13th Ljubljana International Film Festival
Ljubljana, Slovenia, 11-24 November 2002
Perspectives Section for films by first- and second-time directors
winner of the Mobitel Kingfisher Award :
Juan Villegas – Saturday
(special mention : Wen Zhu – Seafood)
ALSO IN COMPETITION
Canada 2001 : Zacharias Kunuk : 172mins
The story : Inuit intrigues. Squabbles over a woman escalate into a blood-feud that divides (and thereby threatens) a small, remote community of native Canadians. Atanarjuat (Natar Ungaalaq) must battle his sworn enemies in order to avenge his brothers murder and live in peace with his beloved Atuat (Sylvia Ivalu).
Pluses : Mythical timelessness story could be taking place in 1002, 1502, 2002, or perhaps even 2502 (unless youre an expert on Inuktitut development). Icy horizons provide strikingly unusual whiteout backdrops. Admirable attempt to transpose ancient oral storytelling traditions to modern format. A look into a very different way of life bizarre touches include weird sunglasses made by putting slits in bones. Authentic feel soundtrack features much atmospheric throat singing.
Minuses : 172 minutes long many pregnant pauses and static moments pad it out to epic length. Should be widescreen but shot on DV so isn’t – landscape feels pinched in TV-sized format. Story difficult to follow. Largely wooden line-delivery from non-professional cast. Incongruously street subtitling of original Inuktitut (asshole jerk fucking with spirits shit-head). Stifling, ostentatiously Worthy air pervades directors concerns seem more ethnographic than dramatic. Even this far away from Hollywood (in all senses), ancient movieland cliches depressingly creep in: sex represented by humping shadows projected onto tent-canvas by candle-light; during rape scene, close-up of attackers leering face. Dogs come in for some unforgivably rough treatment from the bad-guy, but director Kunuk is equally despicable: the animals don’t know its just a movie. Jokey making-of footage used alongside end-credits (we see Inuit performers wearing modern American clothes) is amusing, but jarringly dissipates whatever magic the movie has managed to create.
(seen Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 16th November 2002)
Slepa Pega : Slovenia 2001 : Hanna A W Slak : 88mins
The story : Ljubljana by night. Lupa (Manca Dorrer) looks after recovering-junkie Gladki (Kolja Saksida) in her flat as he goes cold turkey. But are they more than just good friends?
Pluses : 27-year-old Slak shows a strong visual sense in her first feature: story is told as much through images as words. Skilful use of reflections, metallic surfaces. Moody music. Impressive awareness of space – Lupas shadowy flat; bleak nocturnal Ljubljana streets lit by harsh neon. Dorrer (lanky Rachel Griffiths type) and Saksida (suitably Vincent Gallo/Cassel-ish) both strong, convincing, and work well together. Unexpected twist half-way through catches audiences unawares.
Minuses : As ever, drug addiction is much more dull for the viewer than it is for the addict. Ljubljana may have rough areas and drug problems, but film presents unbalanced, misleading portrait of well-heeled, affluent Slovenian capital. Atmosphere is ostentatiously downbeat, grim and humourless: Youre saving a stinking junkie who doesn’t even care about you! Lupa is told in one of the lighter exchanges. Gladkis hallucinations look like out-takes from Trainspotting – then when his body starts to fall apart, his loss of teeth and hair is straight from Cronenbergs The Fly. Screenplay goes quickly downhill after the twist Slak doesn’t build on the big surprise, instead the pace slows down, then the picture peters out to disappointingly underwritten climax. Very predictable last shot and accompanying off-camera sound-effect. Final impression: SFW?
(seen on video, Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 19th November 2002)
Aura Ete : Les jours ou je nexiste pas : France 2002 : Jean-Charles Fitoussi : 110mins
The story : Nondescript Parisian Antoine (Antoine Chappey) only exists every other day. At midnight he vanishes, re-materialising in the same spot 24 hours later: to him, the time is continuous. He has long since adapted to his unusual half-life, but complications arise when he falls for the lovely Clementine (Clementine Baert).
