Geraldine Chaplin in Sofia... or the 27th Sofia IFF

in 27th Sofia International Film Festival

by Ladislav Volko

It is not easy for the organizers of any cultural event, especially if it is an international years-lasting festival, to continue after a forced break of a few years. But in Sofia it was done with great success this year. A total of 170 films from 53 countries were screened at the 27th SIFF. More than 300 foreign participants, domestic filmmakers, great interest of the audience, discussions in front of the screen, but especially informal conversations between creators, contributed to its excellent atmosphere. Without it, the Festival would not be a festival. Stefan Kitanov, the general manager of the festival, together with his team can be satisfied. For the impressive opening of the festival, we were joined by Volker Schlöndorff and his new opus The Forest Maker (2021). He was also the first to start the new festival tradition: to plant a tree in Sofia’s park in honor of the 27th SIFF.  The members of all juries and celebrities who participated in the Festival planted some more trees, later on. At the end of the festival, Jessica Woodworth’s film Luka (2023) was screened.

In addition to competitions in individual categories, there were presentations of the works of such film makers masters as Krzysztof Zanussi, Ján Svěrák, Bille August, Milčo Mančevski, Dito Tsintsadze, Georgi Djulgerov, as well as those who are no longer with us, such as Viera Chytilová or Slatan Dudow. In addition to the main competition, prizes were awarded in the categories: The Best Balkan Film, The Best Bulgarian Feature Film, The Best Bulgarian Short Film, The Best Documentary Film (International). Prizes were also awarded by Bulgarian film critics, viewers, young creators and critics and, of course, FIPRESCI. The Sofia City of Film Award for Best film in the International Competition for first and second films, received the film Red Shoes (Zapatos rojos, 2022) directed by Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser, who was personally present and became the star of the evening. For the same film he also received The Young Jury Award and The FIPRESCI Award. The main prize he received from the hands of actress Geraldine Chaplin and Radoslav Spassov, a Bulgarian filmmaker, writer and producer.

The selection committee of the 27th SIFF did not have an easy task. They selected 12 works from the number of submitted films for the main competition. From my point of view, almost all the films were on a good level, but not one of them brought with it the effect of wonder and humility that we experience when a work of art excites us extremely, disturbs us from our comfort zone, makes us think, reflect, and raises more and more questions in us even after some time. The closest to it was the film of the Greek filmmaker Vasilis Katsoupis Inside (2023), but I think that a simpler path to the statement would have convinced more of its truth. Stimulating, recording the cruel reality in countries as different as Iran – No end (2022) by director Nader Saeivar and The Good driver (2023) by Bulgarian creator Tonislav Hristov and Cold as Marble (Azerbaijan, 2022) by Asif Rustamov, have a lot in common, even with our current reality. The other three works are strictly sociological pictures of the young generation, looking for their place in society, anchoring the values they believe in, but in reality they often have to literally fight for them. These are The Art of Falling (2022) directed by Orlin Milchev, Summer to Come (2022), directed by György Mór Kárpáti and Nightwatch (Nachtwache, 2022) directed by Joachim Neef. The American story of the Polish emigrant Sara, Roving Woman (2022), filmed in the USA by the Polish filmmaker Michał Chmielevski, is another road movie, although many realities are recorded fresh and imaginative, it does not bring anything extraordinary.                                                                                                                                                                  

Israeli director Ma’ayan Rypp made her debut with a psychological probe into the relationships of two women (wife and lover), who were brought together by one man, a theater director, who died suddenly. Its title, The Other Widow (2022), fully describes its tone. With the last three films, we would also find common connections, value orientations, but they are to a much greater extent individual statements, going beyond the depicted reality. To the North (Spre Nord, 2022) directed by Mihai Mincan is based on a real event—the escape of two young boys in 1996 from Romania to the dream city, New York, on a container ship commanded by a Thai captain. A Filipino crew member who is a devout Catholic helps shelter one survivor. But the search for the truth ends tragically. Does the life of an individual and the help of one person still have meaning? For what price?

My favorites from all the films were, at first glance, two very different stories. The film Cloves and Carnations (Bir Tutam Karanfil, 2022) was shot by Turkish filmmaker Bekir Bülbül. Musa, an old man, a refugee, decided to fulfill the wish of his dead wife and bury her in his native village. Together with his granddaughter, he travels with his unusual cargo along the broken roads of southeastern Anatolia. He meets a lot of people on the way and continues his journey with their help. The story has a kind of internal tension, its rhythm and slow pace, modest dialogues seem to enhance the tragedy of old Muso’s journey to the goal, but its conclusion is tragicomic. And another favorite was the winning film of the festival Red Shoes by the Mexican creator Carlos Eichelmann Kaiser, which was also awarded the FIPRESCI award. It tells the story of an impoverished farmer who goes to Mexico City to find his daughter, as his last hope for a better life. But the brutal world has its rules…

This is how the FIPRESCI jury and the International jury evaluated the winning film Red Shoes:

„A gripping story about an old man forced to leave behind his home in the countryside to go to Mexico City. The lead’s naturalistic and touching performance engages the viewer through this tragic tale. The film’s message is universal, but heightened by the specific cultural context.“ (FIPRESCI)

„Simple, focussing on humanity. The filmmakers’ craft is original and seamless“. (International jury). 

Ladislav Volko
Edited by Savina Petkova