Film Scouts Diaries

2008 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #4: Night Owls and Good Cats

by Henri Béhar

Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic, July 8, 2008 -- There is not much to be said about (nor for) Michaela'Paviatova's Night Owls (Czech Republic, World premiere, in competition) except that, to a non-Czech's eye, it seems to abide by every "Eastern European Cinema" cliché. You see, the main character, Ofka, works the night shift at a 24/7 convenience store. Cliché 1: snatches of conversations, fragments of lives from the regular or occasional customers. Sometimes Ofka goes for a drink in an all-night café or roams the deserted streets of the sleepy town (she's a night owl, too, got it?), always followed by a smitten oddball (cliché 2) who has a penchant for rummaging through trashcans. No doubt director Paviatová was going for a certain nocturnal fairy-tale tone, but, based on the (atrocious) English subtitles, that doesn't come through. Ofka, see, wallows in the illusory comfort of her childhood, stifling as it may be, and refuses to grow up. You know she ultimately will (cliché 3), but by that time, you will have left the theatre.


There is something of Paul Mazursky's Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice in Sam Karman's seductively light comedy, La Vérité ou Presque ('True Enough', France, International premiere, in competition). Not to the point of wanting to nickname it Anne & Thomas & Caroline & Marc (plus Vincent & long-gone jazz singer Pauline). The milieu is practically the same (upper-bourgeoisie) and the paths – social, moral, sexual – cross with the same delicious abandon. But more to the point, from the very first shot, from the very first line, you know the film was directed by an actor (which both Mazursky and Karman are). Karman gives his actors (himself included) enough room for them to play with their characters and, from Karin Viard to André Dussolier through François Cluzet, they all pay him back in full and then some.

Also served by most of its actors –Daniel Duval, Jean-François Stévenin and Senegalese musician Papa Malik N'Diaye --, Manuel Poutte's Les Tremblements Lointains (Belgium-France, world premiere, in competition) is an ambitious endeavor as it tries to cover both the "European Dream" (the young Senegalese is obsessed with the hope of finding passage to that Eldorado called Europe), culture clashes (the importance of magic in Africa) and the way two entirely different worlds interpret reality based on signs and symbols. Distant Tremors (the international title, for the moment) is almost there, but not quite. The leading lady seems to be in an entirely different film and although the characters are sweating, the way Africa is filmed is pretty cold – unlike, say, Claire Denis' Chocolat, still the champion in that category.

Try telling your wife you are splitting on the very night she has planned to celebrate your wedding anniversary! Such is the premise of Anna Negri's Riprendimi (Good Morning Heartache, Italy, Forum of the Independents). Determined to keep hubby, wifey drags into the fight a) her/his/their friends; b) a pair of free-lance documentary filmmakers, one of which is named Eros. As they record every moment of the splitting couple, the two observers become fully-fledged protagonists in this both mischievous and heartfelt tale. Alternating sequences shot wih a hand-held camera (the docu) and more "normal" scenes, articulating her narrative around Billie Holiday's famous song (hence the English title), director Negri jockeys between the two levels (and two tones) with surprising agility.

China's reformist politician Deng Xiaoping once allegedly said that it didn't matter whether a cat was black or white; as long as it caught mice, it was a good cat. "Oh, is it?" asks director Ying Liang in his new film titled – you guessed it -- Good Cats (World premiere, Forum of the Independents). Exploring that end-justifies-the-means mentality and setting his tale in Sichuan, using a real-estate tycoon and his chauffeur as his main characters, the 31-year-old director (who also serves as scriptwriter, cinematographer, production designer and editor) paints a picture of modern-day China devoured by its obsession for money and tainted by rapid and unfettered urbanisation. Not sure the powers-that-be will appreciate. But keep an eye on this guy. Although the film may have been shot on a budget lower than your annual phone bill, the talent is there, and huge.

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