Film Scouts Diaries

2007 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #3

by Henri Béhar

On with the films… that's what we're here for, isn't it?

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 2nd – With so many films from so many countries shown in so few days, however one structures it all around the main competition, one can only choose according to the weather (iffy at best) and relying on the kindness of (better informed) friends and strangers. So what will follow in the next few days is the random selection of some of this reporter's highlights of this Festival.

With its brutal honesty and its biting humour, The Art of Negative Thinking could only be Scandinavian. Shown here in competition as an international premiere, this Norwegian comedy, which marks the feature film debut of director Bard Breien, focuses on a 33-year-old man named Geirr. Involved two years ago in a car accident, he is now impotent and wheelchair-bound. In an attempt to save her marriage, his wife invites a group of physically disabled people to visit them, headed by a spirited psychologist, a walking, talking, empathy-oozing mother of a cliché,. A self-destructive lover of Johnny Cash and war films, Geirr rebels against this invasion of "positive" energy and tries to gain control of the situation. In the course of a single night, in this fine looking house in this oh so peaceful part of an oh so peaceful town, scores are settled and expressions of false sincerity and stifling compassion are dealt with head on, as well as the way we, at times, look at and talk to disabled people. Lead by actors Marian Saastad Ottensen and Fridjoy Saheim, the ensemble cast is flawless in what seems to be originally a play – and if it wasn't, should fast become one.

Adapted from an Icelandic best-seller by Arnaldur Indrioason, Baltasar Kormákur's Jar City (Iceland, in competition) is an unusually multi-layered piece that will scare the wits out of you, both as a thriller and as a socio-politico-philosophical tale. It grabs you from the word go as a desperate men working in a genetic research institute is looking through records which might explain the origin of his little girl's brain illness. Add to that the story of a detective (the uncannily talented Ingvar E Sigurdsson) investigating the murder of an old man who lead a strange existence in a murky basement flat. Add to that the mystery of the death of a four-year-old girl 30 years ago, and the detective's stormy relationship with his drug-addict daughter, along with his obsession to solve his murder case no matter what. These parallel stories are told with tremendous style, for this thriller, which addresses issues related to the abuse of genetic information, is persuasive, above all, for its dry, dark and mysterious atmosphere as the various storylines subtly interface in unexpected ways.

A word about the director. Tall, lean, lanky and definitely rock 'n' roll, barely 40, but looking every inch like one of the backpackers (whose median age is 25), Baltasar Kormákur graduated from The Drama Academy of Iceland and was - is - one of Iceland's most popular actors of that country's younger generation, working among others with Oscar-nominee Fridrik Thór Fridriksson (Devil's Island, Angels of the Universe). But it is as a theatre director and entrepreneur that he made his name, founding his own theatre company while directing a string of productions at The National Theatre of Iceland. The son of a Spaniard (father) and an Icelandic (mother), he made a striking debut as a feature film director with 101 Reykjavík, which garnered numerous awards worldwide. Named one of European films' Shooting Stars in 2001, he confirmed the following year that he was not a mere flash in the pan, as The Sea got him even more international awards. If his following film, A Little Trip to Heaven, an Icelandic-American co-production that starred Forest Whitaker and Julia Stiles, failed to meet its audience, Jar City is a gigantic leap forward. Keep an eye on the man, he has talent to burn !

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