1st FESTIVAL OF MEDITERRANEAN FILM: Split, Croatia, May/June 2008

Published on: May 27th, 2008

roundup article for Tribune magazine

reviewed for The Hollywood Reporter
The Yellow House
Suddenly, Last Winter

covered below – scroll down for…

Dispatch #2 : All Or Nothing and Mediterranean
#3   : The Edge of Heaven
#4   : The Yellow House and Arrebato 
#6   : Suddenly Last Winter
#7   : I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster
#9   : The Dupes
#10 : Caramel
#11 : Paris, je t'aime
#12 : Tale 52 and A Propos de Nice

(competition films already seen elsewhere and reviewed on this site:
The Diving Bell and the Butterfly and The Orphanage)

~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~  ~

Dispatch #1 — Tuesday 16:30
30 degrees centigrade and the sun beating down on Split ever since I arrived a couple of hours ago. Writing this in internet cafe on 4th floor of a liftless building not far from the old town, a.k.a. Diocletian's Palace. Ancient, intriguing city, but – as we found when driving in and trying to park – not built for cars. Showing us around a little on the way to the festival HQ, friendly hospitality chief Marijana breezily announced (in her impeccable English) that it's impossible to get lost in the Palace because wherever you go, you end up where you started. Sounds like a pretty good definition of "getting lost" to me!
   Still got a while till my first film(s), a double-bill – "paradigmatic undergound film" All or Nothing and "undisputed masterpiece" Mediterranean - which all told runs less than an hour. Sounds ideal, as I'm in a state of becalmed knackerisation due to the heat. Before then: shower and a lie-down at my nearby (quite cosy) accommodations. Also adding to the fatigue: the fact that the internet cafe where I'm writing is up on the fourth floor of a liftless building – will keep an eye out for alternative facilities over the next day or so. 
   Current big news in cinema, post-Cannes, is the demise of Sydney Pollack at 73 – he'd been ill for some time, but it's still perhaps a slight surprise he outlived Sidney Lumet, 84 next month, with whom he's long been confused. I was never a particular fan of Pollack as a director – Three Days of the Condor probably my favourite of those of his that I've seen – and probably admired him more as a character-actor in stuff like Eyes Wide Shut (where he replaced Harvey Keitel) and, more recently, the picture I stubbornly like to think of as Realm and Conquest.
   More anon.

