In Thessaloniki as in Rome

in 45th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Umberto Rossi

It seems as if the whole world is just one country. Every time that the right reaches power somewhere, the list of purges is immediately slapped on the table, announcing the elimination of this journalist, or the demise of yet another cultural organizer who is not prepared to bow dutifully to the new power. It doesn’t matter that these people have done a great job and were highly esteemed around the world, they’re automatically condemned when they do not conform uncritically to the decisions of the new oligarchs. The Italian journalists know something about such things, and everyone involved in corporate organizations, cultural institutes, film festivals – including Venice – can confirm it.

The same thing happens in Greece, where it seems certain that director Michel Demopoulos will be forced to resign and leave the Festival of Thessaloniki. Things have reached such a point that Theo Angelopoulos, president of this prestigious festival, confirmed his own decision to resign if this indeed happens. No wonder, since Michel Demopoulos, a critic of French formation whose job is universally appreciated, had succeeded in lifting a modest national festival reserved to Hellenic films only, to the position of the most important Greek Festival with an efficient organization and a vast audience of students and film lovers.

His competitive programs for first works, and the sidebars presenting the best of the great festivals and retrospectives reserved to great directors, have been regularly praised everywhere. The future appears gray since the leading candidate to replace Demopoulos is a producer who intends to make more room to market professionals and movie-star glamour. Isn’t the same thing going on at the Mostra in Venice?

As for this year’s edition, two titles have received the greatest attention. The jury of the competitive section has chosen Khab and talkh (Bitter Dream) by the Iranian Mahsen Amiryoussefi. A semi-documentary about the life and the death of an official, at the ancient cemetery of Sedeh, whose most important chore is to wash the bodies of the deceased at the ancient cemetery of Sedeh. Next to him, there is a widow who takes care of the female corpses, a man who burns the clothes of the dead, and a grave digger. Their boss is an old man, violent and authoritarian, who uses physical punishment to discipline his staff, including the woman, whenever he thinks they are failing on the job.

Not that any of them is exemplary in any way. The person who is supposed to burn the clothes ransacks them instead; the grave digger takes long breaks smoking opium; and the woman does not hesitate to use her job to look for a new husband. The film is a portrait of a religious integrist, a man that finds shelter in the one absolute certainty of his faith. He does not care for the world around him, which he sees as infected by sin. The movie follows the film language made familiar by Abbas Kiarostami; Mohammad Reza-Delpak, who is in charge of the sound, has developed the same kind of approach from Taste of Cherry and The Wind Will Carry Us. Scenes showing characters – often frontally – address the camera, alternated with scenes of cemetery life.

The FIPRESCI jury preferred first-timer Liu Fendou’s Green Hat, which crosses the stories of two desperate loves. The film starts with the mass gatherings of the Red Guards, in the ’60s, merging personal emotions and history in parallel existential stories. The director displays a distinct personal touch and successfully managed to convey the pain of love being denied. Skillfully structured, the two variants of strong men defeated in their affections are effectively combined to render their important anger and frustration.

Umberto Rossi