Searching for Identity

in 4th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Ninos Feneck Mikelides

During the period of the American invasion of Iraq, in Lecce, a beautiful little town in Southern Italy, dominated by superb baroque churches and other impressive architectural buildings of past centuries, the 4th European Film Festival took place in a very friendly “family” atmosphere. The cultural Europe offered, at the festival and in a sometimes moving and sometimes beautiful way, images on the situation and problems of our society in films centered on Man.

In such an atmosphere, the Italian film Letters from Palestine, a documentary shot in present Jerusalem by 11 film-makers (including Mario Monicelli, Ettore Scola, Francesco Maselli and Giuliana Berlinguer), had a unique place. The film depicts in intense realistic colors the terrible conditions under which the Arabs are today striving to continue their daily lives (at home, at work, in the university), often confined inhumanly and in daily danger of atrocious, criminal Israeli attacks.

Another important event in this-year’s 4th festival was the homage to Jules Dassin with a complete retrospective of his films, together with the publication of an interesting booklet on his oeuvre. Among the Dassin films screened, the audience (usually made up of students from schools and the local university) had the chance to see some of Dassin’s important films made in the United States, Brute Force, Naked City and Thieves’ Highway, films bathed in the dark atmosphere of the film noir, that depict with power and realism the violent side of the American society, films which made Dassin a target during the McCarthy period, and resulted in his self-exile to England (where he made another of his classic films, The Night and the City) and France and finally to Greece.

Dassin who was expected but was finally not able to come due to his bad health, spoke in a video-taped interview about his films, pointing out that “first of all I never know, and this is true, how to talk about my work. I say idiotic things. And that’s where Melina comes in. She said ‘You talk like a fool’. I don’t know how to talk about the work I do. Sometimes you get closer to thinking about it but it’s not an intellectual thing. It just comes, and whatever is on the screen, has got there by accident. I improvise a lot. Wherever I talk about the films I always think about my crew, about all the ambiance of the people. And I had the same crew for many, many years, good friend whom I miss. And I think more about the atmosphere with them when I think back of the films that I made.”

Out of the ten European films of the competition, the official Jury awarded the Golden Olive to the Portuguese film Mulher Policia (Police Woman) by Joaquim Sapinho, a road movie dealing with the desperate attempts of a young widow who, in order to save her teenage son from arrest, leaves with him on a journey of self-searching and tragic outcome. The FIPRESCI Jury preferred Ole Bornedal’s film I am Dina for its truthfulness in depicting a whole era, that of the 19th century, and a woman’s passion for life (with a moving, powerful performance by Maria Bonnevie).

There was a discussion between Bornedal’s film and the German film Paule and Julia by the new coming director Torsten Lohn, about the relationship between a 15-years old Bosnian boy leading a wild life on the streets and an 18-years old middle-class German girl. The story had many clichés but one could detect the director’s attempt to create the dangerous world where his ‘couple’ moves in a direct, honest way. There were good, lyrical scenes in some parts of the Icelandic film The Sea by Baltasar Kormakul, and there was a first quite convincing part in Paula Van de Oest’s film Moonlight from Holland, but the rest of the films were mainly mediocre. One of the festival’s special events was the screening of Krzysztof Zanussi’s exciting new film Supplement, about a young man’s crisis who is trying to find his way and love in a world without spirituality.