The Competition: Bratislava Dreamin' By Jena Opoldusová
Unfortunately, this year, there was no film to compare with Milcho Manchevski’s Before the Rain, the Macedonian movie which thrilled the Bratislava film festival audience in the mid-90’s (the international film festival Forum was the predecessor of the present IFF Bratislava). The collection of 16 first and second competition fiction films was more or less balanced. Though, there appeared some films, which seemed to try to bore the audience and expel them from their cinema seats (e.g. the scriptwriting and directing debut of the actress Jane Birkin, Boxes, or the debut of the Kazakhstan director Zhanna Issabayeva, Karoy).
The Romanian Cristian Nemescu, who died in car accident before he could complete the editing of California Dreamin’ (Nesfarsit/Endless), still provided one of the most powerful and humorous films. The starting-point of the rich, almost novel-like film structure, is a meeting of an American captain accompanying a NATO radar-equipped train across Romania and a self-opinionated chief — a mafioso — controlling a small town. The dramatic, romantic, and comic strands of the story are brilliantly intertwined, ending in tragedy. The result is a timeless parable of contemporary social problems.
The second film of the Irish director Lenny Abrahamson, Garage, a story of a harmless weirdo spending his life at a ramshackle petrol station, also caught the attention. A lonesome man is trying to find a soul mate to end his social isolation. To tell this very simple story, the director chose minimalist means. The director astutely observes the banal life of the unfortunate Josie, who is looking for happiness in vain.
A remarkably strong story was told by the Danish director Peter Shonau Fog, a student of the Prague FAMU, in his debut The Art of Crying (Kunsten at graede i kor). It is based on the book by Erling Jepsen, which is a merciless study of a despotic father abusing his whole family. He recounts the traumatizing experience, deforming family relations and repressing a maturing daughter through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy (excellent first-time actor Jannik Lorenzen). The northern restraint in shooting clear and simple images contrasts with the depth of the family tragedy.
A refreshing change came with the Polish film Tricks (Sztuczky). Its director, Andrzej Jakimowski, who succeeded already with his debut Squint Your Eyes (Zmruz oczy, 2002), offers a simple story of a 16-year-old boy longing to meet his father. The film bares the natures of individual characters, playing with motives and camera angles drawing the viewers into a world warmed by passion. It is pleasing to both the eye and the soul.
An unusual experience was the Argentina-Spain-France co-production XXY. For her fiction debut Lucia Puenzo chose a taboo theme: the 15-year-old charming Alex is a hermaphrodite. By classical film means, she tells an intimate drama gradually unveiling dramatic secrets. Two other competition films can be marked as an attempt at experiment: the Belgian Small Gods by Dimitri Karakatsanis, and the Hungarian Happy New Life (Boldog új élet) by Árpad Bogdán. The first one brings a dreamy story of a woman, whose son died in car accident. The latter talks about searching for identity and the roots of a young Gypsy man. Both are connected by ambition to look for a new way of film narration. Disputable, but interesting.
Several strong stories, a few off-the-beaten-track films, a few ordinary ones, a little experiment, and a bit of boredom. Such was the competition of the 9th International Film Festival Bratislava. The sort of mixture you find at most festivals, even the best ones.