Due to the fact that the traditional advantage in selecting films from the latest world production is reserved for the top 3 world leading festivals: Cannes, Berlin and Venice, Karlovy Vary, with all respect to its programmers (Eva Zaoralová and, from this year the new artistic director Karel Och) could not be in a position to have such a strong Main Competition. The supremacy of the 3 leading festivals, this year again, was shown in the two parallel programmes: Horizons and Another View, where, especially this year’s Cannes, was so obvious. But, of course, Karlovy Vary remembers its discoveries from the past such as Amelie (2001) by Jean Pierre Jeunet and My Nikifor (2005) by Polish director Krzysztof Krauze, both Crystal Globe winners, to which even the biggest festivals would envy.
In my opinion, among the 12 selected films in the Main Competition, only 5 were on a satisfactory level. Unlike the decision of the Main Jury, presided over by Istvan Szabo, to Award the Israeli father-son drama Restoration (Boker Tov, Adon Fidelman, directed by Joseph Madmony) the Crystal Globe Award, my favourite was the Russian film Bedouin (Beduin) by co-writer/director Igor Voloshin. He announced his talent in his two previous films: Nirvana (2008, his feature debut) and I Am (2009). In fact, three of my top films had women at the centre of the drama. Bedouin, No tengas miedo (Don’t Be Afraid), by the Spanish Basque director Montxo Armendariz, and Die Unsichtbare (Crack in the Shell) by the young German co-writer/director Christian Schwochow.
In his latest film Bedouin, Voloshin continues to demonstrate his specific style in dynamic and energetic directing. Thus, Bedouin is a new, contemporary drama from everyday life in the Russian transition to capitalism. A Ukrainian woman, Rita, facing the leukaemia of her only child, a daughter, must accept to act as surrogate mother for a rich Russian gay couple, so that she can pay for the expensive medical treatment. But, fighting to survive in a hostile foreign country, she is unlucky – the gay couple die in a traffic accident, so the promised money for the childbirth vanishes. The only and the last chance to possibly save her sick child, as the film title suggests, is to set out for Africa to find Bedouins, where they traditionally use the camel’s milk for healing, even cancer. However, just after arriving in Africa, they are victims of the local gypsies’ trickery, presenting themselves to Rita as Bedouins. After being robbed next day, and now without any money, Rita and her sick daughter finally find the real Bedouins, but, unfortunately, the camel milk doesn’t help. Before dying, the daughter sees her newborn brother who will stay as a last consolation for the desperate mother Rita, who did everything to save her little girl.
In the role of Rita, the Best Actress Award should have gone to Olga Simonova. Instead, it went to the young Danish actress, Stine Fisher Christensen as Fine in Crack in The Shell. She is a girl in search of her own identity, whose catharsis runs between her newly-given chance by a famous and much-in-demand theatre director, to act as Camille in the title role of the play, and the frustration of the insufficient love from her mother who pays most attention to her mentally disturbed younger daughter. This psychological drama, symbolically speaking, is un-fine for the young girl Fine and her only exit to personal freedom, escaping her deep inner fears and crises, is to find real love. She finally feels it when meeting a neighbour, a young tunnel worker, another symbol, from the darkness to the brightness of the spirit in giving each other real love.
The third film Don’t Be Afraid by Montxo Armendariz, also deals with a delicate subject – father/daughter incest or more precisely, the sexually abusive father who ruins his daughter’s intimacy. Silvia’s nightmare starts when she was a child unaware of the morbidity of her father and when her divorced mother is away with her new man. The abusive practise of the sick father continues even when she is a grown up woman of 25. Living between the past/childhood when it all started and in the present reality, behaving sometimes masochistically, addicted to her father’s presence, but at the same time ambivalent towards him, running away with hate or coming to him with certain love. Silvia’s last chance is also her battle against her perverted, immoral father, but against her own nature too, cleaning her memory of the past and filling out her soul in the present life, finally to become an adult woman through real love.
