Film Scouts Diaries

2002 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Karlovy Vary Diary #3

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 6th, 2002 - The most eagerly awaited film is generally the Festival Trailer clip, shown at the beginning of every screening, and one still remembers Jan Sverak's slithering black cat that a few years back gave this festival an aura of mystery.

This year, we are given a Lawrence-Welk-type musical number that hails back to the years of Eastern Block faux-western vaudeville. With one major difference. The one-shot one-take clip was made by David Ondricek, the son of Miroslav Ondricek, Milos Forman's mascot cinematographer, and one of the foremost Czech directors of the MTV generation. The delightfully tacky result is akin to what you would get if, say, Spike Jonze had directed the Three Stooges in a barnyard rendition of "Old McDonald Had a Farm". I'm not sure we'll still love it, though, after watching it five or six times a day.

Ignacio Ortiz Cruz's "Bedtime Fairy Tales for Crocodiles," from Mexico, is an intriguing concoction that thrives on the sort of magic realism and the living-share-their-space-with-the-dead approach that Latin-American writers and filmmakers seem to excel in. Troubled by the departure of his wife and his small autistic son, city-dweller Archangel suffers from chronic insomnia. Finding a message from his brother on his answering machine telling him their father is dying, he sets off for a remote part of the country to see the old man one last time. Arriving in his native village, he finds out that both his father and his brother have been dead for many years. He also discovers a curse that has afflicted his family for several generations (which nicely ties up the history of this family to the history of Mexico) and, watched by the local witch, tries to break the curse. But will he? While the actors play several parts, "Bedtime Fairy Tales" is very much a writer's movie - in in his younger days, scripter-director Cruz wrote a stage adaptation of Woody Allen's "Interiors".

Kianoosh Ayyari's "Iranian Spread" is like "If I Had a Million" with a twist. Instead of having a million-pound note passed on from character to character (or a winning lottery ticket changing hands, you know the pattern), "Spread" deals with a counterfeit, thousand-toman note that turns up in a bazaar and travels from hand to hand, from one duped trader to another. Basically, the subtitle of the movie could be "How to Screw Your Fellow Man - or Woman". Full of lovely little touches - some, no doubt, politically charged - but overall predictable.

On the stage of the magnificently restored Opera House, Michael York is regaling the audience with memories of Bob Fosse's "Cabaret". How, over the objections of his agents ("Don't do it, there's no part!"), he took the male lead role sight unseen - or rather, script unread - only to discover that they were right. ("Cabaret" is based on Christopher Isherwood's Berlin recollections, which later became "I Am a Camera", therefore York plays the camera, i.e. you). How, already on the set, they fleshed out the part with the help of writer Hugh Wheeler. How the studio "suits", their eyes on their Rollexes, were pressuring Bob Fosse who had a lot to prove since, while he was a renowned stage director and choreographer, his film debut, "Sweet Charity" had been a flop...

A few minutes after he began his improvised speech, York turned toward his interpreter, asking her whether she wanted to interject or whether he could go on. "No problem", she said. So he embarked on a twenty-minute riff while she was furiously taking notes. When he was done, she took a deep breath and translated - verbatim - at the speed of lightning. With emcee Marek's subtle help, the whole thing turned into a comedy routine, Michael York got the applause, she got the standing ovation.

And by the way, "Cabaret" is still truly great.

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