Dispatch #2 — Tuesday 19:27
Found an internet place just round from the main festival cinema, the Golden Gate ('Zlatna vrata' in Croatian), where I just saw the double-bill of ALL OR NOTHING (*****/5) and MEDITERRANEAN (**?/5). The kino itself is a little gem of a picturehouse, located within the 'Palace' itself, and – I was told by the woman who introduced the screening – founded by All Or Nothing's director, Ivan Martinac.
   One mediums-size auditorium, early-60s feel, each seat bearing the name of a cinematic luminary. The front row: August Lumiere, Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, David Griffith (DW to you and me), Rita Haywort (sic) not-coincidentally located right next to Orson Welles, then Jean Harlow, Pavle Vujisić, Pola Negri, Ramon Novarro and, for some reason as far from his frere as possible, Louis Lumiere (directly behind him, Boris Karloff, with Jean-Luc Godard on his right).
   Note the "western"/Latinic spellings of those names, in contrast to the Yugoslav-era posters on the stairs leading up to the auditorium, which feature a charming phonetic transliteration. Hence Čarls Bronson, Džems Kobern and Džil Ajrlend in Gvozdeva Pesnica (i.e. The Streetfighter) by Volter Hil; the sadly-topical Džeremija Džonson by Sidni Polak ("Američki vestern u koloru"), plus a Sam Peckinpah picture starring Andži Dikinson, Džon Kasavetis and Ronald Rigen. Best poster of the bunch is Zatvorski Krug - The Mean Machine, featuring Burt Reynolds (sadly not transliterated into… what? Bert Renols?) – which I might well make a cheeky bid for, before my departure at the weekend.
   And the films themselves? Well, All Or Nothing might well turn out to be the best thing I see here all week. It's a ten-minute enigma on 8mm 16mm made in Split in 1968, sans dialogue: an elusive fragment of samizdat atmospherics. The title couldn't be more apt: these elliptical images – people sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes, in slow motion, on the seafront; journalists tapping away on typewriters in what looks like the offices of an underground newspaper; ancient city buildings in sunlight and shade – could either be of great political/social significance or "about" nothing but their own mysteriousness. A textbook example of how to make striking, stimulating cinema with the skimpest of resources, All Or Nothing is at once urgent and ruminative, an intense immersion into a particular time and place.
   I was much less taken by Mediterranean, a repetitive collage of visuals and sound which crosses the line from audacious experimentation into self-indulgent straining-for-significance. Again and again, director Pollet shows us scenes from a bullfight, close-ups of ancient statuary, various Mediterranean folk going about their business, ruined temples, barbed wire near a beach. But there's no sense of accumulation, or a progression towards eventual significance. Fatally, he punctuates the artsy travelogue material with shots of an anaesthetised woman as she's wheeled towards a gleaming operating-table. From what I could understand of the narration – the film was shown with Croatian subtitles only – it's intended to be a foray into issues of memory, time and man's transience. A reverie in the mind of the unconscious woman – perhaps, if she's some kind of pretentious avant-garde filmmaker.
   The lack of subtitles, while not a major problem in this instance (I rather reckon, in fact, this was to the picture's advantage), was worrying: I'd been assured that everything in the programme, with the exception of a new Croatian movie, had English subtitles. Further investigation, however, revealed that, while everything in competition is thus subtitled, the organisers didn't know either way about the retrospective movies – it'll be a case of turning up and finding out there and then. Not ideal, but I'll muddle through it somehow, I suppose.
   Got an hour till the official opening film, The Edge of Heaven, which I'm assured will have English subtitles, and which is showing in the open-air cinema about 15/20 minutes away. Gives me time to grab a sandwich – or rather sendvič – from some nearby eaterie.
   More anon.

Dispatch #3 — Wednesday 11:22
Writing to the strains of Tom Waits grinding out his version of Young At Heart… Somehow "very Split". Had a bit of a lie-in this morning, as I'm in a self-catering apartment rather than a hotel for once on this trip (nights in Ljubljana / Zagorje / Pula / Opatija / Zadar en route). Even hotter than yesterday, when it was still distinctly warm at 11.30pm or so as the open-air, opening-night waterfront screening of THE EDGE OF HEAVEN (5/10) belatedly came to a close. "Belatedly", because according to the catalogue it's only 95 minutes long — then again, the catalogue also reckons it to be a French/Lebanese co-production.
   In fact, it's German/Turkish and a rather protracted 122 minutes, divided into three chapters that tell the story of six interrelated characters as fate's fickle vicissitudes cause them dot between those two nations (mainly Bremen and Hamburg in the former; Istanbul in the latter). Synopsis can be found here.
   Picture has done well on the "festival circuit" since premiering at Cannes a year ago, where it won the Best Screenplay prize – not that this indicates the jury thought it was an especially strong script, more likely that they felt they should give it something. From my perspective, however, the screenplay is about as unimpressive as the direction: the latter competent/unsurprising at best, the former a confection of coincidences and melodramatic contrivances that undermines the serious points writer-director Fatih Akin wants to make. 
   And he doesn't exactly make optimum use of his one massive trump-card: a really sensational performance from veteran Hanna Schygulla as the mother of one of the two characters whose (implausible) deaths kicks the rickety plot along. In her most prominent screen appearance since 2000's Werckmeister Harmonies, Schygulla elevates proceedings dramatically whenever she's onscreen, mostly – but not always – underplaying a role that could easily have been milked for emotional histrionics. One hopes that Bruno Ganz has a DVD of this movie on hand whenever he's pondering his successor as bearer of the Iffland Ring.
   Tom W grinding on: "world keeps turnin', world keeps turnin'"…

