"Open Zone"

in 22nd Stockholm Film Festival

by Blagoja Kunovski

With all respect to the Main Competition of the Stockholm Film Festival, the parallel program “Open Zone” was made up of much better films, due to the fact that it was predominantly a selection from the world’s three leading festivals: Cannes, Berlin and Venice. The domination of Cannes was obvious, stemming from the fact that this year’s Cannes was one of the best in recent years — and this automatically had a strong impact on the Open Zone’s general quality.

Let’s have a look at the films from Cannes.

This Must Be the Place was one of the best in the Cannes Competition, and together with the previous Il Divo is the best of the new Italian cinema’s very talented director Paolo Sorrentino. Sean Penn as ex-rock star has given a refreshingly new performance in this pan-American on-the-road trip, and cinematographer Lucca Bigazzi is at his best ever.

Drive was a surprising winner for best direction in Cannes for another talented director, the Dane Nicolas Winding Refn, and again, visual atmosphere was very effective in this film of neo-noir suspense thanks to cinematographer Newton Thomas Sigel.

Le Havre, a new great film by leading Finnish auteur Aki Kaurismaki, which has the motto “Liberty, equality, fraternity”, makes an indirect cynical comment on EU paranoia and makes a great point about humanity on the ground of Sarkozy’s France today. Le Havre is a new proof of cinematographer Timo Salminen’s mastery in creating specific colour and visual atmosphere.

The Kid with a Bike (Le gamin au vélo) is another typical auteur’s observation by the Dardenne brothers, who are dedicated to the everyday lives of outsiders, taking into account the moral and social elements of contemporary society. The contribution of cinematographer Alain Marcoen is also evident.

The Skin I Live In (La piel que habito) is a new instance of Almodovar’s auteur hand, now more as homage to the great Hitchcock with elements of sci-fi à la Cronenberg, and again visual colour by cinematographer Jose Luis Alcain.

The Source (La source des femmes) by Radu Mihaileanu — a Romanian based in Paris — brings new hope for the possible emancipation of women in a fanatical and patriarchal Muslim world, done in a playful comic-dramatic way with original ethnic dancing and singing.

From Cannes Certain Regard several film were also selected for Stockholm’s “Open Zone”.

The opening film Restless by Gus Van Sant has the life-and-death existential subject of a lost young generation and again fertile collaboration with cinematographer Harris Savides.        The Snows of Kilimanjaro (Les neiges du Kilimandjaro) is a new moral-critical drama by French auteur Robert Guediguian.

Loverboy is the second film of talented director Catalin Mitulescu from the new Romanian cinema, which was an inspiration for the official poster for the Stockholm Festival, its dangerous love in keeping with the festival’s general motto.

From this year’s Berlinale Main Competition Innocent Saturday (V subbotu), the second feature of Russian writer-director Aleksandr Mindadze, was selected for Stockholm’s Open Zone. Its post-Chernobyl drama turns on the dilemma of a young couple as to whether to stay or leave.

Berlinale’s Panorama offered Suicide Room (Sala samobójców), the second feature of 30-year-old Polish auteur Jan Komasa, who as part of the Facebook generation observes in a kind of structural comic-book manner the degeneration of the young generation at the hands of the post-communist turned-capitalist Polish society.

The Guard came to Stockholm as a Sundance discovery. Its director John Michael McDonagh was awarded with a Best Debut mention in the Panorama for his irresistible Irish black humour on the subject of drug smuggling, with an inspiring performance by Brendan Gleeson as a small-town Irish cop.           This year’s Venice Mostra was also quite inspirational for the Open Zone selectors, so they chose the following five films.

The new Cronenberg film A Dangerous Method is a love-triangle story set amid the rivalry of he creators of psychoanalysis Jung and Freud. It displays the mastery of cinematographer Peter Suschitzky.

After a very successful debut with the film The Bands Visit the Israeli auteur Eran Kolirin again shows his talent with a psycho-drama of contemporary alienation in Israeli society, The Exchange (Hahithalfut).

The second film by Chinese director Shangjun Cai, People Mountain People Sea (Ren shan ren hai)is anuncompromisingcritical observationof the price paid by the present Chinese state, seriously contaminated by the evil ofcapitalistic logic where for money the life of the human being becomes an object of dangerous Machiavellianism.

After Respiro, Italian director Emanuele Crialese returns with another sea/island story, this time in the form of an award-winning film at Venice, Terraferma. It is a moral drama about a Sicilian family faced with the arrival of African immigrants who are offensively treated by the Italian officials, the police especially. In approach, it is close to that of Kaurismaki’s in Le Havre.

Finally, our Fipresci Prize winner was Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which has as its basic inspiration the novel of acclaimed author John Le Carre, helped by the script-writing duo of Peter Straughan and Bridget O’Connor. Swedish director Tomas Alfredson has highly proved his talent in making a typical genre political thriller, in which richness is achieved by an excellent cast and visual perfection created by the talented cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema.

Apart from the films dominantly selected from Cannes, Berlin and Venice, in Stockholm’s Open Zone were three films from very important directors.

The Lady by Luc Besson, In Darkness by Agnieszka Holland and Rebellion (L’ordre et la morale) by Mathieu Kassovitz are all based on real historical facts. In the film The Lady, Besson is inspired by the tragic and absurd life story of Burmese political figure Aung San Suu Kyi, who sacrificed her freedom and life during long-lasting house arrest, with an uncertain outcome in an autocratic and oppressive military state.

Not since Kanal (1957) by Polish veteran director Wajda has a film been made that evokes so strongly the evil of the Second World War — that is until now in the form of Polish director Agneska Holland’s In Darkness. Dealing with the Holocaust, it portrays this evil as total life darkness. All the actors give stunningly performances, with almost documentary-style identification. The hellish atmosphere is created with visual perfection by cinematographer Jolanta Dylewska, as a kind of black-and-white in colour photography, reminiscent of what Jerzy Lipman created in the film Kanal.

The third film Rebellion (L’ordre et la morale) is a successful return of Mathieu Kassovitz, who has reconstructed real events in French New Caledonia, when the special forces brutally shut down the uprising of Kanuk Aborigines by killing the partisan rebels.

Finally, the come-back of local director Kjell-Ake Andersson with his film Somewhere Else (after a break of 15 years) is also successful. Inspired from the novel by Hans Gunnarsson, who also wrote the script, Andersson with black humor introduces us to the alienated, morally degenerated world of the people living in a Swedish province.