Film Scouts Diaries

2001 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries

by Henri Béhar

Thursday, July 12 - A tale of ''sexual violence against adolescence and of adult indifference'', as director Maryse Sistach puts it, Violet Perfume (Mexico, international premiere, in competition) is based on a true story - or at least, definitely, on situations all too often true. Rebel Yessica is sent to yet another school and befriends Miriam, a more (apparently) well-off youngster. We're not talking major uplifting here: Miriam is the daughter of a single mother (more woman than mother, perhaps). As for Yessica, she is threatened and beaten into prostitution by her half-brother while her mother and stepfather look the other way. One day, Yessica steals a bottle of violet perfume from a store and lets Miriam suffer the consequences. Yessica's parents continue to stick their heads in the sand, Miriam's mother dismisses Yessica as a teenage whore. End of a friendship, perhaps ?

The problem is, at this point, if I see one more teenager on the run or, once again, two school girls sharing secrets, makeup and perfume, I am going to scream. Granted, it's totally unfair to Violet Perfume and the least one could do is give this film a second chance in a more neutral environment.

Call it ''Revolutionnaires sans frontières'' (Revolutionaries Without Borders) or an ''ideological adventure movie'', Chico (Hungary-Germany-Croatia-Chile, world premiere, in competition) is quite an intriguing piece of work.. Born in Latin America, part Hungarian, part Catholic, part Jewish, raised as a staunch communist (when communism also meant romanticism), Eduardo Rosza Flores (''Chico'') experiences as a child the advent then the fall of Che Guevara and Salvador Allende, migrates to Hungary (''true socialism''), becomes a journalist, can no longer bear to just watch, ends up in the Balkans and particularly in war-torn Croatia, hanging as well he can to the notion of ideology, which may have no room in political power plays and war games as he goes from deeply felt socialism to fascism for practically the same reasons.

You admire the way director Ibolya Fekete mixes fact and fiction, newsreels and drama, you applaud the way she sticks to her guns and plays the multi-lingual card fully (the film is spoken in Spanish, Hungarian, English, Italian, Croatian and Albanian). Yet, you come out of this film feeling severely under-equipped as far as the minutest details of the Balkan wars are concerned (things switch on and off real fast), you wonder confusedly whether the film might not be somewhat politically dangerous, and you're even more trouble by the fact that ''Chico'' is played by… the real Chico, who actually has quite a presence on screen.

The Angel neighborhood of Prague seems to be what New York's Alphabet City was fifteen years ago: cheap, dark, dangerous, drug-infested, populated by people in dire straits. Young Mikes hooks up with a new neighbor, Jana, who might represent for him a way to reconnect with ''normal'' people. But his friends Lukas and Kaja drag him back to drugs and petty theft. While on a trip to South Africa, Mikes and Kaja make a new - and fiercely potent - drug. Back home, Mikes is pressured by one (Kaja) and all to recreate the drug. To no avail. Turns out the missing ingredient is the combination of his and Kaja's blood…

Inspired by the semi-mystical novel by Jachym Topol (with whom he wrote the script), director Valdimir Michalek (Sekal Must Die) shot Angel Exit on digital video and in chronological order, which must have been pretty liberating for his actors. There is a frankness in Michalek's approach that one usually associates with Dutch cinema: bold, dead on, at eye-level (no acrobatic camera movements usually expected in ''drug movies''), pushing things to an in-your-face paroxysm - this is how it is, warts and all, zits, shaved heads and unshaved chins, agitation, catatonia, the whole shebang. A rude-and-crude style that is actually pretty sophisticated, as Michalek manipulates the sounds and images - color and frame - as only digital technology allows you to. Far from smoothly pleasant, but fascinating.

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