First Works: Cinema's Not Dead

in 28th Festroia International Film Festival

by Furio Fossati

The First Works section introduces eleven titles, mostly from lesser-known film industries. The award went to ”Kauwboy” by Dutch director Boudewijn Koole. The film is experienced through the eyes and feelings of a ten-year-old boy who spends his life waiting for his mother, a country singer, to return from a long tour of the US. He decides to make her a present for her upcoming birthday, and when he finds a stray little bird, he takes care of it and raises it in secret from his father. Koole cleverly depicts the protagonist’s loneliness in a positive way, observing the boy change, along with the bird, into the father he feels he lacks, and filling in for the absent mother. But pain will eventually unite all the characters. Praise goes to the lead actors Rick Lens and Loek Peters.

”Night Boats” (”Nocni brodovi”), directed by the 47-year-old Croatian Igor Mirkovic, a journalist and documentarist, gently tells the story of a senile love affair which begins within the walls of a retirement home. Helena is attached to her husband’s memory, while Jakov is a lonely man, a former jazz player, who makes his living as a cab driver. They like each other, and plan to travel to the sea and start a new life in Italy. Nice work, but sometimes implausible.

”Apartment in Athens” (”Appartamento ad Atene”) is a pretentious work starring Laura Morante and directed by Italian Ruggero Dipaola. Set in Athens in 1943, it tells the story of a once-wealthy family whose apartment is confiscated and given to a German captain. The husband is very obliging, the wife hardly speaks, the ten-year-old son cannot get over the invasion of his house by a stranger, and the twelve-year-old daughter is not indifferent to enticements from the German officer. The film is based on true events, which are depicted without originality or emotion.

”Into the Dark” (”Inn i mørket”), a Norwegian film directed by Thomas Wangsmo, could be labeled as a thriller, but also as a noir or comedy. While driving home with his son at night on a slippery road, a man runs over a boy on a bike. The boy’s parents are their neighbors and friends. It is a tragic accident, but when the father of the injured boy finds out that the driver was using his mobile phone, he tries in vain to get justice via a lawsuit. The film is dramatic and intense with its wintery setting, but the depiction of the characters is quite unconvincing.

”We Are Not Alone” (”Anachnu Lo Levad”) is directed by Lior Har-Lev, a cinephile who embeds the film with quotations from his favorite movies. A classic comedy, it tells the story of a featureless security guard who works in a shopping center and believes an ancient prophecy predicting the end of the world within a few days, listing Easter Island as the only safe haven. The guard spends all his savings for the journey, but when he is set to leave he meets a shoplifter and falls in (requited) love with her. Now he has to choose between love and survival. Certainly not an original film, but it is competent.

”Stockholm East” (”Stockholm Östra”) is by the Swedish director Simon Kaijser da Silva, who often works for television. A man runs down a little girl on a bike, killing her. Cleared of all charges, he still feels uneasy. A year later he meets the girl’s mother, who doesn’t know him, and a strange affair starts between them. When she finds out who the man really is, she is already pregnant with his child. The disturbing element is how this unwanted pregnancy is dealt with: the failed abortion, the woman’s lies to her husband. It could surely have been handled better.

”Mary and Johnny” is a Swiss film produced for less than 200,000 euros and with a lot of passion by Samuel Schwarz and Julian M. Grünthal. The film is a river of people, shouting, music, and startled images, showing a Switzerland which is far from conformist. This is an imperfect work but very interesting: debut films exist to let new directors try out daring new approaches to narrative. The story is set in Zurich in 2010, just before the final World Cup football match. Among the audience is a couple: a man who has just lost his job, and a woman who wants to see the match. They lose each other in the confusion, forever.

”Behold the Lamb” tells the story of a father who, in order to avoid the killing of his heroin-addicted son by ugly mugs, agrees to make a drug run with his son’s addict girlfriend. Tragicomic and unsettling adventures ensue as they drive across Northern Ireland. The adventure will lead them to a sheep, who will provide the key to the whole story. Irish director ”John McIlduff”, making his debut feature, has spent years directing theatrical comedies and operas in the UK, France and Italy. He has a particularly intense style of direction.

”A Trip” (”Izlet”) proves that the Slovak film industry can come up with interesting artists like the 27-year-old Nejc Gazvoda, who is well-known in his country as a scriptwriter for theatre and movies. Three youngsters, friends from high school, plan a holiday to the seaside before facing life on their own. The beautiful Ziva is going to study abroad, Gregor is a professional soldier on his way to Afghanistan, and Andrej is a young gay man who hates everybody. Soon their tight bonds collapse, mostly because the first two friends fall in love with each other, and the third can’t stand to be even more lonely. Nice work, well acted and directed.

”A Family of Three” (”Tage die bleiben”) depicts ways to face bereavement within a family. Andrea is a well-known fiction writer who dies in a car crash. Her husband lives in guilt because he was cheating on her, the son returns home after an argument with his father, and the teenage daughter can’t stand all the drama. At first they are detached from each other, but finally they succeed in being a family again. Poorly directed by German filmmaker Pia Strietmann, this film doesn’t go where it needs to emotionally.

”My Name is Ki” (”Ki”) is a good Polish film directed by Leszek Dawid; Dawid has previously directed documentaries, and brings that style of editing to this film. Ki is a young woman who decides to leave the father of her three-year-old son to start a new life. She is immature, and would risk coming to a bad end if not for meeting her new roommate Miko, a serious man who is not overwhelmed by the young woman’s exuberance. Miko is patient and able to become a friend and father to the child, as well as offering the woman love and safety. As the title character, Roma Gasiorowska is very good.

Edited by Lesley Chow