Film Scouts Diaries

2008 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #2: Actors Save the Day

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 5, 2008 – At 8:30 and at 10:30 – AM – two of the films vying for the top prize in the Official Selection are screened for the press. The rest of the day, and most of the evening, you catch up with films competing in other sections. Then, schedules permitting, you try and see an independent film or a Special Presentation.

The first feature to come out of the gate -- Henrik Ruben Genz's Terribly Happy (Denmark, world premiere, in competition) – tells the familiar story of an outsider thrown into a tightly knit community. The outsider here is a Copenhagen policeman (remarkably played by Jakob Cedergreen) who, suspected of professional misconduct, is "demoted" to a small village in Southern Jutland – a place as cold emotionally as it is physically. Doing everything "by the book", initially, the new constable is soon confronted with the local customs and begins to suspect that dark secrets lurk behind the clean façade of what may – or may not – be an "ordinary small town". Ultimately, the true theme of the film emerges, as it explores the subtle ways in which people get slowly isolated and asks a series of questions best phrased by the director in the Festival's daily paper: "To what extent is one willing to compromise one's understanding of social, moral and cultural norms? How far is one willing to go in order to achieve one's goals?"

Based on Il Gioccatore ('The Gambler'), of Marco Baldini, one of Italy's most famous radio hosts, whose professional and personal life were nearly destroyed by his addiction to gambling, Francesco Patierno's The Early Bird Catches the Worm (Italy, International Premiere, in Competition) is an ambitious endeavor, as it tries to combine actual facts, Dostoïevsky (always a reference when it comes to gambling) and comedy (the self-deprecating running comment). It is also a bit of a mess, held together by Elio Germano's performance in the leading role. Already noticed in My Brother Is an Only Child, Germano is definitely an actor you want to keep an eye on.

The day, however, is saved by Tom McCarthy's superbly textured The Visitor (USA, Horizons section). The film has just come out in the States and most publications have already told you in detail of that social, cultural – and musical – encounter between a sedate and indifferent university professor and two illegal immigrants in our troubled post-9/11 world. Let it however be repeated, emphasized and underlined: Richard Jenkins (the ghostly father in the TV-series Six Feet Under) is probably one of the most underrated actors in American cinema, this side of David Strathairn. Let us hope The Visitor will have the same impact on his career as George Clooney's Good Night, and Good Luck had on Strathairn's. That said, in the few scenes they have together, Jenkins is matched line per line, shot per shot, by an extraordinary Palestinian actress named Hiam Abbass.

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