        Well, the band has stopped playing but we keep dancing
        The world keeps turning, the world keeps turning
        On his hand he wore the ring of another
        And the world keeps turning, the world keeps turning

Ah, the cheap magic of coincidence…

Dispatch #4 — Wednesday 20:47
Saw two films today about The Power Of The Moving Image: in the first case – THE YELLOW HOUSE (7/10) – said power is benign, in the second – ARREBATO (2/10) – decidedly the opposite.
   The Yellow House is the kind of slow, sensitive, ethnographic affair which usually isn't my cup of tea but, for some reason, I found myself rather pleasingly beguiled this time. It's the simple, straightforward, unadorned tale of a vegetable-farming family in rural Algeria who suffer a sudden tragedy when the eldest son, a national-service "draftee", is killed in a road accident.
   The father drives off on his Lambretta wagon (shades of The Straight Story) to collect the corpse from the nearest large town; the body is buried; the lad's mother goes into a depression, her husband tries to bring her out of it. Painting their house yellow (on the advice of a bemused pharmacist) doesn't do the trick – but perhaps if the mother could "see" her son again… Luckily, there's a videotape which the soldier shot not long before his demise – now all the father has to do is work out a way to watch it; not an easy matter without TV, VCR or electricity. 
   Writer-director Amor Hakkar – who also plays the father with much stoic dignity – manages, with the deployment of a very dry, faint kind of humour, to keep the tone of his film elegaic and mournful rather than morbid, and he also succeeds in spinning a wisp of a plot out to featrue length. Indeed, the lack of melodramatic event (nearly all the major developments occur offscreen) ends up an advantage rather than a minus: this is a low-key fable about the value of insistence and persistence, which speaks volumes using the gentlest of voices. Recommended.
   At the other end of the scale we have the legendary Spanish cult "horror" film Arrebato from 1979/80, and thus a product of the experimental, anything-goes cultural fervour which gripped the country in the aftermath of dictator Franco's 1975 demise. I'd often heard about this movie, and was delighted to see it in the Split programme – only tempered by conflicting reports about whether or not the print was going to have English subtitles.
   Good news: English subtitles present and correct. Bad news: the film is terrible. A mind-blowingly pretentious exploration of creativity, madness and the addictive world of cinema, it wore out its welcome long before the end of its 105-minute running-time (my patience was likely further sapped by the uncomfortable heat up in the Golden Gate cinema).
   Touted as a forerunner of Videodrome (a young aesthete – who distractingly resembles a very young Martin Amis – becomes obsessed with, and ultimately consumed by, the power of the moving image), it's more like Peeping Tom as reimagined by Jacques Rivette on a very bad day, peopled with eminently dislikeable, solipsistic bohemians losing themselves in drugs, sex and voyeurism.
   A textbook example of what happens when long-repressed artists embrace new-found freedoms with excessive zeal, Arrebato (title untranslatable into English, but "enraptured" will have to do) struggles to integrate an insistent homoerotic subtext into its convoluted narrative – and, given that Franco had been in the ground for several years, it's surprising and somewhat disappointing to see gay themes still handled with such jittery, coy kid-gloves.

