Give Peace a Chance

in 26th Sofia IFF

by Nicola Falcinella

“All we are saying is, give peace a chance” was the refrain of the award ceremony of the 26th Sofia International Film Festival. A music band on the stage of the National Palace of Culture accompanied all guests and winners with the famous John Lennon’s song. A statement and homage to Ukrainian jury member Oleg Sentsov and director as Valentin Vasyanovich who were at the war front and couldn’t attend the festival. It happened on site festival (but also online in Bulgaria until April 30th) during the pandemic time and the war in Eastern Europe, with good participation from abroad, with 70 guests from 19 countries. An occasion to reunite people and confirm the role of Sofia Festival for regional cinema and more.

The Balkan Competition presented a good selection of the recent local production, a kind of best of, and was probably the more interesting section. The main award went to the Croatian Murina by Antoneta Alamat Kusijanović, with a special mention to Blue Moon by Alina Grigore. Murina depicts the sixteen years old Julija living on a little island in Dalmatija with her parents. The arrival of an old family friend upsets the delicate balance and makes the girl face her conditions and her dreams, until she revolts against her father and her mother for opposite reasons. The struggle of young women against families, institutions and social constrictions was a common issue for many titles in the competition, starting from Hive (Zgjoi) by Blerta Basholli and The Hill Where Lionesses Roar (La colline où rugissent les lionnes) by Luàna Bajrami. Both are expressions of the new Kosovar wave, a group of young directors from the former Yugoslavian country (most of them are significantly women) revealed in the last few years. The Hill Where Lionesses Roar tells the story of three friends in a desolate village, and it shares similarities in atmosphere and situations with the beautiful Norika Sefa’s Looking for Venera, another of the best Kosovar movies of the last periods. Girls looking for freedom, willing to decide their own futures, the possibility to study in universities, hopefully escaping the little universe that seems a prison to them. In a different social context, but also driven by a strong young female role (very good and very intense Irene Vetere), moves The Den (La Tana), a debut film of Italian Beatrice Baldacci, one of the best in the International Competition.

Very actual and powerful is As Far as I Can Walk by Stefan Arsenijević (known for 2008’s Love and Other Crimes), which already won the Crystal Globe at 55° Karlovy Vary Film Festival. The medieval Serbian poem “Strahinja Banović” is reenacted in nowadays Belgrade with the protagonist, a young immigrant from Africa, fighting as a medieval knight for love, respect and future. A movie of moral dilemmas, about how long we can pursue our dreams or what we can do for love, pretty different from usual films about migration. Still on emigration, but as a comedy, is the German Toubab by Florian Dietrich, in the International Competition. The optimistic Babtou, born in Germany but with Senegalese citizenship, just released from jail is arrested and expulsed to Senegal. The only way to stay in Europe is through a hasty marriage and the only available candidate is his childhood friend Dennis, who is pregnant. A movie with some funny gags and an actor who reminds of Eddie Murphy.

Sofia International Film Festival was also the occasion for masterclasses such the brilliant one held by Polish director Lech Majewski, also a member of the International jury. Previously Majewski screened his wonderful The Mill and the Cross (2011), an incredible insight of Pieter Bruegel’s masterpiece. The director gave a lesson on philosophy, art, cinema, and humanity. After the award ceremony, while the festival carried on for the general public with repetition screenings, The Card Counter by Paul Schrader was also shown. The film premiered in competition in Venice Film Festival and is one of the best American movies of the last couple of years.

Nicola Falcinella
Edited by Savina Petkova