Blurred Boundaries

in 56th Karlovy Vary International FilmFestival

by Nada Azhari Gillon

“A wonderful festival in a charming city” or “some would say that this festival cannot be matched by any other.” These quotes stir the curiosity of those who attend the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in the Czech Republic for the very first time. The festival is held during the summer tourist period (July 1-9, 2022) when everyone likes travelling, especially in European countries. However, it is also a period that people who hate crowds may avoid. So, what will it be like when trade unions announce general strikes in some European airports? It turns out that long queues are an opportunity for someone like me, who is forced to succumb to human protest and machine failure, to catch a glimpse of what to expect at Karlovy Vary, and to discover an amazingly rich cinema programme for a festival in a city that is astonishing in its nature and cultural heritage.

On arrival the first challenge is to get a ticket to attend the opening film, the Italian drama Superheroes (Supereroi, 2021) directed by Paolo Genovese. With a touch of sadness, it tells the story of a couple that attempts to preserve the flame that is often extinguished in love relationships, but fate is on the lookout.

After the opening night, which is mostly attended by guests, the festival is completely open to the public, and all the Cristal Globe Competition’s films are screened daily in a large two storey hall that can accommodate 1,131 people. It is clearly evident that Karlovy Vary is not one of the festivals that suffers from a lack of audience! In each of its 12 halls which together offer 3,200 seats daily, there are always people waiting for any no shows, so that they can rush into the screening five minutes before the film starts to occupy a seat whose holder did not arrive on time. The sight of such a large cinema audience is a real pleasure, especially since very few leave the screening room before the end of the film. Nevertheless, some of the films participating in the two main competitions, Crystal Globe and Proxima succeeded in exhausting this patient audience, who usually expresses their admiration with enthusiasm and warm applause.

Each of these two competitions included twelve films, five of which from Eastern European countries such as the Czech Republic, Poland, Bulgaria and Croatia, while the others came from Iran, Brazil, Argentina, Canada, Spain, Germany, Greece, and Austria. Czech cinema was strongly represented with two films in each competition. The Proxima competition was introduced this year as an alternative to a previous section that was devoted to Eastern European films. The organizers acknowledged that their mission to introduce this cinema through the Karlovy Vary Festival has been completed, and that many other festivals and new means of communication are now showing Eastern European films. As a result, they decided to open up the competition to other countries as well. However, the boundaries between the two main competitions are now blurred, despite the fact that Proxima – in the eyes of the organizers – is more devoted to artistic cinema that does not hesitate to experiment with an innovative cinematic language in terms of form and content.

 As for The Crystal Globe, its films are geared more towards a wider audience. However, the differences are still not completely tangible, as there are films that participated in this competition that may have been shown in the Proxima section according to the definition of this competition, such as The Ordinaries (2022) by German director Sophie Linnenbaum. While the story of the film focuses on actors doomed to supporting roles, the style of this film is far from ordinary. Unfortunately though, everything in this movie feels stifling and heavy: the direction, the atmosphere and the characters. Also, the Greek film Silence 6-9 (Isihia 6-9, 2022) by Christos Passalis could have competed in Proxima with its strange dream-like world. In this story, Ares and Anna meet one evening in a half-deserted town surrounded by antennas and magnetic stripes. In this mesmeric atmosphere and striking visuals, two solitary souls gradually develop the feelings of a melancholic love story.

Some of the competition awards came as a surprise such as the Grand Prize for the Canadian-Iranian film Summer with Hope (Tabestan Ba Omid, 2022) by Sadaf Foroughi. The film was produced by Canada but shot in Iran. It deals with prohibitions, suggesting a homosexual relationship between a young man and a swimming coach, that provokes anger in their society and causes a crime in a tourist coastal city. This topic attracted attention to a film that was certainly not the most mature or the deepest one on offer. One of them was the Czech-Polish film The Borders of Love (Hranice Iasky, 2022) by Polish director Tomasz Winskyi, who won the critics’ FIPRESCI award. It tells the story of an extra-marital sexual experiences with the knowledge and consent of the usual partner, in an attempt to probe the strength of the couple. This experiment of sexual freedom reaches to the unexpected conclusion that there are limits that shouldn’t be crossed, since those who do so will be extremely sorry.

However, the Special Jury Prize winner, You Have to Come and See It (Teneis que venir a verla, 2022), by Spanish director Jonas Trueba is a masterful mix of soulful cinematic miniatures which don’t require long hours (64 minute) to convey profound, existential feelings infused with enchanting melancholy and gentle humour. The Georgian film A Room of My Own (Chemi otakhi, 2022) by Loseb Bliadze is about a young woman, Tina, who has lost her way in life, but when she rents a room from the vibrant Meiji, she gradually begins to discover herself, life, love and sex in contemporary Tbilisi. Both actresses, Taki Mumladze and Mariam Khundadze, deserved the acting award for it.

The prize for the best director was won by a film with a topic that stands in contrast to other films mainly focused on individual freedom and sexuality. In this Czech film, The Word (Slovo, 2022), Beata Parkanova returns to the past, describing the party’s oppression and pressure on a small-town notary known for his uprightness, who is put through a difficult ordeal for himself and his family after he preferred to resist for the sake of his principles. It is an intimate drama about the power of the word “no” in the face of oppression. Actor Martin Finger won a deserved acting award.

The Proxima Special Jury Prize went to a Spanish-Argentine film, La La pieta (La piedad, 2022) directed by Eduardo Casanova, while Art Talent Show (Zkouska umení, 2022) directed by Adela Komrzy and Tomas Bojar won the Proxima Grand Prix as well as the FIPRESCI award. This film addresses several questions: How does one access artistic talent? What role does art play in today’s world? It is an observational documentary film that is also a portrait of an institution as the directors decided to film the exams in three studios at Prague’s Academy of Fine Arts.

Nada Azhari Gillon
Edited by Pamela Jahn