Who Makes the Way?

in 8th OFF plus CAMERA - International Festival of Independent Cinema

by Tadeusz Szczepanski

Making Way, the main competition at Krakow’s Off Camera Festival, was dominated by first-time directors this year, many of whom explored the nature of freedom. Debut films won the major awards, including the richest award on the festival scene: for the top prize, the lucky winner gets USD 100,000! This prize was awarded to the only film not from Europe, young Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante’s debut feature Ixcanul Volcano. It tells the moving story of a 17-year-old Guatemalan Indian who refuses the marriage her parents have arranged for her with an older man. Instead she follows her heart and becomes pregnant, but her child is kidnapped by traffickers. This film, which refers to the anthropological tradition of Robert Flaherty, shows the misery of Guatemalan Indians, who adhere to ancient customs and be-liefs. However, they are haunted not only by the sacred volcano of the title, but by the mythi-cal American Dream.

A similar issue is depicted by Italian director Laura Bispuri in her first feature Sworn Virgin (Vergine giurata), although this film places much more emphasis on civilization and social contrasts. In order to escape the underprivileged status accorded to women in a conservative community of Albanian highlanders, the heroine decides to follow an archaic custom, adopt-ing the title of virgin and concealing her identity behind a male façade. After years of this uncomfortable masquerade, she travels to Milan to visit her sister, where she gradually frees herself from the prison of imposed gender, explores her sexuality and becomes free, regaining the lost balance between her body and mind. Bispuri tells this personal story, which positions itself subversively in relation to the debate on gender, with impressive subtlety and maturity. The movie conveys the spirit of a uniting Europe, where the freedom to travel between a vil-lage in the Albanian mountains and a European metropolis enables a journey from the Middle Ages to the 21st century. Sworn Virgin fully deserved its FIPRESCI Prize.

The fullest range of freedom was experienced by the protagonist of Fidelio, Alice’s Odyssey (Fidelio, l’odyssée d’Alice), French director Lucie Borleteau’s debut. Alice works as an engi-neer on the Fidelio freighter. She is surrounded exclusively by men, which puts her fidelity to her fiancé back home to a difficult test. All the more difficult since the nubile Alice indulges her passion in the arms of the ship’s captain…

Freedom of self-determination and enjoyment of the final stages of life are discovered by Lily, a nursing home resident in the Danish film Key House Mirror (Nøgle hus spejl), the de-but of Michael Noer. Lily is played by the veteran actress Ghita Nørby, who won the award for best female performance. Trapped by the side of her paralyzed husband, she meets a nice man and falls in love with him, realizing she has wasted her life with a spouse she does not love.

All of these young directors offer the same answer to the question of what constitutes free-dom: women and love. In these turbulent times, it’s an answer which brings a spark of hope.

Edited by Lesley Chow