Without Surprises and Discoveries

in 49th Krakow Film Festival

by Vladimir Ignatovski

In the competition program of the 49th Krakow festival there were no titles notable for their original solutions or expressive possibilities. In the selection, which I would define as mediocre, the presence of many students’ works made a special impression – some of them evidently without fully acquired professional skills, others – without any doubt talented, predicting the arrival of interesting new names in the cinema.

Among the best in the documentaries there have always been films related to current political issues and they have a long history and a serious tradition. Representatives of this type of films were not missing this year in Krakow. Unfortunately they did not contribute something interesting to the general picture of the festival. That might be due to the situation in which these titles were created – the years that elapsed since the 9/11 attacks in New York have erased the vivid impressions of this tragedy, the events in Iraq and Afghanistan have turned into a permanent part of the TV news in which the announcements about explosions and numerous casualties intermingle with elections, plane crashes and show business. And the logic of the cinema production is such that the titles screened at the festival were made before the financial crisis became world news No. 1. Probably due to this, the screen at “Kiev” cinema saw a parade of well-known topics: the social contradictions in the rich countries and the misery of the Third world.

Watching Ruben Margallo’s Familia 068 I was thinking how strange it might had sounded to the people from the Sofia residential district Suhodol who collected signatures, organized protests and struggled to remove the dung-hill located in close proximity to their houses. The characters of Margallo survive thanks to the enormous dung-hill. They are anonymous – “068” is the number written on the shanty made of stuff at hand where they live. Hundreds like them dig in the garbage to find something that might secure their miserable existence. The misery is appalling but the people have accommodated. Children were born who do not have any other future except living in the dung-hill. Not too different are the living conditions of the female character in Franco de Pena’s King Hugo and His Damsel (Hugo Rey y su doncella) – actually thousands like her that settled in the slums around the capital of Venezuela. Pena feels at home in Krakow, as he graduated from the cinema school in Lodz. His film runs on two planes: the populist campaign led by the president Hugo Chaves in 2007 for changes in the constitution that will provide him with unlimited powers, the resistance of the opposition against his intentions and the parallel story of the female character persuaded by the local activist of the presidential party to vote with a promise for a new house, life-saving for her and her children. Next to sequences of TV news – the speeches of Chaves, the students’ demonstrations – the film includes a firsthand observation on the experience by the character in the film, which does not unite into an integrated flow.

Also included in the framework of the already known was Chantal Lasbats’ The Tunnel Dwellers of New York (Dans les entrailles de New York), a sequence of portraits of people, fallen from society and sunk into the darkness of the underground tunnels. These people have found refuge there and lost any hope to return to normal life. Unfortunately, each new tragic destiny does not enrich the film’s structure but only increases its already excessive duration.

Being Frank by Jacob Kjar Pedersen touches one of the burning topics of the near past: the great lie about the massive destruction weapons turning into a reason for the invasion of Iraq. The young director chooses a seemingly private case: the fate of Frank Grevil, an ex-officer in the military intelligence of Denmark, who reveals secret data, which refutes the statements of the then Danish prime-minister and present NATO Secretary-general Rasmussen. He has been sentenced to four months imprisonment for his activities. The film is minimalistic – it is not interested in the wide context and traces the conduct of its main character during the days and weeks before entering prison: his cardiac surgery, his anxieties about the fate of his 14-year old daughter, his clemency appeal turned down by the Queen. A small piece of the big puzzle of world politics in which the destiny of the small man who had tried to shout the truth looks predetermined.

One of the small bright spots is Supriyou Sen’s Wagah, already distinguished at the Berlin Talent Campus. Wagah is a small town on the border between India and Pakistan. Here is also the only border-crossing between the two countries which instead of serving the communication between the people has turned into a stage for a strange show. Thousands of rapturous spectators gather on specially constructed platforms and sing the national anthems while waving the national flags. The iron gates open for a short time: the two armies demonstrate their marching skills in grotesque pantomime verging on a farce. Withing a few minutes everything ends, the gates close and the border turns back into an unsurpassable line that divides people connected with blood ties, living together not long ago, before becoming citizens of enemy countries. With a great deal of humor Sen presents the whole absurdity of this event through the eyes of three kids, whose enthusiasm makes even more obvious the drama of this artificial separation. One small, laconic, but very striking film, which reveals the madness of nationalism.

Edited by Yael Shuv