Mission: Not Impossible – Palm Springs Audiences

in 15th Palm Springs International Film Festival

by Blanka Elekes Szentagotai

There are certainly many ways to describe the Californian city of Palm Springs, among them the most common being the town where the rich and famous play and die. One might expect such a community to dismiss and ignore anything lesser. But quite the contrary, Palm Springs audiences seem to be most open to all those things that are strange and unfamiliar to them. And their annual international film festival with its brave program composing, that includes as many as possible of the year’s foreign language Oscar submissions, gives them exactly what they want. And the social, financial, obvious and less-than-obvious couldn’t be any bit more remarkable.

Arriving in your black Sedan or a rented limo, it’s probably difficult to even imagine it that people can fit in cars as small as Mahmut, the divorced photographer of Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Distant uses to get around. A well audible sound of surprise and utter disbelief runs across the audience when Hamo, the retired and widowed Red Army officer of Armenian Oscar submission, Vodka Lemon actually puts it in words that all he’s got to spend a month is USD 10, an amount that doesn’t even pay for a burger and a Coke in Palm Springs. And especially what’s the big deal about a Clinton visit in Pjer Zalica’s Fuse from Bosnia-Herzegovina?

Bolivian Oscar submission Sexual Dependency’s loudly open sexual references could even get a bit overwhelming for even much younger audiences with the same going for the Chilean entry, Andrés Waissbluth’s The Debutants with its sexually explicit presentation of the Santiago lowlife.

As the old cliché says having children in a film will not only win you prizes, will also win you the love of the audience. This naturally is much more difficult to achieve when a director opts for showing the suffering of children, especially in such strong productions as the Swedish submission, Mikael Hafström’s Evil, Stijn Coninx’s Sea of Silence from Belgium or Dagur Kári’s Nói from Iceland.

Possibly even more difficult to understand and appreciate are some of the program’s Asian titles, such as Kim Ki-duk’s Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring which with its wordless way of storytelling couldn’t be more different from what these audiences are used to from watching Hollywood productions. The bittersweet love story of Last Life in the Universe, director Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s beautifully shot film from Thailand is also not your everyday romance but the audiences were able to appreciate its quiet beauty and gentle storytelling. Award-winning The Return also doesn’t satisfy fully the overseas audiences with its secretive ways, most importantly with the fact that it never shares the secret of the at-last-found box with the viewers.

With all these to overcome while watching films, the interest and determination of the Palm Springs audiences is nothing short of admirable. And if you consider that we are talking about nearly eighty thousand admissions, it’s obvious that this is a festival with a job and a mission well done.