Film Scouts Diaries

1999 Karlovy Vary Film Festival Diaries
Diary #5

by Henri Béhar

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic - Friday, July 9, 1999

Catching up on films (Dem parties, you know...):

Czech movie Pelisky ("Cozy Dens") is "a popular comedy, with emotional elements, wisdom and philosophy", as local scribes put it. It is also a brilliant piece of writing. No plot per se, but a series of everyday life vignettes and a mosaic of parts all played by excellent actors. Both director and scriptwiter get down pat what it was like to live in the 1960s in Czechoslovakia - but it could be anywhere (check Juzo Itami's Funeral)

Fucking Amal - great title! No, Amal is not a person, it's a small town in Sweden. And we mean tiny. But here, as everywhere else, teenagers' problems are big. And we mean huge: Am I going to be accepted at school? Am I gonna score? Where am I going, sexually? Who am I? What am I? Am I? A newly arrived school girl is smitten with another student. Girl. Beautiful. Much sought after. The hamlet's mini-Scarlett O'Hara. A school girl's crush? Or something more? And how will the other students react? This being Sweden, teenage girls discuss sex with utmost frankness (in a refreshing reversal, the boys are generally the shy, romantic ones). Pretty funny, wonderfully written and beautifully acted. Eat your heart out, Alicia Silverstone. The film will come out in the States with the title Show Me Love.

Aleksander Rogozhkin's Blockpost ("Checkpoint"), from Russia. Starts with a bang, ends with a shot. In between, hushed images of war, images of waiting for the war possibly to erupt, absurdity and all. Russian soldiers raid a Caucasian house and discover a crippled boy banging away at a landmine with a hammer...How could they convince the hysterical women in the village they had nothing to do with the explosion? In the midst of the discussion, a shot is fired, a woman falls, the captain promises action will be taken against the culprit. During the fragile armistice that follows, the soldiers are posted to a checkpoint in the mountains. They stand guard, and when they don't, they just putz around or hook up with a woman who comes with her sister every now and then to offer sex. You - they - never see an enemy; but a mysterious sniper is at large, shooting the soldiers down one by one... The film is quietly bold, insofar as the director keeps the emphasis on the waiting and allows it to build up the tension. Should hit the International Festival circuit, no problem.

Was it last year, was it two years ago that Variety launched its "10 to Watch" Series on said Festival circuit? This year, in Karlovy Vary, the trade publication focused on Europe Now: ten European films that should be seen and picked up by distributors worldwide. Among them: Catherine Corsini's The New Eve, Claude Miller's Class Trip (both from France), Genevieve Jolliffe's Urban Ghost Story (UK), Benoit Mariage's The Carriers Are Waiting (Belgium) and Julio Medem's Lovers of the Arctic Circle (Spain).

Coming from the man who gave us Ridicule, Patrice Leconte's "Girl on the Bridge" (France) is a challenge on many levels. Shot in CinemaScope and in black-and-white, it is a two-character. Piece, throwing together stars Daniel Auteuil and Vanessa Paradis in a unique situation and remarkably complex roles. Down on her luck, with nowhere to go, Adèle (Paradis) is about to thrown herself into the Seine when a man standing a few steps away makes her an unusual proposition: he (Daniel Auteuil) is a knife thrower who free-lances on the circus circuit, he needs an assistant-partner-target. She accepts, they travel to the south of France, split up in Greece and meet again on the same bridge in Paris. With her unusual blend of sweet innocence and quietly asserted sensuality, Vanessa Paradis would turn anyone into a rabid het', and Daniel Auteuil looks more and more like Robert De Niro.

Drop Dead Gorgeous, by Michael Patrick Jann (US). Drop the "gorgeous" and move on.

Helluva Luck, by Czech director Zdenek Troska, is, according to the catalogue, "the most expensive project of its kind in the history of Czech cinema." It is also a fairy tale full of stable-boy-loves- farmer's-girl, girl's-mean-sister-wants-boy-for-self, sister-has-stable-boy-drafted-into-army-but-boy-manages-to-escape. With-help-from-three-wise-men-slash-musketeers-boy-frees-girl-from-clutches-orf-dragon. Okay, so the special effects are not of Phantom's Menace caliber - but then, what is? Such as they are, they're fine, and they serve the story. Film is pleasant and fun, with an extra-bonus (if you're Czech): the evil king is played by local singer-superstar Daniel Hulka, a sort of Joe-Cocker-meets-7'4"-James-Bond-nemesis-Richard Kiel.)

Paul Duran's Dogwalker is the epitome of an "L.A. indie". It shows in the picture's style, it shows in the locations, it shows in the attitude of the main character Jerry Cooper, a down-on-his-luck unshaved but good-looking fellow. When an old lady is knocked down on the sidewalk by her beloved boxer, Jerry (Will Stewart) rises to the occasion. Or stoops to survive. One way or the other, he hooks up with the old lady; he is hired to walk the dog until the old woman recovers; his working obligations expand, and in different directions, as the woman's borderline nymphomaniac daughter (Stepfanie Kramer) and teenage granddaughter write Jerry into their not-so-hidden agenda. In a Brad-Davis-lite mold, Will Stewart is delightful.

As was the case with Yana's Friends, there is a story behind Dogwalker. Producer Vera Anderson is the LA Bureau chief of Premiere Magazine, the Spanish edition. A journalist originally, Paul Duran started working as an assistant cameraman and special effects coordinator on low budget horror films. Then he "graduated" to video clips (Neil Young, Tom Petty), then to his first feature (largely unseen, I'm sure) Flesh Suitcase. One day, "at this low part of [his] life," he found himself walking two dogs and wondering whether there wouldn't be a movie there. Talk about serendipity. A short while before that, Vera Anderson had acquired her building on Fairfax Boulevard. She decided to produce Dogwalker, they shot it in 3 weeks in her original duplex apartment.

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