Highlights from the 13th Festival By Cristina Trezzini

in 13rd Geneva Festival Tous Ecrans

by Cristina Trezzini

Franz + Polina is a striking film by Russian director Mikhail Segal, this gutsy and talented young filmmaker born in 1974, who after taking his first steps in commercials and video-clips now seems thoroughly bent on cultivating the poetic realism of the ‘classics’, enriching them with a contemporary touch. Based on a tale written by Ales Adamovich (1927-1994), Franz + Polina takes us to the Belarus of 1943, in a village occupied by a German SS unit. Its summertime, co-existence between the occupied and the occupiers seems almost possible and a young naive soldier, Franz, falls in love with the beautiful local farm woman Polina.

With baroque and sumptuous movements the camera follows the tender and clumsy courtship, the daily life of the contrived community that looks nearly oblivious to what is about to happen, swinging back and forth from the German Leni Riefenstahl-like mannerism to the Russian mastery of the Tarkovskian school. Two film-making styles, two worlds, and two cultures, two opposite fronts: only the innocence of the two new Romeo and Juliet can lead one to hope that they might find some kind of truce and reconcile. Their relationship can only remain devoid of verbal communication and the onset of winter and snow will chill any illusion and inexorably turn it into tragedy. The church bell sounds the death knell, the villages are razed to the ground and among the fleeing survivors there are the two young lovers as well: Franz, who must keep quiet to avoid being recognized as a German fascist, and Polina, guilt-ridden toward her partisan brothers. The acting performances by Adrian Topol and Svetlana Ivanova are very noteworthy.

Taken as a whole, the Competition, with its fifteen feature films from a dozen countries, picked out from around a thousand by Jasmin Basic, head of programming and deputy artistic director, did provide a few surprises. Happy New Life (Boldog ùj élet), the first feature film of the young Hungarian director Árpád Bogdán (let’s keep an eye on Bogdán and Segal!) manages with great expressive force to plunge the spectator into the painful universe of memories, dreams and emotions of an 18-year-old youngster of gypsy origins torn from his family at a tender age.

Chinese director Li Ying’s Mona Lisa (Meng na li sha) manages for almost two hours to keep up a surprising balance between fiction and documentary, giving us a look into an unusual China populated by strong, interesting and mysterious women. Also Marc Munden’s The Mark of Cain, a film chastising the British military presence in Iraq; To Love Someone (Den man älskar) by Swedish filmmaker Åke Sandgren, on the non-rationality of some love relationships; and Turkish director Özer Kiziltan’s Takva: A Man’s Fear of God (Takva) with a beautiful performance by Erkan Can, deals with religious faith caught between tradition and modern expression and presents us with rare scenes of collective Sufi prayer.