Pluses : Genuinely original (though vaguely PhilDickian) concept/conceit, brilliantly set-up via deadpan narration and crisply edited sequences of Antoine going about his business in Paris: Antoine de Montmarte a world away from Amelie. Amusingly uninflected, matter-of-fact performances from Chappey and Baert, perfect for the wild story they inhabit. For a time, direction feels exactly measured, just so: composition and length of each shot precisely calibrated. Shades of Keiller and Iosseliani in the poised images of Parisian streets. Antoines disappearance and reappearance nod back to George Melies and the original vanishing lady cinematic special-effect. First half is a delightful, extremely Gallic, metaphysical jeu desprit: Jacques Rivettes Groundhog Day, perhaps.
Minuses : Disastrous second half. Project started life as a 1994 short, and that’s probably where it should have stayed – might even work best on paper as a short story. Basic set-up is worthy of The Twilight Zone, but Fitoussi doesn’t know what to do with it, so instead amps up the pretentiousness. Intriguing time-travel angle emerges extremely late on, but by then Fitoussi has long since resorted to punishingly lengthy shots in which next-to-nothing happens. Antoine, who feels life flashing past, should experience things moving too quickly, not with this kind of infernal slowness. After end titles, one last, long, desperately enigmatic shot which shows thorough contempt for audience.
(seen Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 21st November 2002)
Fickende Fische : Germany 2001 : Almut Getto : 104min
Lukewarm first-love tale in which the budding romance between 16-year-olds Nina (Sophie Rogall) and Jan (Tino Mewes) comes under strain when he reveals he’s HIV-positive. Getto nimbly sketches the kids very different social backgrounds (her familys boho flat, his folks palatial pad) and the early stages of their friendship, with convincing performances all round. Thora Birch lookalike Rogall is the films real find, a natural performer whose Nina is a notably free-spirited, modern, intelligent teenager until, that is, Gettos script has her reacting to Jans bombshell with the uncharacteristically ill-informed and jarringly unsympathetic line Youve got that gay disease?!
This is typical of a second half which forfeits realism for some disappointingly melodramatic plot developments, such as the predictable fate of Jans best pal, a fellow HIV-sufferer. When Nina and Jan split up, Getto mechanically alternates between the pair as they bicker with their parents and stew in their misery (life sucks!) before she brings them back together with a contrived finale that plays a cheap, manipulative emotional trick on the audience. Were led to believe Jan has died, and with Nina suffering from a similar misapprehension it seems as though an earlier visual nod to Baz Luhrmanns Romeo + Juliet (when Jan and Nina look at each other through each side of an fish-tank) may have been intended to foreshadow a tragic, Shakespearean climax.
But things thankfully don’t quite work out as we expect. The fish-tank scene turns out to be just one among dozens of visual and dialogue references to fish from the title(s) on down, reflecting Jan and Ninas interest in the subject. The original German title translates as Fucking Fish the young lovers frequently ponder the logistics of piscine copulation as they themselves stumble towards their own sexual awakening. These themes (along with the fact that Jan and Nina occasionally smoke, drink and at one point even steal a car) pitch Do Fish Do It? towards the older end of the teenage moviegoing market – its the kind of slightly edgy subject matter more often tackled in novels aimed at adolescent girls. As a movie, however, there isn’t quite enough here for adult viewers – though the moody, mostly electronic score by Tom Deininger and Sten Servaes does help maintain interest.
(seen Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 15th November 2002)
In fiecare zi dumnezeu ne saruta pe gura: Romania 2002 : Sinisa Dragin: 95mins
The story : Dumitru (Dan Condurache) leaves prison after serving an 11 yearsfor murder. He takes a train-ride home and, after an argument over a game of cards, kills again. Meeting his family, he finds his wife pregnant with his brothers child. More killings ensue. Dumitru flees to another town and works as a butcher in a slaughterhouse. More killings ensue. But God, it seems, has at least one eye on this very wayward son
Pluses : Never a dull image, thanks to Alexandru Solomons striking sepia-toned cinematography. Many original compositions and effective tracking-shots, often featuring natural backdrops trees, birds, etc. Key plot points revolve around Dumitrus two pet geese, with whom he has touching (platonic) relationships. Convincing edge-of-desperation performance by grey-haired Condurache, who could be Frank Langellas shorter, gone-to-seed brother. Dumitrus life is like a blues song wall-to-wall misery tips over into deadpan black comedy, as in monochrome Slovenian absurdist situation tragedy Bread and Milk, though multiple murders lend more grand guignol aspects here. Welcome touches of film-noir: early on, gipsy fortune-teller provides Dumitru with very doomy predictions. Melancholic tendencies of long-suffering Romanian national character given full vent. Dogs almost always barking in the background. Occasional moments of brutal poetry. Religious angles handled with restraint Dumitru has odd relationship with a God who treats him like Job. Plenty to think about after strong closing shot.
