Laurence Boyce picks though the best offerings from the 49th edition of the Czech festival.
The annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival once again played host to an interesting combination of new talent and Hollywood stars. With John Travolta in town at the beginning of the festival — who managed to introduce an open air screening of Grease to the thousands of young cinema fans that the festival has become famous for — and Oliver Stone near the conclusion of the festival, there were plenty of classic cinema treats to be had. Czech audiences were also among the first to see Ben Wheatley’s A Field In England, which had its festival premiere ahead of its multi-platform release in the UK.But as always, the various festival competitions and special programmes brought forth a number of interesting new and exciting films that will hopefully be gracing our screens to come in the future. Here are some films from Karlovy Vary that you should check out when the opportunity arises.
The winner of the Crystal Globe — the festival’s Grand Prix — this Hungarian film is a powerful treatise on the horrors of war and examination of how easily the innocence of youth is lost. The film follows young twins (astonishing performances from non-professional actors László and András Gyémánt) who are packed off to their Grandmother’s farm as the realities of World War 2 drawing ever closer. But she is no kindly old lady and promptly makes the boys work for any hope of food and they soon discover that — even without war — that the world of adults is an unforgiving place. They resolve to become as unforgiving as those around them and soon their cold demeanours mean that nothing will hurt them. But will they ever be able to experience joy again? Stark realism mixes with some moments of childlike dreaming (especially with the animation sequences which illustrate the boys’ thoughts as they write in their titular notebook) in this assured and often compelling film. Based on a well-known book by Hungarian-born author Agota Kristof, director János Szász has crafted a work which breaks free of its literary origins with some bold visuals whilst still managing to feel small-scale and intimate. As much a painful coming-of-age fable as it is a war drama this affecting movie should find a place on the festival circuit — perhaps even UK distribution — over the coming months.
Based on the life story of Romany poet Bronislawa Wajs — better known as Papusza (or ‘doll’) — this sumptuous black-and-white Polish feature is shot by husband and wife duo Kryzysztof Krauze and Joanna Kos-Krauze, who walked away with the Karlovy Vary Crystal Globe in 2005 for My Nikifor. On the one hand this is a biopic of Papusza whose poetry made her a minor star during the '40s and '50s but her notoriety brought a focus on the closed and secretive Romany Gypsy community that led her to be ostracised. But it’s also a wider examination of the Roma community, which faced persecution during the war and beyond, as it paints a picture of a people both afraid of the outside world yet often content with their place in the universe. With a fractured — the film jumps around in various moments of Papusza’s life — the film is, in itself, a poetic piece of work and should strike a chord amongst international audiences.
Making his mark with the stunning Silent Souls, Aleksey Fedorchenko’s latest film is a much more whimsical affair (albeit with a streak of bleakness throughout). Concentrating on the Mari, a Finno-Ugric nation whose beliefs still lie in paganism, the film is 22 vignettes following the women of this community. The stories vary wildly in tone, from the gritty realism to gloriously surreal (including a large wood demon with breasts who gets annoyed because he’s not allowed to date someone’s husband). Its very nature means that it is a bit patchy, but this is an intriguing examination of culture and femininity.
This Estonian/Swedish co-production is shot in England and is buoyed by a strong performance from up-and-coming British actor Lee Ingleby. He plays the central role of a mild-mannered scientist who has decided that he is the moral centre of society and that he can deal with anyone who steps outside of his moral view in any way he sees fit. The film plays with notions of genre as it has the trappings of both social realism and slasher movie. But at its heart this is a modern day morality play with a Brechtian vein of the surreal as it touches upon ideas of ethics and personal responsibility and director Kadri Kõusaar is certainly not afraid to confront the audience with some dark ideas. British audiences should also find the film of interest with its echoes of Thatcherism and the current political climate providing food for thought.