The fourth film of my top list is the Czech-Slovak co-production Cigán (Gypsy) by the experienced Slovak writer-director Martin Shulik. His latest film is inspired by the present reality in Slovak and Czech society regarding the social status and treatment of the Gypsies. The film is a kind of documentary fiction drama about the 14-year-old Gypsy Adam (what an irony in his name Gypsy?!). The original title of the film is Cigan, not Romany which is a euphemism indicating the Gypsies’ official administrative language, originated from the common slang term in almost all countries with Slavic languages. It should be remembered that the traditional slang name for a Gypsy in German is Zigeuner, in French – Gitane, in Italian – Zingaro. Adam, the main character, is interpreted by the non-professional actor, the authentic Gypsy, Jan Mizhigar, who, in fact, acts himself. Similar could be the story about the Czech, Bulgarian, Romanian, Hungarian or about the Gypsies living in the countries of what was Yugoslavia, or in each Western European country, not to forget what happened to the immigrant Gypsies in France with the direct intervention of President Sarkozy and the critical reaction to that by the so called tolerant Europeans.
Anyhow, the best and the most poetical films about the Gypsies in the history of world cinema have been made by two ex-Yugoslavian directors, Serbians: Alexandar Petrovich with I Even Met Happy Gypsies (Skupljaci perja), the 1967 Cannes laureate, and Emir Kusturica with: Time of the Gypsies (Dom za vesanje) – the1988 award for best director in Cannes) and Black Cat, White Cat (Crna macka, beli macor) – the 1998 Silver Lion for best director in Venice). But, in addition, it is also an important fact that the greatest living Gypsy director is the naturalised Frenchman of Algerian origin, Tony Gatlif, who has made many significant films about the spirit and the nature of the Gypsies, always defending their cause. In his film Gypsy, co-writer/director Shulik has an indirect critical approach in the observation of the Gypsy phenomenon. Showing the life of Adam in his Gypsy ghetto, Shulik indirectly addresses the official Slovak policy even wider with the rhetorical question: How do the democratic member countries of the EU treat the Gypsies as an ethnic minority with the openly racist laws not allowing them to integrate into society.
In Gypsy, we see how the “White/Superior” Slovaks call the Gypsies – Blacks, using Anglo-American terminology, even the American one is much stronger – Nigger. But, in the vision of Shulik, with all sympathy for Adam, who is a peaceful character whose only, decisive revenge is to kill his father’s killer, a bad Gypsy who hates White-Slovaks. By refusing the hate against the Whites, Adam will have more chances in the future, to be integrated into the society of Whites, but under one important condition, to be given a hand by the superior Whites, from the state of the ruling Whites/Slovaks, who will offer him that chance in reality. Also, in the case of the Best Actor Award, with all respect to the already awarded American actor David Morse (for his role in the Collaborator, the debut feature by his colleague, actor-turned-director Martin Donovan), my favourite for this Award is simply Jan Mizhigar as the Gypsy teenager Adam, who finally only won a Special Mention from the main Jury.
Finally, I must compliment the creative work of the very important artists such as the cinematographers of these films: the most expressive part of Restoration is the cinematography of Boaz Yehonatan Yaacov, who belongs to the wing of the most talented cinematographers in the new Israeli Cinema. Just to remind you that his previous excellent work was in the award-winning film Ajami (2009) for which he won the Best Cinematographer Award from the Israeli Film Academy. In the Spanish film Don’t Be Afraid, the work of one of the leading Basque cinematographers, the experienced Alex Catalan, is very similar to the spirit of the Israeli film, which also has a dark colour range following the visual reflection of the disturbed psyche of the abused young girl. The same visual conformity to the feelings of the main character, the young actress in search of her identity and love is demonstrated by the cinematographer Frank Lamm in the German film Crack in the Shell. More visual darkness to correspond to the life of the Gypsies and the main character, the young Gypsy Adam, is created by the cinematographer Martin Sec for Gypsy.
But the most superior creation was by the Russian cinematographer Alexey Rodionov who helps evoke the complexity of the tragic life drama of the woman/mother Rita in the film Bedouin. Two other well-known cinematographers, whose work is the best part of the films I do not like very much, are the leading Italian cinematographer Luca Bigazzi in the film The Jewel (It was Bigazzi who shot two very good recent films by Paolo Sorrentino, Il Divo and This Must Be the Place (which have both been in the Cannes Competition) and also the experienced Polish cinematographer Jacek Petrycki for the black-and-white film Heritage. (Petrycki won The Golden Camera 300 in 1999 at the Manaki Brothers International Film Festival in Bitola, in the Republic of Macedonia for Journey to the Sun).
By: Blagoja Kunovski, 29 July 2011,
Member of the critic’s Jury of FEDEORA
at the 46th Karlovy Vary Film Festival, 2011