Dispatch #5 — Thursday 12:02
Back up in the 4th floor internet-place, soft rock booming from the speakers, but rather airier and brighter than the one tucked away in the warren of streets adjoining Diocletian's Palace, round the corner. Only saw the two films yesterday: turned up at the outdoor cinema (a permanent facility – "Summer Cinema" - used for weekly screenings during the warmer months) at 11.00 to see Greek competition-entry Tale 52, only to learn it had been cancelled due to some hold-up at customs and that instead the film variously known as Le Graine et le mulet, The Secret of the Grain, Couscous and Couscous with Fish was screening instead.
   This is one of the best-reviewed and warmly-received pictures of the last year or so, but I have so far managed to miss it on my travels round the festival circuit (UK release is scheduled for early summer). Trouble is, it runs two and a half hours, and I didn't much fancy the prospect of sitting in the outdoor cinema till 1.45am (such screenings invariably kick off late). The two pints of local beer I'd had in one of the countless courtyards of the palace (this one notable for the dozen or so fancy scooters parked to one side, under the ubiquitous Hajduk Split shield painted on a wall) would likely have impacted upon my attention span and fatigue levels.
   Plan B was opted for: a quiet nightcap on one of the seafront bars next to the outdoor cinema in the hectic Bacvice area, which led to a wide-ranging chat about Serb politics and the national psyche. Later took what I thought was a short cut home past the small railway station near the docks, but it was likely a circuitous route back to my accommodations. On the way, had to briefly use my handkerchief to save my nose from the noxious odour I'd been warned about earlier in the day – result of Split's location above potent sulphur springs. And if you're thinking of indulging in local ice-cream to counteract the whiffy pong, forget it: said delicacies are reportedly a fast route to salmonella poisoning. Don't be put off by such hazards, however: crazily historic and engagingly atmospheric, Split is emphatically a must-visit destination – and also take in Zadar – the next city along the coast, pretty close by car or ferry - if you're passing round these parts.

Dispatch #6 — Thursday 19:05
I just snatched a five minute chat with (self-effacing) festival director Alen Munitić: a five-minute chat stretched over the course of half an hour, as he had to keep nipping off to take or make phonecalls, deal with queries from staff, and take care of the problems, major and minor, attendant with running any event of this type. He says he hasn't slept for four days, and won't even be able to relax after the festival ends on Saturday night, as there's a least a week of work (sending films back, etc) in prospect.
   And of course I myself have added to his current "in-tray", by sticking my oar into the issue of the second screening of La Graine et le mulet, which may or may not take place tomorrow afternoon. When Tale 52 didn't arrive in time for the late-night screening yesterday, Graine - all 151 minutes of it – took its place. And now the 4pm Friday slot which Graine was set to occupy has been turned over to a third screening of the festival's unexpected box-office smash, The Edge of Heaven.
   I politely suggested that Graine could be shown tomorrow afternoon between noon and 4pm, when there's currently nothing scheduled to be shown in the Golden Gate kino. This would therefore please everyone except, it seems, for the projectionists, who have already "cut up rough" about the fact that Story 52 has been added to the programme in Saturday afternoon. Alen and his two main colleagues are, as I write, apparently having a meeting to discuss the issue. I'm cautiously confident that common sense will prevail…
   Among Alen's other concerns are the clouds visible in the sky over the palace – also filled with dozens of swooping birds which I reckon are swallows, but might (I'm told) be swifts or martins. He's worried that rain is on the way, but it's still decidedly warm here in the city, and I reckon precipitation – which would cause further complications and revisions to the programme – remains odds against. 
   News from elsewhere: STRONG EARTHQUAKE ROCKS ICELAND — TEN CATE SACKED AS CHELSEA COACH — NY (New York, not Neil Young) TO RECOGNISE GAY MARRIAGE.
   Speaking of which: SUDDENLY, LAST WINTER (6/10), the sole documentary in the Split competition, shown this afternoon at the Golden Gate cinema. Rousing polemic about recent Italian politics – during the short-lived Prodi interlude – and specifically the DICO, a law roughly equivalent to the "civil partnership" legislation which came into force in Britain (with no major problems) a couple of years back.
   Italy, however, is different – one commentator reckons the Vatican's interference in the political process is unique in western Europe, and is closer to an Islamic theocracy. Video-shot film – made by and about one particular gay couple, who are faced with what seems like near-universal popular disapproval for their lifestyle – is essentially TV stuff, fine as far as it goes, but raising many more questions than it's able to answer. I'm all for documentaries to be in competition alongside fictional features, but this fair-to-middling effort seems a somewhat odd choice to represent the form in this particular "contest."
   —
   Early evening in Split, and yet another uncomfortably hot day. At lunchtime, cooled down with anchovies, tomato soup, and a glass of Croatian liqueur Pelinkovac – translated in the menu of Maslina eaterie as "Wormwood", a term which provoked much discussion of Wormwood Scrubs and the "star" Chernobyl (the latter rather more controversial than I'd reckoned.) Got an hour and a half till the outdoor screening of I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster, weather permitting. Like the man said, keep watching the skies!!!

