The View from the Top

in 17th Motovun International Film Festival

by Alexandra Pütter

“No hell below us — above us only sky” was the vision imagined by John Lennon, but luckily, the Motovun film festival improves on this by projecting a multitude of films onto the Istrian night. This is a young festival for young people, where audiences go to concerts after the last screenings at 1:30 am and then dance until the sun rises through the misty valleys.

They like to do things their own way here, and it is endearing that while the organizers are proud of having resisted prizegiving for some time, they also enjoy talking about how their first discovery, Stephen Daldry’s Billy Elliott (2000) went on to garner accolades around the world, including three Academy Award nominations. That film’s journey started here, on top of the mountain, and Daldry was again present this year to inaugurate a new cinema, the Billy.

There are many outdoor and indoor screens, from the biggest cinema which packs in 800 viewers, to the charmingly named Još manje kino or “even smaller cinema”, which seats only 70. But it is of course the outdoor screens which offer the most spectacular experience, and the programmers have chosen several films which deal with the theme of being exposed to the elements.

Force Majeure (Turist), winner of the FIPRESCI prize, shows that no matter how much man tries to control nature, nature will easily reduce him to base instincts. Not a pretty sight, but a great movie (for a more in-depth analysis, please check out my colleague Dean Kotiga’s review.) In Order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten) shows man confronted by nature in the form of snow, except that the man in this case takes the form of Stellan Skarsgård, who seems to be on top of his game when it comes to machinery. Will he be just as efficient in taking out his son’s murderers? And how will Robert Redford fare in All is Lost, alone at sea under a scorching sun, trying to survive being shipwrecked?

Nature is not always the enemy, of course. In Kelly and Victor and The Police Officer’s Wife (Die Frau des Polizisten), nature, especially the forest, becomes a temporary refuge for the embattled characters before they return to their dangerous relationships.

And if hell is other people, how about being locked up with them? Miroslav Slaboshpitsky presents us with this situation in his powerful debut feature The Tribe (Plemya). We follow a young man who enters a school for the deaf-mute and integrates himself into the system, into the tribe. These young people mostly govern themselves, brutally so. Teachers and other grownups seem to be absent, until they are not — and you will regret your naivety in wishing for their presence. It is an oppressive environment, made only more so since people are constantly touching each other to get attention. There is no private space in this tribe; a person always wants something from you and has others to back his wishes up. The film features a great performance by Grigoriy Fesenko as the wide-eyed and boyish young man, who constantly adapts to new situations — up to a point. As a tough pupil, Yana Novikova holds her own in this thoroughly exceptional cast.

The Tribe received the Propeller, Motovun’s main prize, which was awarded this year by a “Jury in Exile”, comprised of filmmakers and activists who are exiled, in prison or under house arrest. The members of this jury were Inna Shevchenko of FEMEN, currently in exile in Paris; filmmaker Oleg Sentsov, imprisoned in Moscow; Syrian-American internet activist Ala’A Basatneh (#chicagoGirl); Nicolai Khalezin and Natalia Kaliada of the Belarus Free Theater, in exile in the UK; and Jafar Panahi, who is under house arrest. Although only Shevchenko could attend the award ceremony, Motovun extended its arms around the globe, drawing attention to people who have been excluded.

Hell might be other people, but for a few days up on this hill, you can imagine that things might be different.

Edited by Lesley Chow