My first memories of a film festival I believe was a trip to a few films in late 1991 or early 1992 to Trieste’s Teatro Miela where I went along to one or two films of the festival del cinema Alpe Adria. The Alpe Adria Film festival has now been renamed the Trieste Film festival and it is in its 24th edition. From watching a Croatian film about a certain family and a certain boat trip (the only scene I remember from this nameless film) to tonights experience of watching György Pálfi’s The Final Cut two decades have passed. Trieste in my two years of residence was always a literary city and film didn’t matter too much apart from certain evenings watching Enrico Ghezzi’s Fuori Orario during insomniac nights. Nonetheless, this week Trieste has meant for me cinema and little else. Whether this festival has merited this obsessional search for new visual experiences instead of exploring this city that has meant so much for me is something I’ve yet to answer. Nonetheless, the fact that this festival has an absolutely vital role to play in bringing two worlds together is an undoubted fact. Its slogan this year West goes East is what this film festival has been trying to accomplish in the past twenty four years- to bring the great and still far too unexplored cinema of Central and Eastern as well as South Eastern Europe to the attention of a West European audience. That this festival has achieved wonders in these almost two and a half decades can only be indicated by a glance through its previous catalogues still available for sale outside the halls. Retrospectives and showings of some truly classic names and titles in countries from Poland, the Czech and Slovak Republics, the Baltic Republics, the former Yugoslav Republics, Bulgaria and as far East as all those small and large former Soviet republics from Georgia to Kazakhstan and including Ukraine, Russia and Belorussia. This meeting of different worlds – the Italian and the Slavic, Baltic, Magyar and Germanic etc – is an accomplishment that should never be underestimated. The Trieste Film Festival is a true labour of love by its organizers and one can only be enormously thankful that such a festival exists.
While I have written in my Russian film blog of the Russian/Ukrainian/Belorussian winner of the main feature competition Loznitsa In The Fog I wanted to add some impressions of other films from other countries which were shown here. This years festival seemed a little thinner at times than previous unfortunately missing a full retrospective which in previous years were linked either to a single director (such as Sergei Loznitsa himself who had a retrospective of his documentaries two years ago) or to a school (such as the Wajda school last year) or even to a national cinema (in 1996, for example, it featured Ukrainian cinema). hopefully, this feature will return in future years. What was shown was indeed fascinating. I missed some of the important features such as the shorts as well as the Walls of Sound (dedicated to musical films and documentaries), the Cinema Zones (based on films more locally connected the area surrounding Trieste) as well as the important animation and short film section which had some fine films according to reports from others.
Instead I tried to concentrate on the genre films as well as the main feature and documentary competitions. The genre films offered no tremendous surprises but some very well made films and one or two favourites. A really splendid Roumanian comedy named Despre Oamen si Melci (Of Snails and Men) by Tudor Gurgiu reminded one of some Ken Loach comedies in which the desperation of the marginalized is linked to an almost obscene hilarity to produce a bitter sweet tale of great depth. Miroslav Terzic’s Ustanichka Ulica (Redemption Street) – a legal thriller set in Belgrade and regarding the Haig War Crimes Tribunal was a very potent attempt to bring this subject to a Serbian audience in a way not overly political and based around two families facing similar traumas. Another thriller from Germany and by Dennis Gansel Die Vierte Macht (The Fourth State) was an attempt to bring alive certain facts in Russia’s recent political history and its descent into a state of authoritarian terror. Unfortunately, although the references were there all the details were just wrong and, for an inhabitant of Russia for much of the past decade, simply implausible. However, well made it may have been filming Kiev and pretending that it is Moscow means that this film will never travel to Russia. Its picture of Russian journalism is also completely out of kilter. While it does work as thriller its attempt to reference certain historical events irritates one due to its break with reality. Kristina Buozyte’s Aurora (Vanishing Waves) from Lithuania was a rather complex work of fantasy about a medical experiment around coma which tried to explore issues of human co-relationships. Ultimately unsatisfying it was difficult to pinpoint the precise nature of its failure as a film even though it had a number of fine scenes.
Another genre film that impressed was the film by the Estonian director Imre Raag who made a French film in France with the participation of Jeanne Moreau Une Estonienne a’ Paris (An Estonian in Paris). Raag described how he managed to convince Moreau to act for his film after other actresses were found unsatisfactory for the part and generally the film is an interesting tale highlighting what Raag himself termed ‘the limits and paradoxes of cultural emigration’ another form of emigration rarely discussed.
For me the weakest films were shown on the opening day of the festival. A genre film by the Slovene director Metod Pevec Vaje v Objemu (Tango Abrazos/ Practicing Embrace) tells the tale of two couples who turn up for tango lessons and discover the temptations and attractions of a member of the other couple. An encounter with tangos physical passions upsets the routine of these rather complacent Slovenian couples. This film was preceded by what can only be called the most disastrous choice of opening film for years. A film about Trieste (and there are few cities more obsessed about its singularity than Trieste) could have been a revelatory one given the quality of some of its interviewees was spoiled by absolutely incompetent directorial choices. The fact that the film was directed by the sister of Berlusconi’s truly psychotic former Minister of Culture, Vittorio Sgarbi, can only lead one to conclude that this film would never have made it were it not for Elizabetta Sgarbi’s contact in high places. Squnadering the opportunity to quiz some of Trieste’s great contemporary cultural figures Sgarbi instead produced an ill-fitting and illiterate melange of beautiful picture postcard images of the city, an absurd story as prologue and epilogue mixed with what must have been the most absurd utterings in her dialogues with the likes of Claudio Magris, Boris Pahor, Gillo Dorfles, Susanna Tamaro and others. The final day was something of a compensation with a Hungarian flavour and detailing how such an inane approach to culture was its undertaker. Bela Tarr’s idea of producing an anthology film Hungary 2011 as an outcry at the increasingly right wing authoritarian government and its destruction of culture had a few shorts of great worth. Accompanied by a number of social shorts, the three by Peter Forgacs, Marta Meszaros and Miklos Jancso were of exceptional interest. Maybe the message was summed up in the last short by Jancso in which a character states We shouldn’t be filming. We should be screaming. A reasonable attitude both to the evil doings of the Hungarian government as well as to the pointless trash served up by Elizabetta Sgarbi. The final film of the festival Gyorgi Palfi’s Final Cut used 450 films from world cinema history to build a film about love of exceptional interest- an attempt to produce something of rare originality while the government is cutting and trying to kill off one of the great cinematic cultures of Europe and indeed the world.
A later post will be added to describe the documentary films of the festival.