Dispatch #7 — Friday 11:44
Penultimate full day in Split (I depart for Slovenia on Sunday, provisionally in the morning, provisionally stopping off at the Nikola Tesla birthplace in Smiljan en route) and I don't yet know my schedule film-wise. Depends on whether or not La Graine et le mulet has been slotted in, which depends on whether or not the projectionists have been placated (that sound audible in the background is perhaps that of a tail wagging a dog, though Split is emphatically a cat city, many of them snootily feral). 
   Last night I got a taxi (small indulgence at 40KN, roughly  £4.33) to the Bačvice seaside-resort area just along the coast, where the open-air cinema is located. Taking the taxi enabled me to grab something to eat in a small eaterie a couple hundred yards from the cinema "gates", which appeared to be called Petar i Bistro Pizzeria Bačvica. Multilingual, sixtysomething owner/waiter provided me with menu, one page of which was headed "Meat With Adverb". I opted for tuna salad with anchovy (cost about same as taxi), but couldn't linger afterwards as had to get down to the 9pm screening – and, there being no "rake" to the seating, a front-row pew is always preferable.
   Film was French comedy I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A GANGSTER (7/10), comprising four wry tales – and epilogue – lightly intersecting at a roadside cafeteria. Multiple story-strands, lowlifey characters (the coyly-unspoken title could apply to nearly all of them) and popcultural dialogue references give proceedings a Tarantino-ish air; tone of freewheeling, deadpan absurdity and crisp B&W cinematography nod more to Kaurismaki, Jarmusch and Aaltra. But the picture has enough charm and unassuming class to be much more than merely a compendium of references, borrowings and in-jokes.
   Yielding a consistent flow of chuckles – rather than belly-laughs – it proved likeable entertainment even at a daunting-looking 113 minutes. Ideal outdoor-viewing fare with its nostalgic air and retro ambience, especially with the rain keeping off (a few droplets were felt around midnight) and the temperatures hovering around 22 centigrade. Quick nightcap with a colleague at a beachfront bar, local youth dimly visible frolicking in the "waves", then walked home through the palace's uncharacteristically quiet (no roaring scooters!) streets, chiefly but sparsely populated, at that hour (nearly all drinking establishments shut up shop at 12) by slinking B&W felines.

Dispatch #8 — Friday 14:01
A quickie before the second part of lunch (as yesterday, pt1 = anchovy plate at Golden Gate cafe, 2: Wormwood at Maslina restaurant round the corner). No sign of a screening of La graine et le mulet, sadly. Such things happen to film festivals large and small, but I can't help but feel a little browned/cheesed off by the way this particular episode has been handled. Means I've got no films till 4pm 6pm when The Dupes from 1972, regarded as the classic of Arabic cinema, is on at Golden Gate cinema. Speaking of which, my attempts to see if it might be possible for me to buy their poster of The Mean Machine have been stymied by the fact that the kino manager, a Mr Ercegovic, isn't around. He's "homesick" – sick at home, not sick for home (and standing in tears amid the alien corn).
   Speaking of "home": while Split continues to (relatively) swelter, the south of England has apparently been deluged over the last day or so. Quoth the BBC website: Fire crews tackling flood emergencies in Somerset said it was their "busiest night in living history". (sic)

