Punto de Encuentro, Meeting Ideas

in 58th Valladolid International Film Festival

by Furio Fossati

The Valladolid 58th SEMINCI presented a set of interesting movies, with some enjoyable surprises in Punto de encuentro (Meeting Point). Among the fifteen feature-length films nine were first works, six were second. In addition, thirteen of the competing short films were showed ahead of each of the screenings, and seven were presented in La noche del corto español (The night of the Spanish short).

The winner of the feature-length section was Wajma, an Afghan-French coproduction whose screenplay was awarded in the Sundance Festival.  Direction, writing, cinematography and music composition were all performed by the forty-seven-year-old Barmak Akram. The film deals with an issue related to the Afghan culture but develops in a much more western narrative structure — due to the fact that the director lived for years in Paris, where he graduated in Fine Arts. His first work Kabuli Kid (2008) was awarded with several prizes and was presented during the Mostra del Cinema di Venezia (International Venezia Film Festival). Akram is also a musician, performer and composer devoted to the exploration of Afghan culture and Persian poetry, and has become one of the most esteemed European researchers. The poetic sensitivity that he is able to instill grows from this very experience, giving birth to a film after a more than two years’ production, because he wanted it fully carved by his own hands, an offspring of his interpretation of communication and art.

It’s snowing in Kabul and a handsome waiter is flirting — without too much opposition — with a gorgeous student named Wajma. They start a hot-blooded clandestine relationship but they cannot forget the religious and social rules they are breaking, living their love with guilt. When the girl falls pregnant she is afraid that Mustafa will not marry her, although many people already know about their relationship. Her father is bound to choose between the safeguard of the pride of his family and the sincere love he feels for his daughter.

We’re not in front of a weepy drama, but a love story lived within a world, a situation, a reality far different from ours. Wajma Bahar and Mustafa Abdulsatar are very talented; the others draw consistently from their characters.

A very nice surprise was the Mexican Tercera llamada (Final Call), Francisco Franco’s second work, whose debut Quemar las naves (Burn the Bridges, 2007) was presented in the same section of the 52nd SEMINCI. Acting company director of the School of the Autonomous University of his hometown, Aguascalientes, Franco worked as assistant director before starting his career as an actor and director in theatrical productions. Such knowledge of the world of theatre comes out perfectly in this movie, which depicts the tragicomedy behind the wings of a comedy whose director wants it to be cutting-edge — to the point where he opted out of casting well-known actors that would have guaranteed profits. The philosophy of the film is all in this belief: theater is an act of faith. In order to make all things work, the actors, the director and the technicians must believe in what they’re doing.

A Mexican corporation is sponsoring the launch of Albert Camus’ Caligula in an international festival. A text that deals with a Roman emperor rendered and reshaped by a French existentialist, from the point of view of Mexican social issues and the social anxiety experienced in this period. Everything seems to be all set; then the director faces a marriage crisis; the female celebrity argues about her role being reduced to few lines; the young male celebrity is dismissed; the old actor is no longer able to memorize the text; the producer is more and more nervous and constantly drunk; and the displeased crew rent the set scenes to a gay bar. And to top it all off, Caligula is played by a woman who’s the daughter of a failed actress who has been off stage for years. Nevertheless the miracle happens, and everybody — with the spirit that only theatre is able to create — finds the will of working together while the curtain opens on a stage where nothing is set and all the workers keep on fighting. The presence of the audience creates the miracle, and two ladies of high society, commenting on the sudden hurly-burly surely not wanted by the director, say that it must be a modern work. Top-level actors, lots of laughter and drama ensue.  Sometimes conventional, the goody-goody ending maybe doesn’t hit the spot, but entertainment is guaranteed. Interesting is the director’s creative five minutes where she watches authentic footage in Italian about fascism — because her first idea was to create a Caligula between the Roman Empire and the Fascist Era.

Hide your Smiling Faces is a movie that makes you think, creates emotional tension, and also provides cues for personal examinations of conscience. The first work of director Daniel Patrick Carbone, son of Italians of third generation born in New Jersey, tells the story of a small community where everybody knows each other, and where even the smallest change in routine and habit is noticed and commented upon. Two brothers are forced to grow up too fast after the mysterious death of a friend. The accident has messed up the apparently quiet life of their hometown and upsets the relationships between the two brothers and their friends, in an awkward way, maybe illogical, hard to explain completely. After the tragic accident their family relations become suspicious, and this puts the nine and fourteen-year-old brothers together in an attempt to survive themselves, and others taking shelter in the nature that surrounds them. Nature acts as the glue that binds together every narrative situation: it can be a good mother and a bad one with no chance to escape from it. The bed of the river where the two brothers have discovered their friend’s corpse; the arch bridge hiding magical spaces in which the boys play dangerous games; the suspicion that the victim has fallen from there after a deadly game…

Russian Disco (Russendisko, 2012) is a story that is so incredible, but true at least in the historical facts shown. Based upon the the best-seller written by Wladimir Kaminer in the ’90s, it’s very interesting for the cinema, but, problematic to translate into pictures which has made ten scriptwriters give up between 1996 and 2009. It takes the recklessness of the forty-two-year-old Oliver Ziegenbalg, the eclectic element of the German cultural life, and tries to make an adventure where he puts much of himself into the three leading characters.

In Berlin of 1989 everybody’s welcome. Right after the fall of the wall communication is spread that the Jews of the Soviet Union are welcome in the German Federal Republic. Young Wladimir and his friends Andrej e Mischa leave Moscow to find a much more satisfying life in Berlin. Wladimir e Andrej are given a five-year visa, but Mischa, who’s Russian not Jewish, has been given only three months. With a little money in their pockets given to them by the German authorities and a room in residence where there are mostly Russian people, the three friends start their adventure in the new world. They get acquainted with some dancers from an off theatre company, a reporter who writes about Russian people, and they begin to commit themselves to more or less legal trafficking, becoming wealthy. But love creates problems, disagreements, moments in which everything is called into question. Fortunately Misha’s parents arrive after escaping from Russia, a place that has become less and less livable for them and take him to his favourite LPs. Those LPs give them the idea to open the Russendisko, a club still existing in Berlin. Oliver Ziegenbalg, from the fifty short stories all with different characters in the book, has taken his three heroes. All the music has been chosen with the supervision of the DJ of the club. Bohemian atmosphere, entertainment, but, in the end, a little is left of the real Berlin life during those years. Actors are well chosen and there are some laughs, with all the good points and faults of a first work too loved by its director to be truly successful.

Edited by Tara Judah