Film Scouts Diaries

2007 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
The 23rd Festroia International Film Festival, # 2

by Henri Béhar


Setubal, Portugal, June 4, 2007 -- It may appear eminently trivial, but it is a well-known fact among festival circuit veterans that the profile and, therefore, the success (or failure) of a festival largely depend on whoever picks you up at the airport. After all, they are the first impression you get of the event you are attending. In that respect, the beaming smiles of the three official drivers are sufficient to make you feel at home. Oddly enough, they are named Luis, Luis and Luis. To differentiate them, you instantly nickname them (in order of appearance on your personal radar) Luis 1, Luis 2 and Luis 3 - which makes for some gleeful confusion, since your Luis 1 might be my Luis 2… pick it up from there. Reserved yet friendly, guarded yet relaxed, they are also subtly efficient, for by the end of the southbound 12-mile ride from the Lisbon airport, you will have found out who's already arrived and who's coming and when; you will have had a thorough look at the screenings schedule - retrospectives in the morning, competing films from 3 p.m. onward (how civilized!) - and a cursory one at the fairly thick catalogue, a.k.a. "the Menu".

As is the case in most festivals, the 120+ films screened here are presented in several sections, articulated around the main competition. (If Cannes gives out Palms, Berlin Bears and Venice Lions, Festroia awards Dolphins.) These sections include "Special Sessions" (opening night and closing night films, tributes to Czech director Jiri Menzel and movie icon Christopher Lee), "First Works", "American Independents" (with films in the latter two also competing for various awards, with separate juries), a "Tribute to a Country" (this year Spain), "Film Classics" (from Germany, this year), a "[Director] Showcase" (Billy Wilder), "Children's Films", "European Shorts" and "Portuguese Cinema of the Year".

To which one must add a section called "Man and His Environment" that showcases shorts and features from all over the world dealing with global warming, in conjunction with an initiative called CarbonZero. But more about that when the time comes, on with the Competition.

The San Diego referred to O Caminho de Sao Diego (in competition) has nothing to do with the Southern California city and everything to do with soccer icon Diego Maradona. When, in 2004, he had a massive stroke, Argentina stopped living and started praying. From all over the country, thousands of fans set off on a pilgrimage toward Buenos Aires, where Maradona was fighting for his life. A Latin-American equivalent of a trip to Lourdes, as it were. Carlos Sorin's film follows one such pilgrim, a dirt-poor and unemployed laborer who embarks on the journey of a lifetime, carrying a tree root in which, he thinks, nature has miraculously carved a face strikingly similar to his idol's - a newspaper-wrapped five-feet tall amulet that will hopefully heal the ailing soccer god.

Along the way, the hero of this atypical road-movie meets a whole array of colorful and/or incredibly generous characters: ambulance drivers, a grocer, a blind man (all non-professional actors). Shot, almost documentary-style, with a deft, falsely naïve and humorous touch, Caminho… is definitely a valentine to the Little Man. It also sheds a sweet yet sharp light on the way popular devotion can elevate a mere mortal to modern sainthood. It's all about soccer and Maradona here…but is Che Guevara really that far?

A Bosnian-Croatian-German co-production, Ognjen Svilicic's Armin describes a two-tiered journey. At the most basic level, it tells the story of a father who takes his son from a rural town in Bosnia to Zagreb to audition for a movie. Despite some medical problems, the young, and initially reluctant, accordion player will try and fulfill his father's dream of becoming famous. By the end of the trip, however, father and son will find that there are more important things in life than a career. A tad sentimental (if not mawkish at times), the film is redeemed by the actors. Emir Hadzihafisbegovic (the father) is energetically convincing. As for Armin Omerovic, on whose story the script is partly based and who plays himself, guess what ? The kid may have found his calling after all and might indeed have a career…

Fernando Perez's Madrigal takes you on another kind of trip entirely, as this Spanish-Cuban two-parter leaps from "Havana, 2005" to "The World, 2020", from life to art. It focuses on Javier (dashingly played by soon-to-be-heartthrob Carlos Enrique Almirante), a young stage propman/actor so prone to fantasizing that even when he embarks in a love affair with secretive, complex-ridden Luisita, he has a hard time drawing the line between truth and lies, appearance and reality. Cut to fifteen years later: Javier, now a writer, has turned his tragic love story into a play (different tone, different cast) yet we still don't know what is truth and what is lies. But isn't it what art is all about: the search for a Truth that lies beyond truth and lies ? Beautifully shot and dedicated to French director René Clair, Madrigal is at once fascinating and irritating, but there is no denying it stays with you.

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