Film Scouts Diaries

1998 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Day 5 - July 7

by Henri Bhar

Day 5 - Tuesday, July 7, 1998

Arrived last night, Robert Forster must be one of the nicest actors in the business. One of the most Zen. A positive thinker. "It was a 180 degrees turn," he said at his press conference, speaking of Quentin Tarantino's "Jackie Brown", the film that put him back on the (star) map and earned him an Oscar nomination. But what a hectic trip his career has been. The darling of independent-cinema-with-an-edge after Haskell Wexler's "Medium Cool" in 1969 (check your Leonard Maltin; better yet, check your video store), he made it (sort of) big in Hollywood as Marlon Brando's naked-soldier-on-a-horse object of desire in John Huston's "Reflections in a Golden Eye", thereby causing a major rift between Brando and Elizabeth Taylor. This "First Act", as he calls it, lasted five years.
Then... what? "Nothing -- read: death" in Hollywood parlance. Not true. Not quite. Stuff to keep alive and feed the kids at home. "You just do what you have to do," he said at his press conference, flanked by his (beautiful) actress-producer daughter. "Act Two" lasted twenty-five years.
Some of the stuff he did was quite intriguing, though. Check out the little known Paul Chart's "American Perfekt" in which he co-stars with Amanda Plummer and David Thewlis. Strong, silent, interestingly deranged -- a solid performance. During that 25-year lull, he developed "a three-step strategy", the key idea of which was "hang in there, buddy."
But then -- Act Three -- along came Tarantino and "Jackie Brown", which did for Forster what "pulp Fiction" did for Travolta (Dare we call Tarantino a midwife specializing in film rebirths?). Since then, Forster hasn't stopped. Budgeted at $ 70 M, "SuperNova" just wrapped. After that, Forster plays a dad in "Family Tree", then another dad in "The Magic Miriano", and at some point you'll also see him as Norman Bates' psychiatrist in Gus Van Sant's remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho".

"The Mayor of Karlovy Vary opens Spring number 14", says the local news of the renowned health spa. Great -- but who has the time to find out which spring does what to which part of your innards? Too many films to see or catch up with.

Jacques Rivette's "Secret Défense" ("Secret Defence") is a brooding, at times harsh, study in family ties, betrayal and murder, as a brother and sister learn the mysterious truth surrounding their father's death, deemed at first a suicide, now possibly foul play perpetrated by the father's associate in national-security-sensitive research. Along with such seasoned performers as Claude Lelouch's "Bonne Année" Françoise Fabian and Godard's "Passion" (and Polish-born) Jerzy Radziwilowiz, this nearly-three-hour psychological thriller is a showcase for some of France's top young actors. Sandrine Bonnaire, of course, had already worked with Jacques Rivette on his two-parter take on Joan of Arc ("Jeanne la Pucelle"); Laure Marsac , who had a small part in Neil Jordan's "Interview With the Vampire", won a French Oscar in 1984 as the most promising newcomer. As for Grégoire Colin, who made his first major impression in Agnieszka Holland's "Olivier, Olivier", also appeared in Claire Denis' "Nénette et Boni" and Erick Zonca's "The Dream Life of Angels" which was awarded in Cannes this year.

"Streetheart" ("Le Cur au Poing"), by French-Canadian director Charles Binamé is an intriguing nugget. It centers around a young woman, Louise (Pascale Montpetit) who lives in a run-down building in Montreal, has a long-time lover, Julien (Guy Nadon) and a sister, Paulette (Anne-Marie Cadieux), both of whom she hardly communicates with. As an emotional reaching-out, she comes up with a game: she'll offer herself to total strangers, men and women that she meets in the street, in restaurants, in what have you. The deal is: they have her for one hour. For them to do with her as they please. The reactions run the whole gamut: people think she's crazy, other draw her in their deepest problems. Will she come out of it unscathed? You wonder what "unscathed" might mean here.
As in Binamé's previous film, "Eldorado", "Streetheart" is full of hand-held camera movements and jump cuts that give the film its energy and its edge. In no small measure aided by a dynamite performance by pint-sized but explosive Pascale Montpetit.

An odd animal hailing from Sweden, Daniel Alfredson's "Tic-Tac" (in competition) brings to mind Robert Altman's "Short Cuts", albeit with a decidedly scandinavian mood (read: nocturnal, morose, violent and at times savagely funny). It tells of the crossing of paths, during a 24-hour period, of several destinies, some closely connected, others as loose as a chance encounter between two pedestrians on a street. One couple wants to move to Australia but things don't move so smoothly; another has a pregnant wife and a husband-cop that is contemplating extortion to get a bigger apartment (you thought New York landlords were unique?). A couple of skinheads having a quiet beer in a pub get a strange offer from an immigrant; a kid is about to set his school on fire when he meets a girl who... Expertly weaving his web, Daniel Alfredson doesn't hesitate to play with time, setting back the clock more than once -- the end of story 3, for instance, happening in the middle of story 1. Yet it's all perfectly legible -- and fascinating.

We expected Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov to be a woman basically the same age as actress-director Lee Grant. Ignorant klutzes that we were. We should have a) known that in Russia, "Karen" is a male first name; and b) remembered that Shakhnazarov, born in 1952, had quite a few films under his belt. Among them, "Assassin of the Tsar", co-starring Malcolm McDowell, and "American Daughter" a melodrama confronting Russian and American mentalities. In "Full Moon" (in competition), he, like "Tic-Tac"'s Alfredson, places himself under the umbrella, so to speak, of Robert Altman. Altman meets Alain Resnais meets Nikita Mikhalkov. Here, too, we have a criss-crossing of destinies and a play with time. The action -- and I use the word loosely -- takes place today, the destinies that are interwoven are that of three characters, whose interest and imaginations were caught in 1948 by a woman in a lilac dress when they were a young man, a boy and a waiter... The impression of the woman on their souls is indelible. Why?
A sociological poetic reverie with an eye on the present. Since one of the characters reads for Pushkin and remembers the poet's encounter with a girl (did you say "parallel"?), one felt very dintinguishedly cultured, coming out of the screening.

Much like "Brother", a Russian gangster-thriller movie which just came out in New York, "The Hornet", by Yugoslav director Gorchin Stoyanovich, has an eye on the North-American market. Adriana meets a handsome Italian -- or so she thinks -- and it's love at first sight. She leaves her parents' home in Belgrade and shacks up with him in a villa on the Italian-Swiss border. She soon discovers that Mylisim is Albanian, and he asks her to come with him to his home town of Kosovo to meet his parents. Meanwhile, Interpol and the Belgrade police (Mylisim's brother is a cop, and an ethnic minority at that) are on the trail of a ring of drug-smugglers and assassins, the "star" of which is the mysterious Hornet. The noose tightens, ultimately pitting brother against brother. The pace is fast, the actors appealing, the action scenes convincing -- as are the sex scenes. Make sure you see it when it comes out.

Tonight's main event, however, which mobilizes fans, foes and the entire furniture downstairs at the lobby bar of the Thermal Hotel is the World Cup semi-final soccer match opposing Brazil to Holland. A bonanza for film students and young filmgoers who never had so many free tickets offered them.

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