Dispatch #9 — Friday 20:10
Something of a film-light day, thanks to the non-scheduling of La Graine et le mulet (yes, I'm still kvetching about that), so I had a bit of a wander after lunch, round some corners of the palace I'd not previously explored. Stumbled across one ancient find, though decidedly post-Roman, in the form of the very old-school Kino Karaman cinema in the corner of the palace nearest the Varos district. Karaman, which seems to date from the silent era, is showing Hollywood films at the moment (What Happens In Vegas and Prince Caspian so far as I can tell) but looks ideal for future renewals of the Mediterranean Cinema Festival, presuming such events occur…
   Speaking of which, I just emerged from the 6pm screening of Syrian / Palestinian / Egyptian landmark THE DUPES (7/10) from 1972, also known as The Deceived. Tale of three desperate men who entrust themselves to a people-smuggler in order to get from Basra ('Bassorah' in the subtitles) to the Kuwait takes forever to get going, sketching in – in jumbled, hard-to-follow, non-chronological fashion – their unfortunate backstories. The second half is another matter entirely, however, a tense and claustrophobic nightmare as they must endure spells in a roasting-hot water-tank as their driver negotiates the wildly inhospitable terrain, not to mention the frustrations of bureaucracy. Ending packs a considerable punch, and the audience – somewhat parched ourselves in the heat of the cinema – stumbled out of the exits and downstairs into the air.
   Outside, one of the great sights of Split: as kids kicked their football about in front of the Golden Gate (the actual gate, not the cinema), hundreds of shrieking swifts wheeled through the air between the palace walls and the 24-foot high statue (depicting Gregorius of Nin) across the way, an elaborate evening ritual before settling into wall-crevices for the night.
   My next port of all is the outdoor cinema for a more recent, rather sweeter example of Arabic cinema, Lebanese feel-good picture Caramel, which I'm fearing will turn out to be a chick-flick in the vein of Seks i grad - as another current Hollywood delight, Sex and the City, is known in these parts.

Dispatch #10 — Saturday 09:43
Got up early (0830) this morning with the intention of getting my hair cut in a small barber's I spotted on my travels yesterday afternoon. On actually stepping out into daylight (and the inevitable heat) the idea has "gone off me" somewhat and I'm now leaning towards catching the 10am screening of Paris, je t'aime at the Golden Gate.
   CARAMEL (6/10) last night wasn't anywhere near as bad as I'd feared: a chick-flick, by any measure (laughter, life and love among the staff and customers of a small Beirut hair-salon-cum-beauty-parlour), but with rather more light-and-shade than could have been the case. The tone as often bittersweet as bouncy, and a definite plus being the age-range of the ladies involved, from an early-20s bride-to-be to a bickering pair of cohabiting pensioners (sisters, maybe?).
   Made for a pleasant, undemanding watch down at the outdoor cinema, especially after I had ventured to the (nicely bijou) projection-booth and asked the projectionist to get the English subtitles into focus. Two reels of squinting was quite enough, and to protect my eyesight action had to be taken. Not much I could do about the chattering audiences, however – the protocol at such outdoor screenings seems to be that the usual "rules" don't really apply: odd to see cinemagoers smoking these days.
   Afterwards wandered back along to a bar near the Palace, where some kind of oral-poetry festival event was in full swing. Come midnight, the outdoor chairs and tables were whisked away, likewise my not-quite-finished glass of Slovenian beer. This is, from what I can see, a very early-to-bed,early-to-rise kind of country – though Saturday night is perhaps a slight exception. Even then, I get the impression that most folk are up on Sunday morning for mass. There are churches everywhere, religious icons and paintings in hotels, apartments and bars. And countless Celtic Crosses – indicating fascism rather than Christianity – sprayed on the walls, jostling for space with the ubiquitous slogans hailing Hajduk Split and their ultra fans, Torcida. And, slightly incongruous at this southern latitudes and in such a relatively conservative social climate, countless reminders that A.C.A.B.

