Film Scouts Diaries

2006 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
41st Karlovy Vary Festival Diary #4: Women, Writers and Football

by Henri Béhar

KARLOVY VARY, CZECH REPUBLIC, JULY 7 -- An elusive J.D. Salinger-type character dominates Joachim Trier's Reprise (Norway, world premiere, in competition), a tale of friendship between two young aspiring writers. The film actually opens on Erik and Phillip standing by a mailbox, just about to send their respective first novels to several publishers. That still-life-like image triggers a series of "could-have might-have what-ifs" (a constant throughout the film) that sets the tone of the film before we pull back and get on with the two lads' stories. Erik's manuscript is rejected as too superficial while Phillip becomes an overnight sensation on the Norwegian cultural scene.

Miraculously, that imbalance will not destroy their friendship. What may, however, destroy Phillip completely is an obsessive love affair (but not only that) that sends him straight to the loony bin.

Six months later, Erik, who has persevered in his literary efforts, picks up Phillip at the psychiatric ward and, taking him home, slowly tries to convince him to go back to writing.

Pitching youth as a time of promise and hope versus reality and the impact of life experiences (such as they might be), contrasting, without ever judging, writing as a burning catharsis against writing as a profession (genius versus talent, as it were), this wonderfully acted and remarkably sharp film has a lightness of touch that may remind many a viewer of François Truffaut's Jules and Jim - sans Jeanne Moreau, alas ! By far the most rewarding and satisfying item in the official competition. Until now, at least.

While Ignacio Ortiz's Mezcal(Mexico, international premiere, in competition) left everybody scratching their heads and feeling trapped – the characters in a hellhole called Pariàn as well as the viewers in the screening room – Miguel Pereira's El Destino ("Destiny", Argentina, world premiere, in competition) came off as cliché movie-making for cliché liberals' cliché thinking.

You know right away you have hit Cliché-land when upon arriving in Argentina, a Spanish priest too sexy and aware to be a real priest turns out to be a drug dealer who has stashed a heap of dollar bills in the covers of his Bibles.

When his drug deal goes sour, he is forced to flee and lands in a small Indian village in the middle of nowhere where the locals make pottery with a special clay that is mixed with "the blood, the bones and the souls" of their ancestors.

Alas, the village is about to disappear as a road will go right through it, bringing along "civilization" (read: McDonald's, Taco Bell, etc). Playing up the "soulful-ness" of poverty against the "soulless-ness" of (unbridled) progress where the middlemen make tons of undeserved money, the film is way too Manichean for its own good.
And I hereby swear to gag, tie and torture the next person who uses the phrase "magical realism" in reference to Latin-American movies.

And now, here is the premise for Ivan Cerkelov and Vassil Zhivkov's Christmas Tree Upside Down (Bulgaria-Germany, world premiere, in competition) as reported in the catalogue: "A huge spruce is cut down in the mountains to be used as a Christmas tree in the center of Sofia. As it is transported across the country it becomes the link between six stories that explore the euphoric or depressive way in which their protagonists are experiencing the festive season."

And here is an excerpt lifted directly from the dialogue (as subtitled in approximate English) that may – or may not – explain the title: "Socrates taught that the world is a tree upside down. (…) And that the world we live in is just a reflection of the real one. Like a tree by the lake that reflects in the water. And people focus on reflections, not on the real things. That's why they are unhappy." Pick it up from there. The best things about this movie are the gloriously filmed landscapes, and the worst, the characters that dwell in it.

Shorter notes:

Blind women are in fashion at this year's Karlovy Vary Festival. Poland's major star and Andrzej Wajda's muse Krystyna Janda plays one such woman in Andrzej Baranski's Several People Little Time (international premiere, competition). Burdened with a tyrannical father, Jadwiga (Janda) offers her services to a no-less self-centered poet, Miron. Janda talks a mile a minute, and when she pauses for breath, Andrzej Judziak (Miron) describes to her everything that happens in the streets as they walk along. The film is so dialogue-heavy and so atrociously subtitled that by the time you have reconstructed one sentence, Janda and Judziak are several paragraphs ahead of you.

Mercifully, Marta (Fassbinder's alumna Hanna Schygulla) talks much less in Hans Steinbichler's Winter Journey (Germany, in competition), leaving all the griping and the shouting to her husband Franz, a sixty-year old man whose life is going down the drain at full speed - a remarkably controlled performance by Josef Bierbichler that nevertheless leaves the viewer totally exhausted.

Meanwhile, in Daniel Syrkin's Out of Sight, (out of competition), it is a blind girl who, upon returning from America for her cousin's funeral, discovers the real reason for said cousin's suicide. Sweet irony: the Israeli film is shown in the Another View section.

But enough already. Except for Norway's Reprise, all of the above came second to this week's main event: the soccer World Cup semi-finals. In every single lobby of every single hotel in town, hundreds of festival-goers gathered in front of huge television sets and either fuelled their joy with or drowned their sorrow in rivers of beer and Becherovka. As you probably know, Italy beat Germany and France beat Portugal. And so, this coming Sunday - the night after the Awards ceremony here - France will play against Italy. And the winner is…

Previous Installment

Back to Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries

Look for Search Tips

Copyright 1994-2008 Film Scouts LLC
Created, produced, and published by Film Scouts LLC
Film Scouts® is a registered trademark of Film Scouts LLC
All rights reserved.

Suggestions? Comments? Fill out our Feedback Form.