Strong Films from the East and the North By Beat Glur

in 42nd Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Beat Glur

The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2007 proved again to be one of the world’s best showcases for new cinema. The competition with 14 films from 14 countries was of generally high quality, with especially strong contenders from Eastern and Northern countries.

The European cinema was well represented by ten films in the main competition. Four films came from the East and two from the North, and four of these six films were among the best and got a good part of the awards from the different juries.

The competition was a good mixture of small and sometimes difficult films, crowd pleasers that got standing ovations, and some mainstream fare, mostly from more important film-producing territories.

One of the crowd pleasers was the winner of the Crystal Globe, the Icelandic entry Jar City by screenwriter, producer and director Baltasar Kormakur. Jar City is a dark thriller, a rare genre in film festivals.

The film was by far the most interesting work in competition. Actor Ingvar E. Sigurdsson is a detective desperately trying to solve a complex murder case. The film, sold by Danish Trust film Sales, is set to start an international career after its screening in Karlovy Vary.

The second film from Scandinavia, Norway’s The Art of Negative Thinking, got the longest applause of the festival. Bard Breien’s debut is a dark comedy, set among a group of disabled people, some in wheelchairs, some mentally disabled. The film is not only a good laugh but makes us think about how we should or should not treat the handicapped. The film is much helped by a strong soundtrack including songs from Steppenwolf and Johnny Cash.

Russia and Poland were represented with social dramas set in today’s society. The Russian entry Simple Things by director Alexei Popogrebsky (Koktebel, 2003) is a small film about ordinary people in Moscow. It follows a hospital anesthesist in search of a change in his life. But he refuses to grab the chances offered to him. The film got the FIPRESCI award, among other prizes.

Another highlight was the Polish Savior’s Square by Krzysztof Krauze and Joanna Kos-Krauze. It’s the real life story of a family with two children that move in with the father’s mother after losing their own flat. The co-existence seeming impossible, the mother attempts to kill her two children and herself. But her act of desperation seperates the family even more.

The impossibility of communication and the lack of social responsability also drives the East-German competition film Karger by first time director Elke Hauck. Karger, the main character, is a classical looser with little chances in an always rougher economic environment. He takes — as many others in today’s East-Germany — off to the West, hoping for a better future.

Somewhat less convincing is the sympathetic but too light comedy Empties by Jan Sverák, the Czech competition entry, about the difficulties of a school teacher going into retirement. Sverak, who won in 1996 with Kolya the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language film, teamed again up with his father Zdenek Sverák who plays the lead part.

The most edgy film was the Hungarian tale Dolina by Zoltán Kamondi about a nonexistent town in the Eastern Carpathians. The rather bizarre and almost non-narrative avant-garde work left the audience mostly perplex.

On the other end of the scale are three European mainstream films, of which only the French Dialogue avec mon jardinier by long-time director Jean Becker convinced. A successful painter, played by Daniel Auteuil, learns his lessons about life in conversations with his gardener, played beautifully by Jean-Pierre Darroussin.

Lost in too much conversation is the Spanish debut film Pudor by the brothers David and Tristan Ulloa, another story of the difficulties in family relationships. Ferzan Ozpetek, the best known director in the competition, likewise concentrates on family and friendship, but his Saturno contro stays on the surface and leaves the spectator unsatisfied.

The most controversial film in competition was Michael James Rowland’s Lucky Miles from Australia, a sometimes touching but often silly first film about problems boatpeople encounter in Australia. Only of little interest is the South Korean philosophical drama Pruning the Grapevine by Min Boung-hun.

The only great disappointments in competition were the closing film, US-entry The Good Night by Jake Paltrow, a badly written light comedy with Gwyneth Paltrow, Penelope Cruz and Danny DeVito, and Sabrina Farji’s When She Jumped from Argentina, a pop-comedy without the right music that totally lacks credibility.