Dispatch #11 — Saturday 12:26
Alors, PARIS JE T'AIME (5.52/10): portmanteau film comprising eighteen shorts (of seemingly equal length, though I didn't time them), each set in a different part of the French capital. Directors multi-national, but mainly French or North American, and on balance taking a somewhat Americaine view of the city. Nothing too radical, experimental or challenging, often an air of an excuse to fill the screen with stars (Depardieu, Hoskins, Ardant, (Elijah) Wood, Buscemi, (Emily) Mortimer, etc). Predictably uneven results, with beaucoup filler and only a small handful of genuine standouts.
1. Podalydes : Montmartre : **
2. Chadha : Quais de Seine : **
3. Van Sant : Marais : ****
4. Coen and Coen : Tuileries : ****
5. Salles and Thomas : Loin du 16e : ***
6. Doyle : Porte de Choisy : ***
7. Coixet : Bastille : **
8. Suwa : Place des Victoires : **
9. Chomet : Le Tour Eiffel : ***
10. Cuaron : Parc Monceau : **
11. Assayas : Quartier des Enfants Rouges : ****
12. Schmitz : Place des Fetes : **
13. LaGravanese : Pigalle : ***
14. Natali : Quartier de la Madeleine : ***
15. Craven : Pere-Lachaise : *
16. Tykwer : Faubourg St-Denis : ***
17. Auburtin and Depardieu : Quartier Latin : ***
18. Payne : 14e : *****
(- Benbihy and Auburtin : epilogue and sequences transitions : **)

Dispatch #12 — Sunday 11:54
Written in a combination launderette-cum-internet place (internette?) just behind St Francis's Church, at the end of the "Riva" – which is the fancy-dan, newly-refurbished promenade that separates the palace from the marina (Split is grand in its way, but nowhere near as much as the terms "palace" and "marina" might seem to imply). The day started somewhat early this morning, thanks to the charming Split tradition – seemingly intended to show the tourists who's in charge – of the bin-men going about their noisy business at 5.30am. Every day. Including Sunday. Roused from slumber, I poked my head out of the kitchen window and, with my extremely limited Croatian, tried to suggest to the bin-man than 5am is a little early to be making so much racket. Not a visitor's place to making such suggestions, of course, but the boldness of dawn got the better of me.
   Yesterday was an archetypal film-festival day, i.e. a matter of high peaks and low troughs. The last two films I saw were the Greek psychological drama TALE 52 (4/10), an overwrought, uninvolving combination of Repulsion, Groundhog Day and an episode of the British TV series Hammer House of Horror entitled Rude Awakening - though I'd be somewhat surprised if the writer-director had ever actually seen the latter. Story is of a thirtysomething chap's decline into dementia, almost entirely within the confines of his apartment, the narrative taking place – for no discernible good reason – in 2010 and 2011.*
    I struggled to stay awake in the Golden Gate cinema, especially as the agonisingly slow service at nearby Maslina restaurant meant I had to gobble down an unexpectedly expensive plate of nice-tasting squid in less than five minutes (leading to a confrontation with the waiters, me suggesting that it might have sugared the pill somewhat if they'd at least apologised for the 45-minute gap between my placing my order and the arrival of the food).
   This all put me in a somewhat foul mood, but it was a case of reculer pour mieux sauter as this low trough proved the prelude to a very high peak. I finally tracked down the elusive Mr Ercegovic, and we spent an hour in conversation about Split, Sunderland, Sheffield United, countless movies, gambling, today's Prix du Jockey Club at Chantilly (I predict Prospect Wells to beat Blue Bresil and Montmartre, by the way), and much else besides. The upshot of all this is that we are planning to collaborate on a Golden Gate film-programme of movies about football fans, and that I will be leaving Split this afternoon with that much-coveted Mean Machine poster in my possession. As well as a bonus gift from Vlado E, namely the striking poster from Ivan Martinac's sole feature, The House on the Sand. Martinac's short All Or Nothing was the first film I saw at this festival and, now that it's over, it's still the best.
   The final screening I attended was of Jean Vigo's revered 1931 A PROPOS DE NICE (***/5; or 6/10), his influential dialogue-free montage about the hectic coastal town. Pleasant enough, but by no means the masterpiece I'd been led to expect: apart from one or two semi-experimental flourishes (like the use of slow motion near the end), it struck me as no different from what any decent cameraman could have come up with given similar material to work from.
   9pm saw me at the open-air cinema, where the closing "ceremony" (nicely short and unfussy) revealed that the jury's winning film was (a Split decision, as it happens) Skafander i leptir – better known as The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Sadly Julian Schnabel couldn't make it over from New York to dazzle the Split audience with his usual pyjamas-and-cigar combo. There was no standout in the competition for me: I liked the winner, The Orphanage, I Always Wanted To Be A Gangster and The Yellow House all about the same, but would have given my vote to the latter as it's the most underexposed and unknown of the quartet, and Amor Hakkar could probably do more with the money than the others. Yellow House won a special mention from the jury, who I dined with after the ceremony at bistro along the coast at Firulan Firule – home "town" of Goran Ivanisevic, apparently. As I explained to the festival organisers, in the UK Split is really only known in connection with Ivanisevic – rather absurd given the city's unique history, architecture and atmosphere.
   The place is currently full of British tourists (the Kuna currently going much further than the Euro), as well as a conspicuous number of Aussies (tracing Banadinovic's roots?), so I rather suspect Split's profile is on the rise. The film-festival may yet end up boosting this process a little: the first renewal, though featuring its share of hitches, mis-steps and oddities, has at least laid the foundations for the future. It's crucial that the retrospective element remains in place, or perhaps even grows: a full Martinac retro should be a key part of the 2009 programme, I may humbly suggest.
   Enough for now. Over and out.
   Uzdaj se u se i u svoje kljuse.

