Film Scouts Diaries

2003 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
CZECHING A FEW STEPS IN KARLOVY VARY --- Step 2 – Cultural bewilderments

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 4 (continued) -- Of course, opening night was a fairly energetic affair. After a couple of dancers had executed a few mid-ballet mid-hiphop steps with relative success, an elderly gentleman came down from the railings and proceeded to undress. Once he did, keeping, however, his underwear (this is, after all, broadcast live in prime time), the platform he stood on rose to high heaven as he stood his arms stretched out à la Richard Nixon.
Let us explain: the Festival traditionally opens with a floor show that is somehow connected to the Official Trailer of the Festival. But more about this some other day.

After general director Jan Bartosksa and programming director Eva Zaoralova declared the festival open, two Life Achievement awards were given: one to Czech director Jiri Menzel, whose "Closely Watched Trains" is now an undisputed classic, and one to British director Stephen Frears.

A gently but obsessively modest man, Stephen Frears immediately paid tribute to the "Czech director who practically taught me everything I know, Karel Reisz."(Indeed, the recently deceased Karel Reisz who, with Lindsay Anderson, spearheaded the renaissance of British cinema in the late 50s early 60, was a Czech immigrant...)

Then it was time for the opening-night film. As the festival catalogue puts it, "set around the Orwellian year 1984," Jan Hrebeijk's Pupendo "focuses on tragicomic incidents in the life of sculptor Bedfich Mara, a prohibited artist who decided to 'purify himself' by compromising with the Communist regime. His children and his peers observe in bewilderment as the adults engineer a ridiculous daily struggle to keep their conscience clean and put bread on the table."

Rumor has it that Pupendo is the all-time box office champion for Czech movies in the Czech Republic and the audience's wildly enthusiastic reaction attested to it beyond any reasonable doubt.

Be that as it may, it is so full of socio-political references to life in Czechoslovakia under the Communist regime that most of us, completely lost, preferred to scoot off to the opening-night party, which was massive and peppered with such phrases as "My God, you're here!" " When did you arrive?" "We must get together! Call me!" Yes, Virginia, it is getting more and more like Cannes.

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