Minuses : Suspicion whole is lesser than sum of parts. Picturesque visions of peasant poverty? Unwelcome touches of Fellini life as parade of weirdness: travelling band appears out of nowhere at one stage. Plot is strongly reminiscent of Gaspar Noes excon-butcher-goes-killcrazy epic Seul Contre Tous.
(seen on video, Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 18th November 2002)
InchAllah dimanche : France (Fr/Algeria) 2001 : Yamina Benguigui : 98mins
The story : 1974: the French government allows the families of immigrant Arab workers to join their husbands. Zouina (Fejria Deliba) arrives from Algeria with two children and unsympathetic mother-in-law (Rabia Mokeddem) in tow. The arrival of this extended family immediately causes friction with Zouinas garden-obsessed, small-minded French neighbours. As Zouina struggles to adapt to her new environment, husband Ali (Anass Behri) reacts by becoming increasingly violent. His downtrodden wife makes friends with a pair of French women (Mathilde Seigner and Marie-France Pisier), who encourage her tentative steps towards independence. But this is easier said than done.
Pluses : The performances are arguably as good as the underwritten roles and the screenplays general shoddiness allow.
Minuses : Cartoonish, cack-handed treatment of serious domestic-abuse/womens-liberation issues. No sense that this is the mid-seventies only a few token attempts to recreate period detail. Music overdone. Fatal uncertainty of tone: broad, larkish sit-com aspects (repetitive clashes with caricatured xenophobic neighbours) sit very awkwardly alongside more serious intentions. Seigner and (especially) Pisier wasted latter left looking dumbly on in chaotic, hurried, would-be-farcical climax that ends on thoroughly unconvincing upbeat, fairy-tale note.
(seen on video, Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 17th November 2002)
Luce dei miei occhi : Italy 2001 : Giuseppe Piccioni : 114mins
The story : Easy-going science-fiction-reading chauffeur Antonio (Luigi Lo Cascio a younger Sam Waterston) falls for Maria (Sandra Ceccarelli an older Lara Flynn Boyle), put-upon owner of a loss-making frozen food store. Though single-mother Maria bluntly states she isn’t attracted to Antonio, he isn’t easily dissuaded and tries to alleviate her financial worries by doing some gratis driving for her creditor Saverio (Silvio Orlando a heavier Joe Mantegna), a slightly shady businessman.Complications ensue.
Pluses : Intriguing, original kind of non-romantic romance sparked by Antonios love-at-first-sight chance meeting with Maria. Convincing, rounded characters Ceccarelli isn’t afraid to be unsympathetic as the rather chilly Maria, who at one point tellingly asks Antonio to turn off her shops freezers. Paul Schraderish elements: many night scenes; solitary, bookish driver drifts into fringes of criminal underworld while developing romantic obsession with slightly older woman; his saintly conscience threatened by moral miasma. Effective use of off-the-tourist-track Rome locales. Italian equivalent of quirky Spanish character-based romantic drama Ten Days Without Love: main subject of both movies is emotion.
Minuses : Title remains frustratingly unexplained. Repetitive, monotonous voice-over from Antonio, who reads many extracts from his beloved sci-fi novels shades of Tobey Maguires character in Ang Lees Ice Storm, except the passages aren’t so well-chosen here. Talky: many scenes where Antonio has long conversations with Maria or Saverio. Shady-underworld subplot feels bolted on to main story and conspicuously short, slight Antonio is hardly debt-collector material (cf skinny Martin Compston in Sweet Sixteen.) Tone is mostly realistic, but there’s slightly jarring melodrama involving Marias young daughter Lisa (Barbara Valente), subject of a child-custody case initiated by her grandparents. Script (by Piccioni, Umberto Contarello and Linda Ferri) paints itself into a corner by having Maria so vehemently resist Antonios charms if she eventually succumbs, it will feel like a betrayal of the characters independence. If she doesn’t whats the movie actually going to be about: Antonios slightly creepy, stalkerish persistence? In the end, a slightly fudgy middle-way is negotiated.
