Family Life By Jan Foll

in 42nd Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Jan Foll

In this year’s high quality Karlovy Vary Competition many of the films told the story of intergenerational misunderstandings and family crises. The Russian film Simple Things which won the FIPRESCI Prize introduced the picture of a post-totalitarian society where ordinary people still tackle existential problems, which are unthinkable for today’s western world. The hero of the film is a metropolitan doctor who lives with his wife and daughter in a partitioned flat. The actor Sergej Puskepalis won the Grand Jury prize for Best Actor for his portrayal of a cunning stoic stuck in a vicious circle of a poorly paid job and unfilled ambitions. When the anesthetist’s wife is expecting another baby, he becomes a personal nurse to an aging actor. It is the actor who presents him with an enticing offer of how to become rich. He should carry out euthanasia on this terminally ill person.

The center line of this story, which Alexej Popogrebsky shot based on his own screenplay, is the confrontation of two self-centered men. The moody actor Leonid Bronevoy (Special Prize given by the Grand Jury) lives quite luxuriously, bitterly recalling his lost popularity looking for someone who would ease his last days. The doctor is seeking meaningful things in his life.

A raw confirmation about another post-socialist country with deep social differences is pictured in a Polish competition film Saviour’s Square. The break-up of a young couple which nearly ends up with a tragedy is started by a delusion concerning a new flat. The married couple with two children is suddenly penniless. They have to share a flat with a domineering mother who in good faith turns the life of her daughter-in-law into hell. The conflict gets sharper and sharper and it climaxes when reckless Bartek finds a lover. His helpless wife becomes a wreck who tries to deal with her worries and degradation. This well-built and convincingly acted social ballad has an absurd sequel at the court where the heroine might be sentenced to fifteen years of prison. The final twist of the story is a bit of a speculation, however the film functions as a warning on the segregation of men and women and on the devastation of values in the consumer jungle.

The truth that family tragedies affect even a traditionally capitalistic society might be seen in the Spanish competition film Pudor (David & Tristán Ulloa). The content of the film is suggested by the equivocal title: “pudor” meaning “bashfulness” but also “smell”. In the story from contemporary Madrid this term symbolizes the oppressive atmosphere in one family consisting of members of several generations. The father struggles with the fact that he is terminally ill. His partner (Elvira Minguez won the Best Actress Award) suffers an erotic passion; the teenage daughter becomes the black sheep of the school due to her sexual orientation… Even though some of the motives of the film sound a bit scabrous, as a whole the film is a thoughtfully and adroitly shot statement about the collapse of communication between people, slightly resembling Bergman’s The Silence (Tystnaden).

Misunderstandings between the closest family members (especially between fathers and adult daughters!) reappeared in other films of this year’s Karlovy Vary competition section; for example in a simple, however professionally done and brilliantly played French film Conversations with my Gardener (Dialogue avec mon jardinier, Jean Becker). A film about friendship, wisdom and all forms of creation. But also in the winning Icelandic thriller Jar City where a hard-bitten detective tries to help his daughter escape from the clutches of narcotic hell.