Festroia 2012: An Overview

in 28th Festroia International Film Festival

by Michel Euvrard

Whatever the reason – simply the programmer’s personal interest, or a national concern for the future, or the presumed sensibility of the audience – children and adolescents played leading parts in several films of the main section: Olivier Ringer’s ”On the Sly”, Metod Pevec’s ”Good Night, Missy”, Katrin Laur’s ”The Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter”, Ella Lernhagen’s ”The Crown Jewels”, Rudolf van den Berg’s ”Suskind” and Markus Imboden’s ”Foster Boy”. All of these young actors performed well, and Max Hubacher, the accordion player in ”Foster Boy”, was awarded the Best Actor prize by the official jury.

Several films adopted what I would call a “middle of the road realism”, characteristic of TV films and devoid of personal style, vision or point of view; this was unfortunately the case, I think, with ”The Graveyard Keeper’s Daughter”, ”Love is Love”, and even ”Suskind”. The latter was a heavy-handed treatment of a “heavy” subject: the rounding-up of Jews in the Netherlands prior to their deportation, and the part played in the process by the Jewish Council set up by the German occupiers.

”Naked Harbour” by Finnish director Ako Louhimies and ”The Crown Jewels” by Swedish director Ella Lemhagen are two ambitious choral films which attempt to combine realism and fantasy and to weave together several stories. For this spectator at least, neither film quite succeeds, for lack of a coherent vision and style.

Branko Schmidt, the director of ”Vegetarian Cannibal”, warned that he takes a desperate view of the present state of Croatian society. “When the very bloody war for the independence of Croatia ended,” he says in a September 26 interview with the Festival paper, “we all expected Croatia would be a better country … but things turned out different. The only way of life that now exists is materialistic; there is nothing spiritual, only money, position and career matter … That has spread depression through the whole country and people don’t see any hope … Guys like the main character of my film are now ruling Croatia.”

This character, Danko Babic, is a gynecologist who performs illegal abortions on prostitutes at the request of the local sex and drug king, under the protection of corrupt policemen. A blond, handsome, energetic and brutal seducer, increasingly dependent on alcohol and drugs, he nonetheless gets elected director of the clinic; his colleagues – with the exception of a Turk on a limited appointment – are equally corrupt, only less flamboyant and driven.

Danko, an entirely repulsive character who literally gets away with murder, has no counterpart in the film, and the description of the local society is entirely negative. This is unsatisfactory not only from an ethical perspective but – just as importantly – from an aesthetic, cinematographic point of view; it produces not empathy, not revolt, but disgust and despair.

In Peter Kristúfek’s Slovakian film ”The Visible World”, Olivier is an air traffic controller — someone who watches the sky. Since he lost his girlfriend in a car crash, he has cut himself off from the world, society and human contact. He spends his spare time alone in his apartment and watches his neighbors through powerful binoculars.

But although he cultivates solitude, he sleeps with women when the opportunity occurs. Yet these are strictly one-night stands; when the woman wants to prolong the relationship, he breaks off violently, confirming the apprehension caused by his voyeuristic obsession.

”The Foster Boy” (”Der Verdinbub”) is a solid work of Swiss social realism. It describes the living and working conditions of poor mountain farmers in the early part of the 20th century, as experienced by Max and Berteli, the orphan boy and girl placed, through the local clergyman, in a foster home.

The work is hard, the food spare; on his return from military service, the farmer’s son makes life harder still for Max, and even more so for Berteli, whom he rapes. But Max is given an accordion, and it will change his life; he is a born musician who plays at balls and the local dance hall. Above all he sees a hope of escaping the farm and the orphanage, of making a living and seeing the world. Music leavens the naturalistic dough of the film, bringing a glimmer of light into its somber universe.

In the Slovenian film ”Good Night, Missy” by Metod Pevec, Hannah (Polona Juh) and her husband Sam seem to have it all: their own house, a lovable daughter, and interesting, well-paying careers. Yet Hannah has a feeling that Sam is preparing to fall in love and tells him so. He denies it, although he is indeed starting an affair with a colleague of his wife, who spies them together in the street.

Hannah packs a suitcase and returns to her mother. However, since she and Sam had planned to take their daughter on a skiing holiday during the school break, they agree that Hannah should take her. When Hannah and her daughter arrive at the chalet, nothing works: no light, no heat. Just in time, Leo, an old flame of Hannah’s who has never lost hope, appears, fixes the electricity and the heating, and sleeps with Hannah.

Later, back in the city, Sam and Hannah go to a gallery opening, where Hannah sees Leo making out with a desirable young woman. She concludes that he is just as flighty as Sam and that she had better be content with things as they are!

This is an elegant film which takes cues from the American comedies of remarriage of the 30s and 40s. It also echoes, one generation later, some French films of the 60s and 70s – for instance, the comedies of Michel Deville. With help from the sunny, airy personality of Polona Juh, the director keeps the film light. ”Good Night, Missy” was awarded the FIPRESCI jury prize.

Srdjan Dragojevic’s ”The Parade”, a Serbian/Croatian/Macedonian/Slovenian co-production, depicts the double preparation for a first-ever Gay Pride parade in an anonymous Serbian city and for the wedding ceremony of Lemon (Nikola Kojo), mafioso owner of a security agency, with the gorgeous Pearl (Hristina Popovic).

Because the gay veterinarian Radmillo (Milos Samolov) saved his sick dog, Lemon agrees to ensure the protection of the gay parade, but his homophobic henchmen refuse the job. Lemon therefore does the rounds of his former civil war enemies – a Croatian, a Bosnian Muslim, a Kosovo Albanian – all stout drinkers and blasphemers joined by common memories, who accept the job and celebrate their reunion with plentiful toasts and cheers.  Both the marriage and the parade are a chaotic mixture of violence, kitsch and farce, with no serious damage and a good time had by all.

”The Parade” is an outrageously funny film; it revives the spirit of the Central European surrealist avant-gardes of the 20s and 30s, and it maintains a sane approach to defusing a highly controversial subject in a fiercely homophobic country. It won the public’s prize at Festroia.

This year’s program, with its section on Croatia and a look at the prizewinning films of previous years, highlights the particular attention that Festroia pays to the national cinemas of Central Europe (Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Poland, the several republics of the former Yugoslavia, etc) and Northern Europe (Finland, Sweden, the Baltic states), whose films are unlikely to get regular distribution in Portugal. It is a courageous policy. It remains to be seen whether these countries will be capable of producing, year in year out, films worthy of being shown at Festroia, or whether the Setúbal audience will remain steadfast no matter what!

Edited by Lesley Chow