Sofia Debuts

in 18th Sofia International Film Festival

by Dragan Jurak

The international competition of 18th Sofia International Film Festival (SIFF) presented a well-structured and carefully chosen selection of films, with only a few compromises in the selection.

There is a big competition among festivals for first and second features, but SIFF manages to screen fresh and interesting titles. First of all, there were films by woman directors and scriptwriters in the international competition. Liar’s Dice by Indian debutant Geetu Mohandas; Trap Street (Shuiyin Jie) by Chinese first time feature film director Vivian Qu; and The Disobedient (Neposlušni) by Serbian debutant Mina Dukic. Liar’s Dice is a powerful road movie of a woman who is searching for her missing husband, a worker on a construction site. The film begins with a long walk from a rural, snowbound village in the Himalayas, and ends with a bicycle rickshaw-ride through overcrowded New Delhi streets. The ending is open, somewhat obscure, but intensely tragic at the same time.

Trap Street, on the other hand, isa film about the secret service and the world of paranoia in contemporary China. Vivian Qu combines mystery and boy-meets-girl love story, youth film and political thriller, to reveal some profound insights about her homeland. In some way, for a new, booming China, Trap Street is what Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation was for post-Nixon America.

The Disobedient is also a love story, but almost a pure one, without social or political context. As Mina Dukic said, her film is not a product or concept — it is an experience. Well acted and beautifully photographed, with an excellent choice of music, The Disobedient is a powerful story of friendship and love. It is no emotional rollercoaster, but rather a merry-go-round — and perhaps already a classical “bicycle-movie”, because the kids from the title are always on bikes.

But absolutely the best film in the selection was the Georgian Blind Dates (Shemtkhveviti paemnebi), also the winner of Grand Prix. Director Levan Koguashvili studied in Russia and New York. In 2008 he moved back to Georgia to shoot his first full-length feature film Street Days (Quchis dgeebi); Blind Date is his second film. The story of a 40-year old bachelor who lives with his parents is shown by an excellent mixture of unprofessional and professional actors, and often it is difficult to tell who is a pro and who is not. Blind Dates also moves easily between drama, comedy, romance and thriller in a seamless way. It is the best from world cinema and Levan Koguashvili is already one of the most exciting and interesting filmmakers in the world.

It is also worth mentioning the American film Menthol by Micah Van Hove, a portrait of contemporary American male nihilism in which Kevin Smith and his Clerks meets Bret Easton Ellis. Giraffada by Rani Massalha is Palestine-European production with surrealistic images of a giraffe walking through the occupied military zone and the streets of a Palestinian town, smuggled from an Israel zoo to a Palestine zoo. Finally, there is the Bulgarian documentary The Last Black Sea Pirates (Poslednite Cernomorski pirate) by Svetoslav Stoyanov, hugely popular among local audiences.

There were a few compromises in this fine selection… but then again — as Sinatra said — too few to mention.

Edited by Birgit Beumers