Film Scouts Diaries

2007 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
The 23rd Festroia International Film Festival, # 1

by Henri Béhar

The discrete charm of Festroia

Setubal, Portugal, June 2, 2007 - As conventional wisdom goes, any film event immediately following Cannes wouldn't stand a chance. Couldn't possibly register, not even as a beep, in the conscience of media-bombarded film audiences, let alone movie-fatigued reporters.

That is not the case for the Festroia Festival Internacional de Cinema in Setubal, Portugal. Originally taking place in the little peninsula of Festroia (hence the name), over the years, the Festival outgrew its location and moved to downtown Setubal, yards away from both the harbor and the landmarked old town center.

Occurring merely days after the Croisette happening which, especially on its 60th anniversary, was as thunderous as the Berlin Philharmonic conducted by Herbert von Karajan on speed, the chamber-music-like voice of Festroia has always managed to make itself heard. A reflection, no doubt, of the personality of its founder, Mario Ventura. It was, therefore, only fitting for the 23rd edition of Festroia (June 1-10) to open with a tribute to Ventura, who died last year of cancer.

A word about the man. Born in Lisbon in 1936, he became one of Portugal's most respected journalists and writers, the author of over fifteen books, including short stories, novels and non-fiction works. A dissenter under Salazar's dictatorship, he was incarcerated by the PIDE (the political police) in the infamous Caxias prison, where one of his co-inmates was future president Mario Soares. An astute analyst and proponent of the visual media, he founded the Festroia Festival in 1985 both as a showcase for international cinema and a forum to discuss issues of cultural, social and political importance. A two-pronged mission that the Festival, now run by firebrand (and Ventura's longtime companion) Fernanda da Silva, has kept at the forefront of its agenda…

…as evinced by the program that opened the festivities, a double bill that was not the weak of heart.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the Spanish section of Doctors Without Borders, international star and heartthrob-turned-producer Javier Bardem (soon to be seen as a surrealistic killer in the Coen Brothers' No Country for Old Men) asked five directors to tell the stories of people who are invisible to the eyes of the world (hence the title of the film,Invisibles).

In her Cartas a Nora segment, Catalunia-born Isabel Coixet tells of a Bolivian young woman who works in Barcelona to send money to a family devastated by the "chancha", a disease that affects nearly twenty million people living in deep poverty but is practically ignored by the big drug-making multinationals because, you know, there is no money in it.

Along the same lines, but with a different tone, Spain's Mariano Barroso (Los Sueños de Blanca) reveals two different ways of using the same pharmaceutical active ingredient, one in Europe, the other in Africa.

In Uganda (Fernando Leon de Aranoa's Buenas Noches, Oumar), thousands of children flee every day and walk miles to avoid being kidnapped by soldiers.

In Colombia (Javier Corcuera's La Voz de Piedras), a group of farmers tries to survive after their land was grabbed by either the guerrilla or the paramilitary forces.

Finally, in Invisible Crimes, a segment of devastating simplicity, Wim Wenders gives voice to several women from Congo who were mass-raped during the civil war.

After that, the two-and-a-half hours of Agustin Diaz Yanes's Alatriste felt almost like a breath of fresh air. Based on a well-known book series and starring Viggo Mortensen speaking Spanish (one of the many languages the actor-painter-writer-poet actually speaks, writes and acts in), it sets the adventures of the brave and proud soldier against a world in decline, that of the 17th-century imperial Spain under the reign of Felipe IV, a weak monarch easily manipulated by a corrupt, intrigue-ridden entourage. A world in which the contrast between luxury and opulence on the one hand (aristocracy) and poverty and misery on the other is reaching breaking point. As most disclaimers would state, any resemblance with anyone you may have seen on TV lately or anything you may have grabbed from today's headlines would be pure coincidence…

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