(seen Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 21st November 2002)
Mein Russland : Austria 2002 : Barbara Graftner : 87mins
The story : Margit (Andrea Nurnberger) is a domineering, fortysomething divorcee with two grown-up children, living in Vienna with her nice-guy boyfriend. Her well-ordered domestic situation undergoes major upheaval when the extended family of her sons Ukrainian fiancee pay a visit. Chaos rapidly ensues and long-simmering family tensions reach breaking point. (Cast also includes Hannes Gastinger, Natalia Baranova, Holger Schober, Julia Hofler.)
Pluses : A refreshing change to find relatively upbeat material coming out of Austria after the bracingly bleak Lovely Rita and Dog Days. Force-of-nature, edge-of-mania performance from Nurnberger holds the movies disparate subplots in place with daunting, centrifugal power. Initially a somewhat grotesque mother-in-law-from-hell, Margit develops into a surprisingly sympathetic kind of monster. Blending actors and non-professionals, debutant writer-director Graftner aims for a rough-edged, dark-toned sitcom ambiance with aspects of Mike Leigh and dogme: high-definition DV gives a documentary, home-movie feel. Several successful comic sequences featuring punchy dialogue from Margit, whose chubby face and Louise Brooks hairstyle fill the screen in numerous intense, amusing close-ups. Culture-clash nimbly dramatised: Russian (Ukrainian?) dialogue isn’t translated as Margit doesn’t speak the language.
Minuses : Over-familiar form and content see also this years Minor Mishaps and Grill Point. Austrian wine in Danish, dogme-shaped bottles. These aren’t bad films by any means, but this kind of bittersweet comedy-drama is developing into a predictable mini-genre. Russians stereotyped as booze-crazy party-people with dodgy Mafia-type connections as in Birthday Girl, except Jez Butterworths movie got away with it by using the conventions for dramatic ends.
(seen Komuna cinema, Ljubljana, 19th November 2002)
Sestry : Russia 2001 : Sergej Bodrov, Jr : 85mins
The story : The sisters are, in fact, half-sisters – 13-year-old Sveta (Oksana Akinsina) and 8-year-old Dina (Katja Gorina), whose father is a mid-ranking gangster in the Russian Mafia. Hes released from prison after serving time for a robbery but finds his colleagues on the outside suspect him of stashing away some of his crimes ill-gotten gains. To ensure his co-operation they plan to kidnap his children but the resourceful, independent kids escape underground and hide out in the countryside. The squabbling sisters temporarily put aside their differences as they try to stay one step ahead of their would-be captors.
Pluses : Bodrov Jr was Russias most popular young actor after appearances in Brother, Brother 2 and his father Sergej Srs Prisoner of the Mountains. Sisters is his directorial debut he was working on a second movie when he was killed in an avalanche that also wiped out many of his crew. This gives Sisters a tragic feel his cameo as a charismatic young hood is almost unbearably poignant (though there is one rather dubious tracking shot which features an array of impossible tough-faced hard-men culminating with the rather sweet-featured Bodrov himself). And this is an accomplished, very promising debut Bodrov also wrote the script (with Gulsat Omarova) which is commendably unsentimental in its treatment of Sveta, Dina, and the other streetwise children they meet on their travels. Strong performances from Akinsina and the rather scarily unsympathetic Gorina were thankfully a long way from the sugary dad-worship of Road To Perdition. Back-of-beyond Russian locales are effectively deployed.
Minuses : Though the copious use of Russian rock and pop gives the film a certain distinct character, at times we get far too much of a good thing – the soundtrack occasionally overpowers the on-screen action its supposed to be accompanying. And there’s a major problem with the ending we build towards a tense, action-packed climax that doesn’t actually arrive: the finale is so hurried, it feels like Bodrov ran out of time, money or both. A slightly more polished and tightly structured variation on similar themes (teenage sharpshot employs rifle skills against eastern-European gangsters to defend sibling) can currently be found in Srdan Golubovics Absolute Hundred from Yugoslavia.
