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European cinema

July 11,2016 20:05

Yet the town and its film festival serve an important role in global cinema: the KVIFF is a launching pad for Central and Eastern European films to reach the rest of the world. Considering the past two foreign language Oscar winners have come from the ...and more »



THOUGH Cannes, Venice and Berlin may still get top billing among European cinephiles, there is no more beautiful setting for a film festival than the pristine Czech spa town of Karlovy Vary, where the 51st incarnation of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) wrapped on July 9th. Peter the Great, Ataturk, Goethe, Beethoven and others used to take respite amid the healing waters of this resort, founded in 1370 by Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. In 2016, names less historically consequential—but perhaps as appealing to film-makers—such as Charlie Kaufman, a screenwriter, Willem Dafoe, an American actor and Jean Reno, a French actor, came to the town to collect lifetime achievement awards. Yet the town and its film festival serve an important role in global cinema: the KVIFF is a launching pad for Central and Eastern European films to reach the rest of the world. Considering the past two foreign language Oscar winners have come from the region (Hungary’s “Son of Saul” and Poland’s “Ida”), this is no small thing. More than 1,000 industry buyers, sellers and distributors attended this year’s event, roughly half of which travelled from outside the region. The big winner was a Hungarian film, “It’s Not the Time of My Life”, which not only took the prize for top film (the Crystal Globe), but also saw Szabolcs Hajdu—also the film’s writer and director—win the award for best actor. In the movie, two sisters and their families are unexpectedly forced to share a small apartment in Budapest after one of the families returns from a failed attempt to take up a new life in Scotland. Though the film winks at the complicated emotions surrounding immigration, it is the insightful and humorous look at middle-aged marital tension will best translate into any language, and Mr Hajdu’s decision to team up with his real life wife and son to play one of the families brings added authenticity.     Other films also look set to translate festival success into wider release. Damjan Kozole, a Slovenian film-maker, took home the director’s prize for “Nightlife”, which revolves around a tragic evening for one affluent middle class couple from Ljubljana. After Milan is found in a critical condition on the street under strange circumstances, his wife Lea is left to make sense of it all, and deal with an interfering media presence. Another well-received entry was the fabulist Russian film “Zoology”, which won the special jury prize. Written and directed by Ivan Tverdovsky, the story follows Natasha, whose otherwise drab existence in contemporary Russia changes when she suddenly grows a tail. “The Student”, a similarly ambitious Russian film, examines religious radicalisation. Set in a non-descript Russian town, the sinister story arc is punctuated with blips of ironic humour as the main character, a high school boy, sinks deeper into apocalyptic Christian beliefs. Violent and disturbing quotes from the Bible drive home the point that religious texts can be distorted for any number of causes. Meanwhile, school leaders repeatedly appease the troubled student by changing school dress codes and altering the sexual education curriculum. Meanwhile, they ostracise a teacher trying to use rational thought to cope with the situation.Back closer to home, “The Wolf from Royal Vineyard Street” is comprised of vignettes from the life of Jan Nemec, the legendary Czech director. A pioneer of the Czechoslovak New Wave—a film movement that arose in the 1960s during a brief window of cultural freedom (it was slammed shut by the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968)—Nemec spent much of the 1970s and 1980s in exile, and died in March with the film still incomplete. Supported by a cast of top Czech stars, young director Tomas Klein completed the movie, and it serves as a textbook example of cinema’s ability to transcend time, space and cultures. In one memorable scene, Nemec’s alter-ego, John Jan, contacts an old friend in search of financing for a film. The friend, Ivana Trump, a Czech native, had a certain wealthy husband at the time. Instead of coming away with the funds, the protagonist departs with an autographed copy of Donald Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal”. He promptly throws the book away.The KVIFF crop indicates that 2016 looks to be another strong year in Central and Eastern European cinema, but it is hard to foresee another Oscar success. The contemporary setting of many of this year's top films runs contrary to trends that see movies with a historical focus garnering the most international acclaim. The world may well applaud new films from the region—but it saves its most enthusiastic praise for those that focus on past persecutions, struggles and triumphs.

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