The Jubilee: a Competition of False Twins

in 45th Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival

by Alik Shpilyuk

The 45th Kyiv International Film Festival MOLODIST (“Youth”) was one of the fullest in terms of number and quality of programmes of recent years: among more than 200 films screened were featured winners of many international A-class festivals, showcases of the contemporary cinema of France, Germany and the Scandinavian countries, the traditional national short competition, and more besides. But the most noteworthy part of the programme is still the international competition with its most important part: the debut features. It’s not just that this part of the international competition is judged by three (!) juries – the International, Ecumenical and FIPRESCI ones – but also because it’s the feature debut which shows the true creative potential of a young filmmaker (in fact, the festival in its anniversary year can be really proud of past discoveries of such outstanding artists as Tom Tykwer, Francois Ozon, Stephen Daldry, Bruno Dumont and many others). The feature competition in 2015 consisted of as many as 14 films (the usual number for this festival is 12) and surprisingly they formed, perhaps unintentionally, seven pairs or twins. So, we’ll try to find similarities in films that are seemingly completely different in origin (and sometimes in the creative ambitions for the authors), works which for the most part have been already awarded at other festivals.

The winner of the Grand Prix, the Israeli film Princess directed by Tali Shalom-Ezer, is the shocking and painful story of the transformation of a 12-year-old girl (her role, by the way, is played by the 21-year-old actress Shira Haas) through suffering, loss of love, and illusions into a young wise woman ready for adulthood. Next to it is another (slightly older) teenager from the Swiss film War (Chrieg) by director Simon Jaquemet. That teen also has much to lose, including his first love, to enter the cruel world of adults.

The similar motifs of violence and the abuse of children followed by their consequences are central to two other movies: the Golden Lion winner From Afar (Desde allá) by the Venezuelan director Lorenzo Vigas and the only Ukrainian feature debut, which is still to be released nationally, Beyond (Spasenie) by Oleksandr Lytvynenko. Despite the outright similarity in titles, the authors’ intentions are almost diametrically opposed: if the first one deliberately leaves the viewer with many unsolved riddles (the script was co-written by outstanding Guillermo Arriaga), the latter offers a true “genre” (and sometimes too simplistic – down to outright banality) approach to the material.

Two more films were united by frankly poetic auteur (arthouse) style. These are the Cyprian-Greek Impressions of a Drowned Man (Oi entyposeis enos pnigmenou) by Kyros Papavassiliou, and US-Polish Embers by Claire Carré. Both movies openly refer to the classics of world cinema (especially the works of Theo Angelopoulos and Andrei Tarkovsky) in trying to reflect on historical events and present reality, but exactly because of this are rather secondary.

When it comes to realia or current sensitive issues, it is impossible not to mention the topic of euthanasia and conscious human decision to die because of an incurable disease. It was very similarly treated in the programme by two films from different hemispheres: the Danish In Your Arms (I dine hænder) by Samanou Acheche Sahlstrøm, and the Canadian Adrien (Le Garagiste) by Renée Beaulieu. Both claim the human right to one’s own choice and the need for a truly humanistic attitude of others to those who suffer.

At first glance, eternal or present-day problems (the intolerance of society to former criminals and the illegal transplantation of organs) are treated in two more films: the Swedish-Polish The Here After (Efterskalv) by Magnus von Horn and German Foreign Body (Fremdkoerper) by Christian Werner. Unfortunately, both seem not to just ‘exploit’ the relevant issues, but also to be too manipulative, which significantly weakens their objectively high artistic qualities.

The next pair is united by their real main characters: the mountains, from which their respective titles come. We mean Sleeping Giant by Andrew Cividino from Canada, and Guatemalian-French co-production Ixcanul by Jayro Bustamante – both of which have already won a number of prizes at other festivals. The first one tells the story of the painful – because of first losses – transition of teens into the adult world; the second one is an authentic (and artistically refined) narration about the tragedies of everyday life of Maya Indians still ruthlessly exploited by the “civilized” world. Ixcanul was not left without MOLODIST juries’ attention as it received the main award from the Ecumenists and shared the prize for the best feature of the “main” jury.

And finally, the last (but not the least) pair, which interpreted (from completely opposite points of view) the problem of the (im)possibility of modern-world young people’s love due to social, psychological, and communication-based issues. In Serbian Panama by Pavle Vuckovic we witness a tough fight of personalities of two lovers, which eventually leads to the loss of true feelings. Very bright, kept up in a good pace and appealing to the worldview of today’s youth this movie is definitely aimed at commercial success, but in pure artistic values it’s secondary to, say, the controversial Clip (Klip) by Maja Milos. And the British-Spanish co-production of Pikadero by the Scotsman Ben Sharrock, by contrast, seems to be a highly original work (and, note, the only comedy – albeit sad – in this competition programme). Moreover, being stylistically related to Aki Kaurismäki’s oeuvre or the Georgian shorts of the late Soviet period (not without reason, many ethnographers note some unexplained connections between this Caucasian people and the Basques – and its País Vasco where the story is located), the film shows the highest artistic and purely cinematic skill and sophistication. Not surprisingly, it is Pikadero which received the prize of the FIPRESCI jury, as well as one of the highest honors from the “main” jury. Thus, we can only hope that these movies will soon come from the festival screens to a broad audience, and we’ll be waiting for the next 46th MOLODIST.

Edited by Carmen Gray