of some inner belief which is so strong that you have to show what you want inspite of a silly story or any difficulty concerning the commercial side of the picture. Starting in the middle of a crisis between the two protagonists, Mo Mamma (which can be translated as “My Mummy”) is not easy to watch nor does it provide a simple path into the characters. It’s a story of two women on an island, estranged mother and daughter, who are forced to face each other and a common future after the death of the grandmother. Eeva Mägi leads the audience through a puzzling and even deranged state of mind to making peace and new harmony between the protagonists, bringing out memories of works by Ingmar Bergman and Athina Rachel Tsangari. It was clearly a personal story for Mägi who also produced the film. In each and every episode it was obvious how thoroughly she grasped the subject. Mo Mamma might not achieve great commercial succcess in movie theatres, but it surely demonstrates a new strong voice in European art-house cinema.

Most good films need a good screenplay, a gripping story to start with. Iranian director Kaveh Daneshman presented in Tallinn his first feature Endless Summer Syndrome (Le syndrome de l’été sans fin) that included both an exiting tale and quite a complex screenplay, which he also co-wrote.  The film unfolds as a thriller taking place during the annual vacance in a countryside house in Southern France, where four members of a well off family spend their summer holiday. The idyllic picture turns upside down when mother gets an anonymous call informing her of an ongoing sexual relationship between her husband and one of their adopted teenage kids. There’s nothing new in the topic but in the dramaturgical structure is full of unexpected turns and points of view, even after the truth of the matter is revealed midway. There’s not only the question of who, but also what will happen next, and is there any way out of it. Actress Sophie Colon in her film debut creates a superb character of a middle aged wife who decides to take control of the complex situation. Colons’ portrayal of the character draws comparisons with Olivia Colman and anyone who’ll see the film may agree that the comparison is not far fetched. Furthermore,  Endless Summer Syndrome is a good example of the opportunities and outcomes of the situation when directors coming from totally different cultural background have a chance to make movies in Western countries.

Argentinian filmmakers Romina Tamburello’s and Federico Actis’ playful Vera and the Pleasure of Others (Vera y el placer del os otros) presents another new acting talent, Luciana Grasso.  She has already performed in some productions, but her leading role as 17-year old Vera discovering her sexuality and breaking the boundaries of adolescence contributed to the strong impression left by the film. Tamburello’s and Actis’ flowing direction gave this somewhat kinky film a youthful energy and freshness.

It was a pleasure to see so many strong new talents in the Black Nights Film Festival debute competition. It shows that despite the numerous festivals and competitions each year there’s always fine new talents to discover and exciting stories to tell. The strong competition programs in the festival also demonstrate the diversity of contemporary cinema and professionality of the festival’s programming team.

Tõnu Karjatse
Edited by Yael Shuv