Hope and Expectations

in 58th Mannheim-Heidelberg International Film Festival

by Alexander Grozev

The authority of the Mannheim Film festival has been cultivated quite carefully through the years with the ambition that its cinematographic events would generate creative energy and would become a jumping point for the professional careers of young talents. Many big name filmmakers have begun their road toward world fame with an award from the Mannheim Film Festival.

It is obvious then that every new edition of the Festival would generate well found hope and expectation for success. The program of the 58th Mannheim Film Festival offers a quite curious glimpse into the status of world cinema today. The selection committee has chosen interesting titles, where one can successfully intuit and identify the dynamics of contemporary cinema and its trends. Amidst the diversity of themes, styles and genre preferences, I would argue that several observations are a fact: the massive presence of women directors, the strong showcase of non-European filmmaking, and the high skill level and professionalism of first-time filmmakers. Among the films in the competition, I would like to distinguish three films, which, in my opinion, demonstrate not only the climax of the festival but also constitute undoubted artistic achievements, yet to be talked about.

Letters to Father Jaakob (Postia pappi Jaacobille) by Klaus Haro from Finland is a work of art, which draws its inspiration from the classical themes of Bergman’s psychological cinema. The strengths of the film are the skillful cinematography, the artful plasticity of the image, the powerful ensemble of actors, and, most importantly, the deep dramaturgic foundation on which the story was built. Under that specific story that serves the plot well, one can clearly appreciate the filmmaker’s talent at making his audience reflect on such existential topics as atonement and the fine line between compassion and faith in goodness. Without being didactic or showcasing simplistic morals, Klaus Haro depicts the complex inner changes in his characters, each and every one of them reaching the moment of repentance as the only way of understanding their motifs of action.

My Tehran for Sale by Granaz Moussavi is the total opposite of the abovementioned Finnish film. Unlike Letters to Father Jacob, My Tehran for Sale is direct in its political message and actively attacks the viewer’s perception with its single-mindedness with regard to facts. Under the surface of an everyday personal drama one can recognize the complex image of an entire society being mirrored; a society where basic freedoms and human rights are oppressed with downhearted perfidy. Naturally, the film evokes emotion, which has a direct political address. The film is a powerful artistic metaphor for the incompatibility and inability of co-existence for violence and human free will. The film is a clearly formulated civic verdict of a doomed political regime.

The Last Season: Shawaks (Demsala Dawi: Sewaxan) by Kazim Oz is among the most memorable films in the festival’s competition. Fully committed to a true to life aesthetic, this film’s author does not limit himself to simply depicting the nitty-gritty of a nomad tribal everyday life in painstaking realistic detail. This kind of factual correctness does permeate the film while creating its texture and building a feeling of cruel justice. Behind the simplicity of the story however, the filmmaker invites the viewer to ponder the bigger ideas on the meaning of existence. The primitive way of life that nomads lead is just an excuse to portray the undoubtedly cumbersome weight that human existence can have, an existence shown as a battle of survival at its peak of cruelty, repetitiveness and irrationality. The proud beauty of Nature is in dramatic contrast with the primitive existence of the nomads who accept their everyday chores as an indelible part of the circle of life. heir pain and suffering are inseparable from their hope and faith in the goodness of what tomorrow may bring. These ideas are depicted masterfully, with minimal dialogue, remarkable camera work and organic editing.

Understandably, the above three films do not exhaust the diversity of the Competition Program. They represent however, in a number of ways, a synthesis of the most compelling artistic finds of this year’s 58th Mannheim Film festival.

Edited by Tara Judah