(seen on video, Cankarev Dom, Ljubljana, 22nd November 2002)
Vagon Fumador : Argentina 2001 : Veronica Chen : 87mins
The story : Buenos Aires by night. Bisexual hustler Andres (Leonardo Brezicki) drifts into an intermittent but intense relationship with Reni (Cecilia Bengolea), who sings in a Portishead-esque rock band. The volatile Reni flirts with suicide, then impulsively decides to try her luck at prostitution under Andres expert guidance. Complications ensue.
Pluses : Nocturnal images from cinematographer Nicolas Theodossiou gives the episodic narrative a muddy, gauzy but distinctive look much juddery slo-motion, distorted monochrome footage from bank-lobby CCTV. Arty fragments of aimless youth in the painful transition to adult responsibility. Crowd scenes obviously shot on the hoof real people walk past, as in Michael Winterbottoms London-by-night Wonderland. Some effective use of found locations: amusing close-up of Mel Gibson, staring out from a Payback poster outside a cinema (also showing: Destino Final!)
Minuses : Mannered, self-conscious direction of a somewhat thin, humourless story overuse of juddery slo-mo gimmick. Gestures and dialogue heavy with unearned significance: the city is an octopus, full of tentacles a monster. Tired attraction/repulsion aspect between the star-crossed lovers. Repetitive, occasionally laughable sequences of Reni in her bath, contemplating suicide and accidentally cutting herself. Jared Leto-ish Brezicki looks the part, but unfortunately doesn’t seem able to act. Unlikely, over-romanticised business of Reni turning to prostitution. Frustratingly enigmatic ending, though it does finally explain the title. Poseur director aiming for a bleak, night-town urban poetry straining for elegant ennui like a parody of a sixties Italian art-movie, complete with steamy arthouse sex-scene. Renis songs include several priceless lines: My north was de-magnetised. No wonder the band doesn’t make any money.
(seen Kinoteka cinema, Ljubljana, 18th November 2002)
aka The Spanish Woman : Australia 2001 : Steve Jacobs : 90mins
The story : Australia, the early 1960s in a small town mostly populated by Spanish immigrants, Italian couple Lola (Lola Marceli) and Ricardo (Simon Palomares) live with their teenage daughter Lucia (Alice Ansara) in a shack-like house yards away from an oil refinery. When Ricardo suddenly elopes with another woman, Lola is enraged and Lucia blames her mother for her fathers exit. As their feud intensifies, both mother and daughter fall for the suave charms of local stud Stefano (Alex Dimitriades) with disastrous consequences
Pluses : In a deliberately campy film featuring several over-the-top, mildly hysterical performances, Lourdes Bartolome turns in an engagingly sympathetic, relatively restrained turn as Lucias boisterous but kindly sister Manola. The oil refinery provides an unusual, bizarrely scenic constant backdrop. Australias melting-pot of immigrant cultures is nimbly conveyed by having characters alternate between Italian, Spanish and English Lucia already has a strong local accent. Several jokes hit the target, making for an enjoyably energetic, if undemanding and very female-oriented comedy.
Minuses : Lucia is at the centre of the movie, so its odd we see so little of her life away from her family apart from her brief interludes with Stefano. Where are all her school friends? This feels like a major gap in Anna Maria Monticellis screenplay. Marcelis unhinged, hyper-passionate Lola is rather too temperamental for comfort there’s something of a Mommie Dearest aspect to this glamour-puss thirtysomethings exceedingly spiky relationship with her plain-Jane daughter. Debutant director Jacobs aims for the kind of gaudy stylisation often works well in shorts but which in features is much harder to sustain. In La Spagnolas case, there’s often an uncomfortable problem of tone. Its mostly a jokey farce (one gag involves the messy consequences of a laxative), but there are some jarringly dark moments that aren’t successfully integrated most notably a harrowing knitting-needle abortion sequence that’s played for laughs. And there’s a pet-served-as-meal episode that’s as disturbing as the equivalent scene in Every Day God Kisses Us On the Mouth (see above).
(seen Komuna cinema, Ljubljana, 21st November 2002)
THIS IS NOT A LOVE SONG
both reviewed in Leeds competition
(opening-night movie, also in competition : My Big Fat Greek Wedding)
reviews written 27th November 7th December 2002
click here for reviews of competition highlights City of God, Saturday and Seafood
click here for out-of-competition movies Absolute Hundred, Freedom and Human Nature
by Neil Young