Treading the Tightrope Between Reality and Fiction

in 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Richard Mowe

Cinema has always played around with fiction and reality, with many directors finding inspiration in real events and people and then using them as a springboard to explore different themes or delve deeper in to the subject matter. Others keep only the most tangible contact with the “reality” that may have set their minds racing and use it as a springboard.

Many of the titles on offer in Karlovy Vary International Film Festival this year demonstrate some of the different approaches of directors who decide to stray cross the border and back again.

The dissident Iranian director Jafar Panahi found that reality intervened rather brutally in his film-making activities when he was banned from making films and currently is under house arrest. Despite the strictures he has not been silenced. His new film Closed Curtain (Parde) has proved equally controversial — he has not been allowed to travel to festivals with his film, which won a Silver Bear for best screenplay in Berlin earlier this year but he managed to defy the ban by appearing at Karlovy Vary via Skype. Meanwhile his daughter Solmaz presented the film in person on his behalf.

Closed Curtain, a thinly veiled critique of the repression suffered in Iran by artists such as Panahi, follows the experiences of a man played by screenwriter and co-director Kamboziya Partovi who seems to be on the run and who arrives at an isolated beach house and hides himself from the world. Two other refugees come and go before Panahi himself quietly becomes a part of the story while hovering outside of it. After a break-in by unseen assailants in the middle of the night — alluding to what might happen to Panahi at any moment — the project itself continues.

French film-maker Philippe Godeau with his second feature as a director has concocted an immaculately crafted psychological drama with the frisson of a thriller in 11.6 (the figure of the title represents the 11.6 million Euros that a security driver managed to snaffle from his employers’ safe custody in what became a cause celebre in France in 2009). The real life Toni Musulin (an inscrutable loner as played by François Cluzet) still has two years of his imprisonment to serve before he is released. What he will make of the film is anyone’s guess. Musulin is a taciturn character going about his daily routine without much joy in his life. He treats both his girlfriend (Corinne Masiero) and his closest mate (Bouli Lanners) without any real affection. His act turns him into a national hero in certain quarters. The deed is seen as revenge on the misdemeanors of the financial and banking community. Musulin may have been motivated by a grudge against his employers who cheated him out of some payments. He was prepared to throw everything away in a gesture of defiance against the people who barely recognized his existence.

Papusza is an historical epic in black and white, which deals with a Romany gypsy poet Bronislawa Wajs, who died in 1987. The directors (the husband and wife team of Joanna Kos-Krauze, Krzysztof Krauze) examine Papusza (stunningly portrayed by Jowita Budnik) at various stages in her life. She was the first Roma poet to have verses published in magazines and school books but her evocative writing made her unpopular with her own community and she was cast out. Papusza did not seek fame and fortune — she merely set out to record her experiences and feelings, most of them written on scraps of paper. As well as the central focus on the woman herself the film provides a poignant almost documentary record of the travelling people in Poland before the Second World War and its aftermath when they were forced to abandon their nomadic existence.

Shame (Styd), the Russian film that received the FIPRESCI accolade, clearly was “inspired” by the disaster that befell the submarine Kursk which was lost with all hands in 2000. Director Yusup Razykov eschews the disaster, which is never mentioned by name, for a poignant examination of the women who watch and wait for their menfolk to return. Set on the wintry landscape of the Kola Peninsuala and a bleak military base he looks at the lives of the individuals who are powerless to change their own destinies — like figures out of a classical tragedy. It’s beautifully nuanced and executed, drawing you into the maelstrom of emotions.

In Sources of Life (Die Quellen des Lebens) Oskar Roehler who has a reputation as the “bad boy” of German cinema, revisits his own roots and reality in the vast and uneven fresque of post-war Germany and the 1980s economic miracle. Roehler already had explored the subject in a book, telling the story of his own family over three generations. He also reflects on transformation of West Germany after the Second World War. Starting in the late 1940s we are introduced to Erich Freytag returning from captivity in Russia to a frosty reception from his family. Erich’s son Klaus discovers he has a knack for writing, and starts his own family. His son Robert is shuffled back and forth between an indifferent father, and his grandparents’ homes. As the boy grows up, he tries to find out who he really is. “You can’t steal reality”, the woman says in Panahi’s Closed Curtain although many film-makers in Karlovy Vary believe they can.

Richard Mowe