Mediterranean Cinema

in 25th Valencia Film Festival

by Ronald Bergan

The Cinema del Mediterrani in Valencia, which welcomed a FIPRESCI jury for the first time in many years, celebrated its 25th anniversary this year. I wonder, however, how many people have asked the questions: ‘Why Mediterranean cinema?’ And ‘What is Mediterranean cinema?’

Both questions are difficult to answer. What purpose does a festival of films restricted to Mediterranean countries serve? One could make a case for a festival of Third World cinema, which gives poorer countries a higher profile and gives them recognition in these extremely difficult times for non-commercial cinema). There are also other specialised festivals such as Black African, Gay and Lesbian, Jewish and Women’s film festivals, where again the reasons behind them are clear and, although wide-ranging, are easy to define. But how can one define Mediterranean cinema that covers all the following countries that were represented in the official competition this year: Albania, Bosnia, Serbia, Italy, Morocco, Tunisia, Israel, Palestine, Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, France, Spain, Portugal, Syria and Turkey? What have all these countries in common?

One thing that is clear in watching most of them is that the weather is good and many of them have beautiful seascapes. This often offers some visual compensation in bad films. At least one can enjoy the sun-drenched scenery when there is little else to occupy the mind. However, when the film is as bad as the Spanish melodrama Aquitania, set among the vineyards in the country around Valencia, or the Italian fiasco Il Fuggiasco, which moved from Italy to France to Spain to Mexico, not even the most beautiful Mediterranean scenery can compensate. Nevertheless, when the landscape is part of the story as in the Albanian film Moonless Nights – two characters try to swim for freedom from their country during Communism – or in Thirst (Atash) from Palestine where getting water is a matter of life and death, or in Mud (Cyprus) where the earth is health-giving and hides treasures, then one gets a feeling for the region.

There also seems to be more urgently political themes, mainly from the ex-Yugoslavian countries where borders have divided people, mainly seen in Fuse (Bosnia) and Witnesses (Croatia). Perhaps that is what most of these Mediterranean countries share – the conflicts between different ethnic groups. But whether they share enough to have a festival of their own, however enjoyable, is something that can be debated for the next 25 years.