Neil Young
Split, Croatia, May/June 2008

with thanks to Vlado Ercegović, Alen Munitić, Marijana Munitić, Vladan Petković, and Tanja Vrvilo

** [A reader has taken me to task about my "flippantly dismissive" comments on Tale 52. In retrospect, I perhaps was a touch harsh. A "second opinion" by another critic will be posted on this website within a couple of days] NY 9/6/08
     second opinion now online

film-details from the catalogue

ALL OR NOTHING : [*****/5] : Sve ili ništa: Yugoslavia (Croatia) 1968 : Ivan Martinac : 10.5m : seen 27th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

A PROPOS DE NICE : [***/5; or 6/10] : France 1930 : Jean Vigo : 45m : seen 29th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

ARREBATO : [2/10] : Spain 1980 (copyright-dated 1979) : Iván Zulueta : 110m : seen 28th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

CARAMEL : [6/10] : aka Sukkar banat : Lebanon/France 07 : Nadine Labaki : 95m : seen 30th May at Ljetno Kino (Summer Cinema) Bačvice (open-air projection) 

THE DUPES : [7/10] : al-Makhdu'un aka The Deceived : Syria 1972 : Tawfik Saleh : 107m : seen 30th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

THE EDGE OF HEAVEN : [5/10] : Auf der anderen Seite : Germany/Turkey 07 : Fatih Akin : 116m : seen 27th May at Ljetno Kino (Summer Cinema) Bačvice (open-air projection) 

I ALWAYS WANTED TO BE A GANGSTER : [7/10] : J'ai toujours rêvé d'être un gangster : France 06 : Samuel Benchetrit : 113m : seen 29th May at Ljetno Kino (Summer Cinema) Bačvice (open-air projection) 

MEDITERRANEAN : [**?/5] : Méditerranée: France 1963 : Jean-Daniel Pollet : 44m : seen 26th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

PARIS JE T'AIME : [5.52/10] : France (Fr/Liech/Switz) 06 : various directors : 120m : seen 31st May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

SUDDENLY, LAST WINTER : [6/10] : Improvvisamente, l'inverno scorso : Italy 07 : Gustav Hofer & Luca Ragazzi : 80m : seen 29th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema : Hollywood Reporter review

TALE 52 : [4/10] : Istoria 52 : Greece 08 : Alexis Alexiou : 98m : seen 31st May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema

THE YELLOW HOUSE : [7/10] : La maison jaune : Algeria/France 07 : Amor Hakkar : 87m : seen 28th May at Zlatna Vrata (Golden Gate) cinema : Hollywood Reporter review

all films seen in Split, Croatia at public screenings (complimentary press tickets)

One Response

  1. […] speakers who’s seen and reported on it; he was less than unimpressed, calling it “a mind-blowingly pretentious exploration of creativity, madness and the addictive world of cinema.”  We’d still like the opportunity to judge for ourselves, since mind-blowing […]