Thoughtful Cinema

in Molodist – 49th Kyiv International Film Festival

by Colette de Castro

Now in its 50th year, the Molodist film festival took place from 22–30 August 2020. When the festival organizers decided to postpone the festival from the end of May to the end of August, they were taking a risk. How would they organize a live event during a worldwide pandemic? In a move that may signal the future of film festivals, they came up with a compromise: a hybrid, online and offline event, which allowed people to decide for themselves whether to take the risk of crossing borders. Many of the films at the festival were presented along with a short video introduction from the directors, and the audience got a glimpse of the beaches of Brazil from the window of one director’s house, and into a busy Australian living-room in another’s.

The FIPRESCI jury, made up of three members from Ukraine, Italy and France, awarded one film from the international competition. This year, the prize went to Two of Us (Deux, 2019), a French, Belgian and Luxembourgish co-production by Italian director Filippo Meneghetti. The film deals with the love between a lesbian couple, who has hidden their relationship from the children of one of the women for many years. The character of the mother is hampered in her attempts at a seemingly inevitable double coming-out. Double, because both her sexuality and her affair have been painstakingly hidden from her children. Things come to a head when her lover loses it, calling her a “gouine,” a deprecatory French word for a lesbian, in front of a mutual acquaintance on the street. What follows is a complicated reckoning of a lifetime’s critical choices.

Coming out is also a theme in Maylou Reymann’s A Perfectly Normal Family (En helt almindelig familie, 2020). Drawing on her own experience, this film portrays a family at a crossroads as the father decides to start hormone therapy to become a woman, just as his two daughters are entering adolescence. A decent debut, though the film carries none of the subtle beauty of Two of Us.

 A distinctive feature of the Molodist film festival is that it shows only first or second films. Moreover, all 12 films in the international competition this year were debuts. For a film-lover, this is an exquisite position to be in, discovering so many new directors in the space of one week. There is a feeling of constant discovery: of new ways of seeing and patterns of thinking. As a bonus, this year seven of the twelve films in competition were directed by women. Among them, Myriam Verreault and Melina León stand out as excellent filmmakers.

Myriam Verreault’s Kuessipan (2019) takes place in a reservation of the Innu people of Northeast Quebec. Based on Naomi Fontaine’s novel of the same title, the film blazingly brings to life the passion and rage of the characters which it portrays. Another first feature based on ideas around land ownership is Digger (2020) by Greek filmmaker Georgis Grigorakis, in which the main character fights throughout the film to keep his house, despite threats from miners who have bought up all the surrounding land.

The international jury split the main prize between two films, the above-mentioned Kuessipan, in a tie with Identifying Features (Sin señas particulares, 2020), a film which deals with the gangs that roam the border of Mexico and the US, and their many victims. Moreover, two films, which have recently gained a lot of attraction in festival circuits, are Marko Djordjevic’s My Morning Laughter (Moj jutarnji smeh, 2019), and Melina León’s A Song Without a Name (Canción sin nombre, 2019). Although completely different, both entirely merit their success as accurate portrayals of unlikely protagonists. Dani Rosenberg’s The Death of Cinema and My Father Too (2020) is an inventive and character-driven debut feature, though its complicated plot left this viewer a little cold.

Mantas Kvedaravicius’s Parthenon (2019) started off well in a blaze of color and light, but soon fizzled out into a confused mishmash of image and sound that had no reasonable solution. Finally, two sweet films that were worthwhile first attempts but rather lacking the power which would bring them up to competition standard, were the Spanish Ojos Negros (2019) by two young directors, Marta Lallana and Ivet Castelo, a light-hearted attempt at a coming-of-age story that wasn’t quite carried off. Like long hot summer days for children on school holidays, casually making and losing friends, the film lacked drive and purpose. And The Taste of Pho (Smak pho, 2019) by Mariko Bobrik, a Warsaw-based film about food. But aside from some nice shots of the Pho-making process, which could have easily been padded out, the film’s 84 minutes didn’t seem quite justified.

“Кіно не без питань”, the new slogan for the festival, translates literally as “Cinema not without questions”. In English, this has been replaced by the nifty phrase “Film for thought”. Along with pens and notebooks, black face masks with the slogan in Ukrainian printed across them, were offered to guests, proving a concern for safety in a city that is slowly becoming more and more aware of the risks of COVID-19. As well as main competition covered here, the festival offers a national selection, two short-film selections, and a LGBTQ+ section (which is now in its 21st year!). With such an intelligent program, this festival’s long and solid success as a mainstay of the Ukrainian film scene is bound to endure. A largely student festival, Molodist can pride itself on showcasing new, intelligent films made by and for young talent unafraid to try new approaches to cinema.

Colette de Castro
Edited by Birgit Beumers