Film Scouts Diaries

2001 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries

by Henri Béhar

Friday, July 6 - The Karlovy Vary Film festival features a main competition (two, actually: one for fiction films, one for documentaries),with innumerable sidebars: Special Events, Films Inspired by Music, Forum of Independents, East Meets West, Variety Critics' Choice, Czech Films... along with several tributes: to Jean-Luc Godard, to Spanish director Bigas Luna, to Polish director (and president of the jury) Krzysztof Zanussi, to veteran Czech director Otakar Vavra... Having been asked (and having agreed) to be on a panel of critics for (Czech) Premiere Magazine and give stars to the fiction films in competition ("from one for 'krap' to five for 'great' ", I am instructed), I decide to structure my film-viewing around the competition. Duty before pleasure - if there is to be a conflict.

Since its release in France just before the Cannes Film Festival, Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain has been a runaway hit and the object of controversy. A sweet and shy waitress, Amélie Poulain (Audrey Tautou) lives in a Montmartre that looks and feels like a tiny village. Nothing happens but the daily routine, until one day she discovers a hidden cache in her apartment containing an old box full of a former tenant's childhood keepsakes. She decides to return the long-lost treasure to its rightful owner, thereby triggering a domino-effect as she realizes she might help improve everyone'slife around her. ("Amélie" succeeds where Pay It Forwardmiserably failed.) Apart from Audrey Tautou (doing an strangely-coiffed Audrey-Hepburn-meets-Bambi number on us), the film features actor-director Matthieu Kassovitz (Purple Rivers) and a whole bunch of wonderful supporting actors: Rufus, Isabelle Nanty, Dominique Pinon, but first and foremost, Paris. A Paris as ''real''; (read: removed from reality) as the City of Lights in Stanley Donen's Funny Face.. A deliberately and gleefully faux Paris (though shot on location) that harks back to the glorydays of René Clair's Sous les Toits de Paris; and Marcel Carné's Hotel du Nord and the totally unpolitical society that inhabited them - hence, in France, the controversy. Bought for US distribution by Miramax, Amélie of Montmartre will be released stateside this fall.

Coproduced by France and Bulgaria, Touchés par la grâce (''Touched by Grace'') deals with a French sociologist landing in a picturesque little village on the border between Bulgaria, Turkey and Greece where Muslims and Christians live in peace as they have for hundreds of years (we're a mere 60 miles from Kosovo). With its local poet who longs to see a Rossellini movie, its big-hearted smuggler and wine flowing from water taps, the film twists itself into a pretzel trying to achieve a fairy-tale-cum-quirky-fabletone that it simply doesn't.

Born in Germany, raised in California, trained as an actorin London and in Paris where he is partly based, Jean-Marc Barr was, after LucBesson's Big Blue, poised to become a super-star. Instead, he sought out off-beat directors and befriended Lars von Trier in whose Zentropa, Breaking the Waves and Dancing in the Dark he was featured, sometimes prominently, sometimes not. Utterly convinced by Von Trier's Dogme Manifesto, he became a director, Too Much Flesh (Horizons Section) is his sophomore feature, the second part of a trilogy on freedom that started with Lovers (1999) and will end with Being Light.

Too Much Flesh deals with sex. A 35-year-old Illinois farmer (Jean-Marc Barr) is trapped in an unsatisfying marriage with the puritanical Amy (Rosanna Arquette). Ever since his high-school days, he's been plagued by the rumour, viciously spread by a jealous teenager, that he had ''too much flesh down there'' and that, therefore, his sexual organ could only inflict pain, not pleasure. Things change when a former friend returns for a visit with a French, i.e. liberated young woman (Elodie Bouchez). Lyle and Juliette become lovers, for the first time in his life, Lyle truly savors sex (trust the Froglettes for that). Though individual reactions run the gamut - Amy, though burning with jealousy, might be ready tolook the other way, while Juliette's friend would be more than willing to share the couple's intimacy - the village as a whole resents the lovers' flaunting of societal rules. This can only result in tragedy.

The film shoots from the hip (no pun intended) and, true to the Dogma manifesto, is filmed with energy, acuity, and no frills whatsoever. As fascinating as a car wreck occurring right before you in slow motion.

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