The Festival's Feelings through its Movies In the Mood for Melancholy By Bruno Kragic

in 51st Valladolid International Film Festival

by Bruno Kragic

The poster of this year’s edition of the Semana Internacional de Cine shows a couple walking under the umbrella towards a cinema theatre — a melancholic scene. In many films in Valladolid there was this recurrent feeling of melancholy the poster indicated. That of course has nothing to do with festival itself being far away from melancholic with its rich programming, superb organization and perfect hospitality. Furthermore, melancholy can sometimes be quite rewarding, it can produce a slight shiver, especially when seen in some memorable films in Valladolid.

In the opening picture of the festival, the animated feature Azur and Asmar (Azur et Asmar) by Michel Ocelot, the feeling of melancholy is more heard than seen in the beautiful sounds of a song sung by the heroine. The next morning, one could feel a little different about this film, but there is an even more powerful sense of times gone by while watching the heroine of Stephen Frears’ film The Queen. It surprises by the excessive emotionality of the recent times while opting for a more subdued and doubtlessly superior aspect of emotionality. In a way The Queen combines the sense of melancholy with the motive of family relations and the depiction of lonely women — a combination found in quite a few pictures of the official section.

So, the women in the Spanish film Women in the Park (Mujeres en el parque) by Felipe Vega suffer either from middle-life crisis or youthful anxiety, both expressed in many shots of the women standing alone. The heroine in the Filipino film The Bet Collector (Kubrador) by Jeffrey Jeturian (the winner of the FIPRESCI Prize in Moscow and New Delhi), is both well known but ultimately alone. This is accentuated by the subtle conveying of the ever growing sense of fatalism and impending doom.

That sense also pervades the Australian film Jindabyne by Ray Lawrence: The heroine, who has a history of depression, becomes deeply disturbed by her husband’s behavior. He reported his discovery of a murdered girl only after finishing his fishing trip some days later. Finally, in two so-called women pictures, the Swiss-German-Bosnian co-production Fraulein (Das Fräulein) by Andrea Staka and the Hungarian film Fresh Air (Friss levegö) by Agnes Kocsis as well as in the Iranian film It’s Winter (Zemestan) by Rafi Pitts, all the main female characters (three of them in the first film, two — mother and daughter — in the others) are alone and lonesome, both in terms of story as well as in terms of cinematic framing. The women are fragile in futile search of permanent emotional fulfillment. Being aware there is no such thing, these women are ultimately sad. That sadness is put into poetic close-ups of a young girl looking silently or into long shots of the bleak countryside, accompanied by the haunting, fatalistic song in It’s Winter.

However, in order not to conclude that only women are prone to the disposition described so far, there were films portraying men who suffer a similar fate. That was the case in the official competition with the male protagonists of the above mentioned Iranian film, but also, in quite a strange fashion, with people remembering past events in the documentary shown in the closing ceremony: Once in a Lifetime: The Extraordinary Story of the New York Cosmos by Paul Crowder an John Dower. Finally and even more distinctively this was seen in the short retrospective of Satyajit Ray’s films, beginning with the famous celebration of all-consuming and thus destroying passion in Music Room (Jalsaghar) where the protagonist is a classical melancholic figure: an old man in a tower. So there was enough reason to enjoy melancholy visually presented in Valladolid basking in a somehow always melancholic Indian summer.