Film Scouts Diaries

2003 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
CZECHING A FEW STEPS IN KARLOVY VARY - Step 5 – More dislocations, and other films

by Henri Béhar

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic, july 11 – Rodrigue Jean's Yellowknife (Canada, out of competition) is an odd piece of work. It weaves the tales of Max and Linda, possibly lovers, possibly siblings, who escape (what?) in the direction of the Canadian Northwest and those of the people they encounter on the road that takes them from Monckton to Yellowknife: twin hitchhikers who turn out to be dubious male strippers; Marlène, a faded nightclub singer and her shady manager-driver (and possibly) husband. Drifters all, both physically and morally, passionate in an edgy way, desperate. A trip through sleazy motels, shady nightclubs, possibly incest, with, possibly, no escape. You sit there, not sure you like the film, but fascinated by what you know is a major accident waiting to happen – except you don't know how many souls will pile up.

Luis Ortega's Black Box ("Caja Negra") tells us of another sort of cracks. Dorothea, a 17-year-old laundress lives with and takes care of her hundred-year-old grandmother. Her father Eduardo is released from prison and like an aimless ghost, ambles through the streets of Buenos-Aires only to end up in the Salvation Army men's hostel. The young woman tries to see him, but he shies away from all contact - he is still in his mental prison. Gradually, however, through a series of silent meetings on a park bench, the barrier begins to crumble. She may now bring him home – time, perhaps, to store the past in the "black box" of our imagination … Hard to believe this is a directorial debut – Ortega was born in Buenos-Aires in 1980! The three main characters -- the three main actors -- are, in their different ways, equally riveting. The film abounds in moments that make you want to hold your breath, none more, perhaps, than the scene where the grandmother – no doubt a former opera singer-cum-teacher - tries to teach the young woman an aria from Madame Butterfly and almost unawares, switches to Italian…

Five minutes into Aisling Walsh's Song for a Raggy Boy (Ireland, in competition), one is tempted to nickname it The Magdalene Brothers. Very much like Peter Mullan's masterpiece about convent inmates run by the dictatorial regime of cruel nuns, Song… takes place in an enclosed world, that of a reform school in the late fifties' Ireland, run buy a sadistic headmaster, Brother John (Iain Glen), who has absolute control over the boys. He therefore soon comes into conflict with a new teacher William Franklin (Aidan Quinn), a veteran from the Spanish Civil War, played by Aidan Quinn, a paragon of decency. The film, which sheds a harsh light on repressive institutions and their secret educational methods where humiliation and oppression are part of the daily grind, is based on the memoirs of one of the boys who actually survived the ordeal and became a journalist. A more than timely film, for if a message at the end indicates that that repressive system was brought down in Ireland in 1984 -- 1984! -- how many such institutions still remain, and in how many countries?

Thanks to Lars von Trier's Breaking the Waves and Thomas Winterberg's Celebration (not to mention Von Trier's Dogville, also shown here), one assumes their Dogme 95 movement equals Deep and Drab. Well, Natasha Arthy's Old, New, Borrowed and Blue (Denmark, in competiton) attests to the contrary. Filmed within the strict rules of Dogme 95 and set just before a wedding, this joyous string of crazy episodes with star-crossed lovers and mismatched couples as close to Marivaux as Dogme 95 can get, proved to be a major crowd-pleaser.

Less so, however, than Morten Tyldum's Buddy (Norway, in competition, world premiere), a story of friendship, love and fame starring three young men in their early twenties sharing an apartment. One of them, Kristoffer, dumped by his girlfriend, begins to feel like a hopeless outcast as his small, safe world is falling apart. But one day his video diaries accidentally get into the hands of the producer of a popular TV show. Within weeks, Kristoffer's life, and his roommates' (best friend Geir and agoraphobic computer designer Stig Inge), is public knowledge. A lovely, acute satire of reality TV and its impact on its protagonists. A youth flic with brains. Quel delight!

The winner of the Golden Palm and Best Director Awards at this year's Cannes Festival, Gus van Sant's Elephant is far too important to movie not to be dealt with extensively when it is released later to this fall. As those who followed its presentation in Cannes know, it is a combination of the type of events that took place at Columbine High School and Kurosawa's Rashomon. Let it be said, however, that Van Sant's mind and ear are acutely attuned to the way teenagers think and behave, to what they say as well as, more importantly, to what they do not say. A film that should be seen by every teenager and by every parent (separately, de preference), then seen again together.

Van Sant's (and actor Elias McConnell's) meeting with the press was a relaxed affair. A usually shy and reserved fellow, Van Sant proved to be the most congenial guest of the festival, if not the most gregarious. More often than not, he was just going to the movies like everybody else.

Morgan Freeman's press conference was the total opposite. In town to present Stephen King-inspired Dreamcatcher, he arrived surrounded with a bevy of bodyguards who carved a path among the bemused locals who are as far from a rock-concert crowd as one can imagine. "So Hollywood!", one photographer muttered. And so unlike Morgan Freeman, one is tempted to add

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