Hindrances and Obstacles

in 27th Sofia International Film Festival

by Michael Ranze

In his report, FIPRESCI jury member Michael Ranze looks into some motifs in the Competition of the 27th edition of the Sofia International Film Festival.

 “Reconnected” was the slogan Stefan Kitanov, Director of the Sofia Film Festival, had printed as a logo for the new edition. After three years of the pandemic, he wished for “a warm encounter between film, author and audience.” He wanted people to meet again and celebrate – as he did at the closing party with the guitar in his hand, backed by a rock band. But the films in the competition were totally different matter. The filmmakers showed us troubled characters – refugees, victims of a dictatorship, lonely young men, angry young women – who couldn’t overcome the obstacles before them, who couldn’t deal with everyday problems, who couldn’t make peace with their own past. That was evident for nearly every film in the competition, so there was a great melancholy one could feel at the Cinema House, in downtown Sofia.

In Nightwatch  (Nachtwache) for example, the debut feature film of the German director Joachim Neef, a young man has killed a girl in a car accident, driving drunk. After two years in prison for involuntary manslaughter he gets out and takes a job as a night watchman at the university in Lüneburg. He makes friends with a group of students. But one of them is the brother of the dead girl. A very well-acted, strong fable about guilt and forgiveness. What’s interesting is also the contrast between the group of students and the main character. He doesn’t fit in – he will be an outsider until the end.

Also To the North (Spre Nord), the debut feature from the Romanian director Mihai Mincan, told a very strong, original and captivating story, based on true events. A religious Filipino sailor discovers a blind passenger on a big container ship going from Spain to Canada. He knows that the Taiwanese officers who run the ship will throw the man overboard. So he decides to hide him. But then a game of cat and mouse begins, where not only his own men but also the blind passenger turn against him. Director Mincan makes one feel the desperation of the blind passenger, his angst and claustrophobia while he is hiding in the labyrinth of containers or in a closed room without light. Interesting is also the use of a very simple language, spoken by the Taiwanese in a hard, menacing style.

Cloves & Carnations (Bir tutam karanfil), the second film of the Turkish director Bekir Bülbül, also presented a gripping story, this time with immensely beautiful pictures shot in the lonesome landscape of South Eastern Anatolia. An old man, maybe a refugee, and his 12-year-old granddaughter are traveling to the border of Syria, carrying a coffin with them, and inside—the corpse of the deceased wife. When there are no cars or trucks anymore to take them, they have to go by foot – the old men tearing the coffin behind him. This is a strong metaphor about loss and mourning. I also liked the granddaughter who seldom speaks and draws beautiful pictures – even with her woolen gloves on. The filmic style is very Iranian: you often don’t see the people who are talking within the frame.

A man in peril is also the main character in No End, made by Nader Saeivar, an Iranian director. In it, Ayaz is an ordinary man whose brother-in-law is very critical towards the government. That brings Ayaz under the spell of the secret police. They force him to spy not only on his brother-in-law but also on neighbors and other family members. But Ayaz is not the right man for this job. The problem with this film is that Ayaz is such an unattractive character, very weak, always complaining, bursting into tears. This is a character under a lot of stress, the spectator feels that from the beginning. But then the director makes the mistake of showing him in situations where he acts stupid or looks like a clown, for example when he wears ridiculous-looking trousers that don’t fit him at all. The director is not on the side of his character.

Last but not least: Roving Woman, the debut film by Polish director Michal Chmielewski. One night in Los Angeles Sara is kicked out of the house by her boyfriend. She only wears an evening dress and high heels, then she sets out to find a place to sleep or even a new home. She meets other people, steals a car, tries to reconcile with her mother, but then her journey takes an unexpected course. Freely inspired by the Connie Converse mystery (a musician who disappeared without a trace in 1974), this is a very enigmatic film. The spectator doesn’t get the reasons why she is acting like this, we don’t even get to know her boyfriend. In spite of all this, Roving Woman is a very fascinating film in which the music of Connie Converse plays a very important role.

Michael Ranze
Edited by Savina Petkova