So Realistic Fictions

in 12nd Motovun International Film Festival

by Pamela Messi

It all began with an email, lost in the “undesirable messages” of my mailbox: “I believe you have been informed that Motovun Film Festival has confirmed you as a member of FIPRESCI jury.” I hadn’t, but was so glad to know! A few months earlier, I had decided to apply for the first time to be a member of a jury in an international festival. I chose Motovun film festival (MFF) because it was screening regional films (one of the best ways, I think, to understand the fascinating and complex evolution of this part of Europe), had invited Finland as a partner country (I’m a big fan of Scandinavian and Finnish cinema and of the Kaurismäki brothers especially) and was open to young film critics.

Of course, I have no regrets: this first time was unforgettable. As Mia’s “first time”, the main protagonist of Andrea Arnold’s initiation film Fish tank (UK, 2008), which won the Jury award at the last Cannes film festival, and now, in Motovun, received both awards: the Propeller (main jury) and the International Critics’ Prize (FIPRESCI prize).

Fish tank. What an incredible and unsettling description of a (young) woman’s desire! Mia (portrayed by the stunning Katie Jarvis) is a strong and rebellious fifteen-year-old girl who drags her bad mood and boredom around a depressing suburb somewhere in Great Britain. No friends, no father and almost no mother, just a younger sister with whom she can’t communicate but for screaming. One day Connor arrives (Michael Fassbender, the incredible Bobby Sands in Steve McQueen’s Hunger, 2008, now eclipsed by newcomer Katie Jarvis). He’s her mother’s new boyfriend; red hair, charming smile and prominent muscles; and with him comes the promise of a sweeter life.

As we saw with Red Road (2006, special mention from the main jury in MFF 2007), Andrea Arnold has a real talent in creating a distinctive (and so British) atmosphere. Mia’s transition into a new maturity is palpable; largely trough the languid and sensual soundtrack (California Dreamin’, performed by Bobby Womack), and no matter if she moves from delusion to delusion, a touch of hope remains. That’s why Fish tank is not only a feature about “greed and poverty”, the topic of this “crisis edition” of MFF.

Actually, Motovun is a lovely sunny place where we speak about very serious subjects. So don’t be naive: if romances are screened here, it’s only to talk about intolerance (Tomas Alfredson’s Let The Right One In, a beautiful and poetic movie disguised as a vampire horror film), or religious differences (Niels Arden Oplev’s Worlds Apart). Ditto for teenager portraits: they touch on loneliness (Celina Murga’s A Week Alone; Sylvie Verheyde’s Stella) or on fight for domination and power (Maren Ade’s Everyone else).

In short, the features you’ll see at Motovun film festival are perfectly anchored in reality. That’s why there’s a place for documentaries too; not too much risk of overdose, just for the best of this genre. For instance, Petr Lom’s Letters to the President, which, following Iranian president Ahmadinejad journey through his country, describes populism in all its magnificence (every year, nine millions letters are sent to the President by citizens who think he can solve their personal problems). In a more Finnish style (clever, deadpan humor) is Oskari Pastila’s Basket Case which uses a ludic pretext  – sports – to speak about racism and clash of culture (a local basket ball team decides to replace the whole team with foreign players).

To conclude, a “crisis edition” in Motovun film festival doesn’t mean half-mast programming at all. Quite the contrary – it means doing more and better with fewer resources. The first day, at the bar, there was one topic of conversation, “Will it be, or not, the last edition of Motovun film festival?” “That’s what you say every year”, answered a jaded guy who seemed to know a lot. “See you next year in Motovun!”, he added. “Okay”, I said.

Edited by Tara Judah