Remedies Against Numbness By Cristina Corciovescu
Nine years ago, the Sofia festival began modestly, as a non-competition event. However, the director Stefan Kitanov and his team knew precisely their goal: to introduce a different kind of cinema to the public than the commercial one supplied by the distributors, namely a less spectacular but more intelligent cinema. It was supposed to create fewer surges of adrenaline and to increase feelings more. It was also supposed to be less American and more international. Obviously, it was supposed to promote the Bulgarian film industry, which, after 1989, has passed (like the Romanian film industry, too) through a crisis from which it has not yet completely recovered. It was also supposed to promote the Balkan film industry, through its most representative features.
In 2003, at its seventh edition, competition and juries emerged alongside the awards (for features, shorts, and FIPRESCI). The Sofia festival has started to grow into an important event, organized by some young people, with commitment and professionalism. They know how to work but they also know how to party (Kitanov with his guitar is the main entertainer of night time events). The effort is huge, mainly because the festival does not limit itself to the six days of the competition, which is the top event, but lasts more than a fortnight. Part of the program is also itinerant, and takes place in Burgas.
The 2005 edition programmed a total of 152 films, both features and shorts. Unfortunately, from the productions that came from all the corners of the world – Argentina and China, Norway and Morocco, Russia and the United States, Spain and Iran – the Bulgarian film did not exactly sparkle. Apart from the fact that the engines of the film industry work slowly (only five full-length movies were made last year), the results are modest (difficult screenplays, some of them even defy elementary logic, obsolete narrative methods, moralizing didacticism, a.s.o). Unfortunately, even the shorts fail to provide any optimism for the future. Many of them are earmarked by awkwardness specific to movies made by students. Others are purely and simply uninteresting. I would not have liked to be one of the jurors who had to decide the “Jameson Prize” (worth 6,000 Euros) for the best Bulgarian short film. It was ultimately awarded to Before Life, After Death (Predi shivota, sled smirttta) by Dragomir Sholev. This is a tormenting parable about destiny, about the hunter who may turn into game at any moment, and other similar things.
The international jury chaired by the Serbian film director Srdjan Dragojevic (Pretty Village, Pretty Flame remains in movie fans’ memory) and the jury of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) had a great number of movies from which to choose, because from the 13 films in the competition at least half were worth being considered seriously. I am thinking of The Woodsman (United States), in which the young debutant film director Nicole Kassell approaches the extremely sensitive topic of pedophilia, with excellent Kevin Bacon in the role of a lonely introvert, who is fighting hard to dominate his attraction for an innocent 12-year old, blonde girl. Or, Hotel (Austria/Germany), made by Jessica Hausner, who, by resorting to several very simple elements (an almost dark corridor, a basement that has to be checked every evening, a swimming pool with whirling water, the trees in the forest shown as a succession of trunks without their tops) succeeds in inducing the feeling of danger, of an unknown evil on the watch, which will strike in the end.
Two films in competition from former Yugoslavia, very different in type and tone: the Macedonian Mirage (Iluzija, dir. Svetozar Ristovski) – a fierce drama about the hopeless destiny of an intelligent and sensitive child, who will be swallowed up by the violent and vile environment he is living in; and the Serbian – Montenegrian – Slovenian co-production Red Colored Grey Truck (Sivi kamion crvene boje, dir. Srdjan Koljevic) – a road movie full of humor (often black), which follows what happens to a truck that leaves Belgrade for Bosnia and then for Italy, driven by a driver who has no driving license, because he is color blind, accompanied by a hiker, who is a pregnant, cabaret singer. Koljevic’s movie was awarded one of the jury’s special prizes. The other special prize was awarded to the Iranian film From the Land of Silence (Sakenine sarzamine sokoot) by Saman Salur. This is the story of two brothers who survive in the desert (the land of silence). One of them stole gasoline from the trucks that carry salt and resold it at the side of the road. The other brother sells the opium he should give to the camels and sells it to the truck drivers. It is an austere film. Paradoxically, it is invigorating too, because it is about life, which is victorious even in the most miserable conditions.
The fact that the international jury and FIPRESCI jury’s preferences coincided is an interesting and quite unusual thing. The winner was the Irish film Adam & Paul by Lenny Abrahamson. It is a black comedy, about a couple of drug addicts, who are losers. Abrahamson manages to make two likeable characters out of these dirty vagabonds, who would normally create repulsion. However, the audience views them with a mixture of pity and understanding, feeling sorry because they are wasting their lives.
In conclusion, I find the Sofia festival an experience worth following by all those who want to arouse people’s taste for quality films, and, at the same time, to give impetus to a dull national film industry.