Film Scouts Diaries

2005 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Day 4: Queen Liv And Jasmin… (Who?)

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 4. — The subject of a documentary, the object of a mini-retrospective and the recipient of an honorary Crystal Globe, aqua-green-clad Norwegian-blonde actress Liv Ullmann glides regally through the crowd on her way to her press conference. A most respectfully convivial affair, during which she good-humoredly detailed the specific challenges she initially had to face when she decided to direct: "I was successful in my former life as an actress, so they had some respect for me," as she also told the Festival Daily, "but I was an actress. That's not good. I was also a woman — not a good deal — and I was middle-aged, and that's certainly not a good deal."

Needless to say, the questions soon focused on Ingmar Bergman, the Swedish director that she is most closely associated with. After all, not only did they have a child together, but they have collaborated extensively in films and on television, from Persona all the way to Scenes from a Marriage and its (sort of) sequel, Saraband. According to Ullmann, Bergman recently called her "my Stradivarius (…) which was the best compliment of all. Because if you are an instrument for somebody wonderful, then you know the instrument is tremendously important for the notes to come out right. That's what I would say: I am an instrument."

On the first floor of the Thermal Hotel, a dark-haired actress barrels through in full Margo Channing-style, leaving behind her a speed-boat-like wake of befuddled PRs racing to catch up with her. She is Jasmin Tabatabai and she plays the lead role (male and female) in competing German-Iranian co-production Unveiled. The (almost silent) opening scene is pretty powerful: we are on board a plane and the camera is focused on a veiled and dark-spectacled woman. As the pilot announces that "we are no longer within Iranian borders", the woman gets up, goes to the restroom and removes her veil and dark-glasses. We quickly understand that she is going to seek asylum in Germany. While detained in a camp waiting for the Immigration Service to decide on her fate, she realizes that her chances of gaining entrance are virtually nil: she is a lesbian, therefore not a political refugee in the narrowest sense. When one of her co-detainees dies, she instantly decides to steal his identity, and it is as a man that she is allowed into Germany. He/she finds a job (on the black market) and all is (sort of) well, until one of her co-workers (female) is attracted to her… Shades of Boys Don't Cry. Although the film is a little too predictable for its own good (at least from a westerner's point of view), Ms. Tabatabai's performance is constantly surprising. Remember her name, this lady will go places.

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