Film Scouts Diaries

2002 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Kalovy Vary Diary #5: Girls, guys... and everything in between

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, JULY 8th, 2002 - Caroline Link's "Nowhere in Africa" (Germany, in competition) is a crowd pleaser if there ever was one. Based on Stefanie Zweig's autobiographical novel, it tells the story of a Jewish family that emigrated in 1938 from Germany to Kenya, which little Regina falls in love with and soon considers as home. She befriends the native cook, learns the language of the locals and gradually discovers the magic of the African continent. But what will happen when, the war over, the family is to return to Germany? Caroline Link (as well as Stefanie Zweig, one suspects) does not believe in Major Pronouncements. "Little touches" is the operative phrase here: one's first step across the edge of the garden to venture into the wild, how good it feels to wiggle your toes in warm cattle dung, how simple and natural it is for a child to learn the language of her new friends... Contrary to the stereotype, the Africans are not "happy to serve", they adopt a family and add it to their own. They have a knowledge completely different from ours, but just as valid and worthy of consideration. The Karlovy Vary audience had a huge smile on its collective face when it came out of the gala screening.

Gurinda Chadha's "Bend it for Beckham" (out of competition) is no slouch in the crowd-pleasing department either - the film is already a runaway hit in the UK. You thought Stallone's Rocky had it tough? Then imagine you are 18, an Indian in England and so totally in awe of soccer legend Beckham that you want to become a soccer player -- did I mention that you are also a GIRL ? So what do you do when you are spotted by a scout for a local high-school team whom you befriend - but who turns against you when she thinks you are making the moves on the team's coach (Jonathan Rhys-Myers); when you dream of going to America where student athletes get scholarships and sponsorships but your parents won't allow you to play because you'll ruin your sister's arranged marriage? Guess what the outcome is going to be. This "soccer Rock-ette" - a delightful piffle - is played by refreshing élan by Parminder Nagra and Keira Knightley, who played Nathalie Portman's handmaiden in "Star Wars: The Phantom Menace" ("which spoiled the whole series for me now that I know how it's done: I always thought the light sabers aren't real!") and just wrapped a TV adaptation of "Dr. Zhivago" in Prague.

Okay: Mom's a slut (she left with another man ten or twenty years ago), Dad's a drag queen, Sonny's an aging punk who loafs about with other zonked-out rainbow-haired punks, but has always been in love with his sleepwalking sister and embarks in an incestuous relationship with her. One big happy family, yes? Well, Japan's "Filament" (in competition) is far more interesting - and interestingly filmed - than that. Starting with the father (the true heart of the piece) who, as a photographer-artist using himself as a subject, quietly pushed the boundaries of life and art. The acting is uneven, but Takao Osawa, as the father, is absolutely stunning.

Now is cross-dressing emerging as a major theme of this year's festival? In "All About My Father" (documentary, in competition), Even Benestard focuses on his father, a 52-year old Norwegian doctor who dresses up as a woman and calls himself Esther Pirelli; "The Cockettes" (Another View section) are, like, Rockettes with, ahem, you know; "Venus Boyz" (also in Another View) is about women who dress up as men; and "Britney, Baby, One More Time" about a Milwaukee loser who cons a (male) Britney Spears impersonator into financing his (very vague) film project. Due to popular demand, several screenings have been added... go figure.

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