The "New Visions" Section: The Pursuit of Happiness By Martin Schwarz

in 26th Reykjavik International Film Festival

by Martin Schwarz

How did the Inuit survive in the 19th century? How did women from Bosnia cope with the loss of their men after the war in 1997? How do blind people in Slovakia manage to find someone to love? The “New Visions” section at the small though very ambitious festival in the capital of Iceland gave us a broad view of different topics from all over the world. Ten movies from Europe, two from Asia and two from Northern America were screened in this section between September 25th and October 5th, with topics ranging from an air crash such as Soaring (Otryv) to losing people close to you such as Uprising (A Zona) or a depressive Norwegian man in Cold Lunch (Lønsj).

What connects most of these very different movies from young directors is the pursuit of happiness by their protagonists. Let’s take a closer look at Tulpan from director Sergei Dvortsevoy. He leads us to the very dusty steppe in Kazakhstan where — in the middle of nowhere — lives a young man called Asa, together with his sister and her family. They are shepherds. Asa dreams of his own flock but he will only get one if he finds a wife to marry. So, he keeps an eye on a young woman called Tulpan. Watching the sometimes funny sometimes very documentary looking movie, you often get a very dry throat because of all the dust the actors had to swallow. The movie already won the main prize at the “Certain Regard” section in Cannes.

In the American movie Afterschool director Antonio Campos tells us about a young student in an elite prep school. Robert is addicted to the internet, watches You Tube clips and porn. One day he witnesses the death of two beautiful girls caused by a drug overdose. Together with another student he is assigned to make a video about the tragic event. Campos creates a paranoid atmosphere, but with the choice of his very often irritating frames, he impedes identification with the main characters.

Somebody has been killed in the Hungarian countryside, and everybody thinks that Roskinn, a young Roma, is the murderer. His struggle for justice is the main theme in Without Mercy (Fekete fehér) from Elemér Ragályi. Originally written as a stage play the movie uses only two locations for its story: the cell, in which Roskinn has to cope with two dubious men, and the court room, where even the testimony of his own mother might be used against him. On one hand the narrowness of the rooms intensify the intensive atmosphere of the drama; on the other hand it reduces the possibility of creating appropriate pictures for the big screen.

The favored issue of mixing up reality and dream is in the center of Greek director Alexis Alexious’ movie Tale 52 (Istoria 52). Settled in one flat, he tells about Iasonas. The young man has just fallen in love with Penelope. Grappling with his problems of sleeplessness he begins to doubt if something really has happened or if it is just a creation of his mind. A psychological nightmare movie that gets rather lost in the world of Iasonas’ mind — as well as the audience.

After 20 years behind bars a man with the nickname Moth is released into communist Bulgaria in the early 60’s. Immediately after his release Moth is confronted with his former accomplice, who thinks that he is hiding a large diamond somewhere. Javor Gardev’s Zift — entirely shot in black and white cinema scope pictures — is a modern film noir with a lot of black humor, wonderful characters and unpredictable story twists. This is definitely a movie for people who prefer genre.

Ursula Meier’s wonderful tragic-comical movie Home deals with an isolated family struggling for their independence. Starring Isabelle Huppert as the mother of three kids, Meier tells the strange story of a family that lives next to a motorway which has not been opened for years. But one night the never ending traffic starts — and the family is on the verge of falling apart. Meier tells her symbolical story in great clear pictures and in a clever way emphasizes the individual struggle against modern society.

The “New Visions” section at the RIFF invited us to places all over the world — a weird feeling for a viewer being located on an island somewhere in the North Atlantic.