On my Russian film blog I’ve tried to suggest some highlights of the Moscow International Film Festival for the Russian film buff. Here I want to do the same for those whose who are interested in world cinema. The difficulty is that the Festival is simply so eclectic that the gems are often so hard to find. The Moscow Festival rarely offers competition films that are really at the level of A Festival programmes and it seems that this year there is no real exception to this rule. The competition may be well-made but all too rarely will they stay in one’s mind for long. So Tinge Krishnan’s Junkhearts which won last year’s major award may well have been heartfelt and had some fine performances it was genuinely difficult to ascertain how it could have won the major award in an ‘A’ Festival. Strangely enough its theme of a character coming back from a war situation and suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been repeated in a British entry to this years competition – Gareth Jones’s Delight. While the character in this film is a female photographer instead of a soldier, there was nothing that really stunned a viewer into feeling that this was going to break out of a laboured British way of film-making. Delight was finely acted in parts, the music (produced and executed by the directors wife and the producer of the film Fiona Howe) was also fine although a tad annoying at the beginning. At the press conference a number of the questions were about his reason for setting the war crimes situation in Chechnya. Although curiously the Russian questioner (Victor Matizen) accused Jones of not being impartial and one-sided by highlighting a Chechen war crime against Russian soldiers and not vice versa. For Jones the importance was highlighting eros as part of a healing process. All in all an expected start for the competition programme.
Yesterday, some films from other sections were shown. The minor Dutch artist programme began with a showing of the Dutch/ Hungarian film of Ricky Rijneke The Silent Ones (A csendesek). A first feature film for the direction as one critic put it this is not a film with a story but a film in search of a story. The film begins and ends with the death of the younger brother of the main protagonist in a car crash. The interior monologue of the character is the driving force of the film. It is certainly beautifully shot and well acted. The lack of dialogue is not necessarily a problem for this film as mood and meaning is expressed through the superlative and haunting facial expressions of Csilla (played by Orsi Tóth). A search, a journey and a meditation of one lost, this is a bleak film but as a feature debut it is very self-assured. Shot by the Rotterdam director in the Hungarian language, it is likely to signal the presence of a strong new name in European cinema.
Jia Zhangke’s A Touch of Sin was quite a hit with some critics at Cannes and yesterday was the first press showing of the festival. Winning the best screenplay award at Cannes – these four stories of injustice and revenge make for a bloody and almost mainstream film. Painting a picture of China as far less glamorous than generally depicted, Jia Zhangke has previously also worked as a documentary film-maker and can’t be easily dismissed. His reputation seems to be something of an ‘underground’ film-maker (having worked outside the state run system of film-making), even if this film doesn’t shake off a mainstream feel to it.
Finally a documentary film about taking a driving test in a foreign country and how this rite becomes a way of acclimatising one to a new culture was shown at the first in the documentary competition programme. And who taught you to drive? by Andrea Thiele was something of a disappointment – fine camerawork didn’t make up for the lack of originality in either conception or protagonists. Surely the documentary selectors given the small number of films in this competition (seven) could have found a more original film than this.