Looking Through the Spines

in 17th Festival del Cinema Europeo, Lecce

by Giuseppe Sedia

The European Film Festival celebrated its 17th edition, a number that is considered unlucky in Italian. XVII could be indeed re-ordered to “VIXI”, which in Latin means “I have lived”. However, regardless of local superstition, the event directed by Alberto La Monica and Cristina Soldano has proved itself to be alive and kicking once again this year. Things could be even more favorable to the hosting city in the next years, once the “barocco leccese” architecture will be moved from UNESCO’s tentative list to the final listing as a World Heritage Site.

This year the program of the EFF could be easily compared to a sea urchin with a sweet but slightly briny core made from Western European comedies. The catwalk of comedy-makers included names such as Dietrich Bruggemann, Mikkel Norgaard, Alex van Warmerdam and the duo Jose Corbacho-Juan Cruz who all reached Lecce for Q&A sessions with the public.

Bruggemann’s Heil (2015), a political fiction set in the neo-Nazi milieu, overflowing with witty expedients, is certainly a movie worth mentioning. The Berlin-based director’s most recent film departs from the tormented and profound screenplay penned for Stations of the Cross (Kreuzweg, 2014), a film that received much kudos at the Berlinale. Heil stages a fake invasion of Germany from the Polish border to create a casus belli needed to re-enact the beginning of World War II.

Poland was certainly in the thoughts of the festival programmers who put together two cinematic homages devoted to the recently deceased director Andrzej Zulawski and Krzysztof Zanussi; the latter also attended the festival at its initial stage. For the sake of cinephiles, EFF was granted a screener of the Locarno-awarded Cosmos (Kosmos, 2015), Zulawski’s first film in 15 years.

In his final masterstroke the Polish director has succeeded in bringing Witold Gombrowicz literature to the big screen where others cineastes failed. Do you remember Jerzy Skolimowski’s 30 Door Keys (Ferdydurke, 1991)? It was this cinematically weak adaptation of Gombrowicz’s novel that eventually convinced Skolimowski to take a 17-year break from filmmaking.

No wonder, hence, that the retrospective dedicated to Cristian De Sica focused almost entirely on his comic or “commedia all’italiana” roles. That said, the festival-goers were left with the impression that this mildness of flavor was somehow needed to counter-balance the spiny, sea urchin-like storytelling displayed in the solid and festival-esque dramas from the main competition.

Maybe this might be one of the reasons why the general audience rejected their thorniness and relied on gut feelings. The festival-goers indeed went on to give the Special Audience Award to the more accessible Hector (2015), a heart-warming Christmas movie about street homelessness directed by Jake Gavin. His debut feature film is centered on the annual migration of the eponymous character from Scotland to a London shelter.

To a certain degree, Gavin’s movie was certainly a foreign body in competition, but still less than Tolga Karacelik’s Ivy (Sarmasik, 2015), a hallucinated boat movie awarded by the Cineuropa jury and Lily Lane (Liliom ösvény, 2015), directed by Bence Fliegauf. The Hungarian cineaste was eventually awarded the Golden Olive Tree after being nominated for the main EFF prize in the past with the Dealer (2004).

Yes, sometimes talents return to Lecce. Lily Lane shows how Fliegauf has managed to unfetter himself once and for all from the legacy of Béla Tarr’s filmmaking aesthetic. Moreover, Fliegauf’s small daughter holding the statuette on the stage at the presence of her father during the award ceremony was one of the most memorable festival moments.

Edited by Steven Yates