The Growing Pains of an Emerging Film Festival By Frédéric Coquelin
Nested at its beginning in Troïa (a little Portuguese village), the international film festival of Festroïa moved some years ago to Setubal, a resort place set in the so-called Blue Coast, and became little by little a major cinema event in Portugal. The last edition, the 23rd, took place from 1st to 10th of June, and its menu was very worthy in terms of number of screenings (170 with long-feature films as well as short ones).
It would have been better, especially in the official selection, to prefer the quality instead of the quantity. At least three or four films out of the fourteen in competition should have been strictly eliminated from the selection because of their lack of interest (e.g., very poor scripts) and the low level of the direction; even if the main aim of the choice seems to have been to show the audience films not screened already in other international festivals. So, fourteen films representing twenty countries, co-productions included, were in competition and Eastern European directors coming from Czech Republic, Hungary, Bosnia… were represented strongly on the screen. It was one of them, the Croatian Rajko Grlic who won most of the prizes (Best Director award, Best Picture award, and Foreskin award) for his film The Border Post (Karaula), a movie about war with a very original story. At a small border-post, on the Yugoslavian-Albanian border, a group of soldiers are counting the days… The lieutenant, always drunk, has been infected with a sexually transmitted disease. Wishing to hide it from his wife, he has an idea to avoid going home for a short leave by declaring a state of emergency claiming the Albanians are preparing an attack. Shot in the mountains above the Croatian coast, this allowed the gifted director to give us splendid cinematography by night as well as by day. This film is, in a way, a sarcastic comedy with funny moments and situations, but is also a very clever and sensitive reflection on war and its absurdity. We could compare it to the famous M.A.S.H. by Robert Altman, but with a deeper analysis and without the typical exaggerations of some American comedies.
Among other films selected, The Road to San Diego (El Camino de San Diego) is the latest picture of the Argentina director Carlos Sorin, on a welcome return to Festroia (he won the Best Picture prize for Minimum Stories in 2003). This road movie, showing a kind of mystical adoration of the Argentinean people for the football player Diego Maradona, is quite interesting – in a away it is a social study – and pleasant to watch, but the subject matter is too weak for a long-feature and it would have made a very good short.
Three other films have been rewarded, and one can hope that, in enough different countries, they will be released, because each of them deserved it:
— Madrigal (Best Photo award): a Cuban art house film, a successful and magnificent attempt to describe, inside the frame of a love story, the thin border between theatre and life, appearance and reality, truth or lies, and above all the mysterious springs of love and the anguish of life. The picture is inspired by the Grandes manoeuvres and, of course, dedicated to René Clair.
— After the Wedding : a tough psychological drama.
— The Optimists (Audience award): five various and original stories showing a great sense of humor from its Yugoslavian director Goran Pascaljevic.
Different themes, tributes and sections were also in the program, giving the audience a large choice, and among them was the good idea of the Man and his Environment section, a matter in which the Festroia Festival seems to be strongly involved.
The tendencies of this festival are obviously to stay apart from the classic cinema usually shown (the absence of commercial American films can be considered as proof of this) and to push ahead the new directors’ generation – twelve young film makers from all over the world in the First Works section – as well as to pay specific attention to the young audience with Youth Panorama, European Shorts and so on. For example, the six films representing the work of American independents, a specific cinema almost unknown in Portugal, which has many financial difficulties to contain and many commercial difficulties regards to being internationally screened, having (of course) the drawback to face and compete with the American blockbuster productions.
In order to open the minds of youngsters, unaware of the old cinema masterpieces and too addicted to commercial and action films, most of the time American ones, the festival has presented:
— German Classics, with, among ten movies, famous ones such as The Blue Angel (by Josef von Stenberg), M – Murderers Among Us (by Fritz Lang), The Merry Heirs (by Max Ophüls) and the very rare The Adventures of Baron Münchausen, dated 1943, a pleasant comedy about the fantastic and very imaginative adventures of a hero created in the 18th century. It was so interesting to have the opportunity to watch the first film of a series of this ‘baron’ and to compare it with the last one, the Terry Gilliam one.
— Homage to a Country, films with regard to the circumstances of Spain, with films by famous directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Carlos Saura…
— and a Billy Wilder showcase, the American but Austrian-Hungarian born director, recognized all over the world as one of the greatest film makers of all times.
In the matter of the ceremony, we had the pleasure of the presence on stage of Jirí Menzel, Czech actor, script-writer, theater and cinema director on one side, and the well-known (more than 200 films) English actor Christopher Lee on the other one, who, with the support of an enthusiastic standing ovation, have both been awarded for their life-time achievements.
This Festroia Festival appears to be a good one in terms of diversity and with its open-minded look on international cinema, but it could undoubtedly improve in the field of organization and in its criteria of choice for the official section.