Winning in Thirds An Overview of This Year's Prizewinners By Flavia de la Fuente

in 20th Fribourg International Film Festival

by Flavia de la Fuente

The Fribourg International Film Festival is like Fribourg itself: small, friendly, and efficient. Devoted to “Southern” films, the place and the event display good will and the Third World guest will be astonished not just by the Swiss prices but also the way the organizers care about their presence and are willing to solve any problem, although problems don’t arise frequently. On the other hand, the audience is numerous and warm, the city and the canton are proud of the yearly event and things go very smoothly. In many senses, Fribourg is a model festival, including the will to show films that are meaningful and daring. At least in this year’s edition, that goal was attained in a great proportion.

But, what do these words mean exactly? Fribourg 2005 was a good example to discuss the ways in which films can be programmed and appreciated. Those ways were clearly reflected in the Palmarès, composed of prizes given by seven different juries. Except for the one dealing with the documentary competition, the other six, including FIPRESCI, were focused on the official feature film contest, composed of eleven films. Amazingly, according to their verdict, the juries were divided in three pairs. Each pair reflects a clear way of appreciating contemporary cinema and is also related to the origins of the juries themselves.

One of the sets was composed by the Ecumenical Jury and the International Federation of Cineclubs Jury. They both awarded a Chinese film called The Black and White Milk Cow (Yi zhi huà naeniu) by Jin Yang, a typical film to be considered by these two juries, starting from the title. Although one has laic origins and the other is composed by members of Christian religions, they both tend to be pious, sensible to films showing poverty and humbleness in their extreme modes, as if cinema values would be forever condensed in a coded, poor and flat version of neo-realism, to which many films coming from mainland China belong these days, with their celebration of obedience and passivity that seem to come form a curious Maoist-Capitalistic-Christian syncretism.

Very different, a beautiful and mysterious film about rebellion, turned to be the FIPRESCI winner. The Sleeping Child (L’Enfant endormi) by Moroccan Yasmine Kassari deals with women in the desert, with oppression and loneliness, with dignity and courage, with facts and legends. Contrary to the Chinese film, the characters are clever, admirable and capable of following their desire. This film also got the second prize from the main jury, whose first award went to another African film made by a woman, The Night of the Truth (La n uit de la vérité) by Fanta Régina Nacro, of Burkina Faso. This film is a powerful insight on recent ethnical massacres under the form of a Shakespearean tragedy, one of the most original and striking films to reach the international circuit in recent months, unfortunately not appreciated enough on a wider scale. It is also one of the few films these days that deal with public affairs in an intelligent and artistic way. Both these African films exemplify a mature, elaborated cinema, made from their inner necessity and designed neither to please nor shock with easy tricks.

Unfortunately, this is the case of the film awarded by the other pair of juries: the Public Prize (the usual viewers poll) and the Young Jury, composed by a group of students from the city. Given that the audience age was also low, we can say that the Fribourg youth fell for Turtles can Fly (Lakposhta ham parvaz mikonand) by Bahman Ghobadi. Not just in Fribourg, the film also won the main prize in San Sebastian and was also selected to open the Mar del Plata festival, among other distinctions. Ghobadi has made a film very close to obscenity, where kids are exploited in the benefit of the spectacle, where audiences are invited to follow the suspense created by kids jumping on war mines, where the only woman is a child murderer, where paranormal phenomena are inserted into realistic horror just to add juice to the plot and, last but not least, where the American invasion of Iraq is ambiguously welcome. With the excuse of humanism, Turtles can Fly celebrates war and behaves like its characters, trying to obtain a benefit out of confusion and destruction. A shameful film but, nonetheless, one that is in the core of many present day movies.