Stockholm's Competition Love Triangles By Gorazd Trušnovec
The selection of 20 films from the competition section of this year’s Stockholm Film Festival proved to be quite an ambitious mixture of films with a rich aesthetical and thematic diversity, and the selection committee and program manager are to be congratulated for showing wonderful short films before the full-length ones, especially since they usually corresponded to the themes and origins of the films or their visual principles.
Despite the diversity one can usually find some common denominator in any festival selection. For this year’s competition program in Stockholm, love triangles in different forms served as the basis for the story (and character) development in almost a third of the films. Of course, it’s a slightly different case when the film in question was based on a biography, as for example Anton Corbijn’s acclaimed Control (which received an honorable mention for the best first feature at the festival), but sometimes it might seem to be just an easy way out of a screenwriting difficulty and a predictable way of getting a not too highly developed, average middle-class character into instant trouble (and then substitute this trouble for character’s depth and internal dilemmas).
On the other side, the love triangle in the background of the French movie The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (Le scaphandre et le papillon) by Julian Schnabel, which got the prize for the best cinematography (by the always excellent and innovative Janusz Kaminsky), does not try to dramatize things. The story, which is based on the autobiography, depicts the extraordinary struggle of the late French “Elle” editor Jean-Do Bauby, victim of a massive stroke which left him fully paralyzed with only one of his eye-lids still functioning. The love triangle between Jean-Do, his wife and mistress is mostly shown in retrospect and doesn’t really have the dramatic purpose, but nevertheless quite subtly adds to the complexity of his portrayal, which combines visual economy and imagination, poetic lyricism and a powerful story. Although it could easily resort to clichés about the handicapped, it proved to be one of the most original and powerful features.
This claim could be disputed with regard to the film Silent Light (Stellet Licht) by Carlos Reygadas, which was awarded the prize for the best screenplay. Set in the Mennonite community in rural Mexico, this poetic fable drifts slowly, almost inescapably towards personal tragedy. Farmer Johan is torn between the loyalty of his wife Esther, with whom he has seven children, and the excitement he finds in his mistress Marianne, who he believes is possibly the love of his life. He shares his time with both women, unable, despite his feelings of guilt, to cut either one out of his life. It is composed of long, Bergmanesque scenes from family life in the middle of a mesmerizing, monumental landscape. The interpretation of the inner struggles of the characters, often submerged in expressionless, complete silence, is more or less left to the viewer, even more so since the cast is almost entirely non-professional. But even their names Johan, Esther and Marianne give rise to the thought that we are in fact watching a religious fable, even when the discussion between characters, which is more often than not sparse and poetic, is about the used tractor parts. But according to the director, who was also present at the festival, we should understand even the mystical denouement of the film, which might well have been taken from Dreyer or Von Trier, as completely “real”.
The love triangle is one of the major plot elements of the South Korean film Driving with My Wife’s Lover (Anae-ui aein-ui mannada), feature film debut by Kim Tai-sik. The film revolves around Tae-han, modest middle-aged family man, who discovers that his wife is having an affair with a carefree taxi driver. Instead of confronting either of them with his knowledge, he hires the driver for a long-distance taxi ride and their summer road trip ends quite unexpectedly for all three of them (including the taxi driver’s wife). This seemingly easy-going, tragicomic film is filled with symbolic elements and colorful imagery; however, it never loses its human touch and warm perspective and is another fine example of the new wave of South Korean cinema.
Last — but not least — let me also point out that the main character in the FIPRESCI prize winner in Stockholm, Caramel by Nadine Labaki, interpreted by the director herself, is also involved in a love triangle…