• [The Daily] Karlovy Vary 2017

    By David Hudson

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    “Founded in 1946 and situated in the picturesque Czech spa town,” the “Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) is seen as one of the most prestigious events on the circuit,” writes Orlando Parfitt at the top of his preview of this year’s edition for Screen. KVIFF 2017 opens today and runs through July 8. Crystal Globes for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema will be presented to composer James Newton Howard and to the directing and screenwriting team of Ken Loach and Paul Laverty.

    Parfitt notes that KVIFF artistic director Karel Och “says this year’s twelve-strong competition section includes ‘a rather high number of edgy, auteur films with a potential to speak to a larger audience.’ These include Boris Khlebnikov’s Arrhythmia, Vaclav Kadrnka’s Little Crusader, and Giorgi Ovashvili’s Georgian historical drama Khibula. . . . The East of the West strand will open with Ilgar Najaf’s Azerbaijani drama Pomegranate Orchard and includes two films by female directors: Marina Stepanska’s Ukraine-set love story Falling, and Mariam Khatchvani’s Dede. The eleven-strong documentary line-up includes a world premiere of Vit Klusak’s The White World According to Daliborek, described as a ‘portrait of an ordinary Czech neo-Nazi,’ and Gustavo Salmeron’s Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle, which chronicles the economic crisis in Spain.”

    “We’re looking for filmmakers with a strong and uncompromising vision, be they genre blenders, like Peter Bebjak, or makers of contemplative medieval road movies, like Václav Kadrnka,” Och tells Martin Kudláč at Cineuropa. “And let’s not forget Andy Fehu and his very first Czech internet thriller, Growroom, being presented as a special event.”

    “Probably the film of the year for me is [David Lowery’s] A Ghost Story, which we announced together with the visit of Casey Affleck,” Och tells Radio Praha’s Ian Willoughby. More from Willoughby: “Since 2011 Karlovy Vary has been giving world premieres at the festival’s Grand Hall to newly digitally restored classics of Czechoslovak cinema. This year it is the turn of The Shop on Main Street [image above], a masterpiece by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos that explores the subject of the Aryanization program in the Slovak State during WWII. It became the country’s first winner of the Academy Award for best foreign language film in 1966.”

    Writing for Variety, Will Tizard notes that Uma Thurman “will receive the president’s prize on the festival’s opening night,” and Jeremy Renner, who will screen his wilderness-set thriller Wind River, will receive the same prize at the closing gala July 8.” Also, Denis Côté “will host the Future Frames section, mentoring young European directors.” More from Tizard: “Aside from its leading role in showcasing the freshest work from Eastern and Central Europe, as seen not just in pics in the Official Selection but also in the East of the West section, the fest spotlights unconventional storytelling that has rolled in from India, Azerbaijan and Kosovo.”

    Update, 7/1: For Variety, Ed Meza has been interviewing directors with films in Competition:

    • George Ovashvili (Khibula): “Unfortunately, Russia has always played a negative role in the history of Georgia.”
    • Alen Drljević (Men Don’t Cry): “In my opinion, war in Bosnia has never really ended.”
    • Onur Saylak (More): “It is not the brutality of these children in the war that should be questioned, but rather why the Kalashnikovs are in the hands of the children in the first place.”

    Updates, 7/2: “An interpretation of Chekov’s The Cherry Orchard, Ilgar Najaf’s Pomegranate Orchard (Nar baği) is a measured familial drama played out against the picturesque backdrop of the titular plantation,” writes Laurence Boyce. “As a depiction of a time that has passed amidst the onslaught of modernity, it is often calm and quiet whilst hiding a maelstrom of emotions below the surface.”

    Also writing for Screen, Ben Croll: “Equal parts marital drama and medical procedural, Arrhythmia works as kind of extended thought experiment: what if you took television’s Dr. House, shaved twenty years off his age and plopped him into a mid-size Russian city? Director Boris Khlebnikov answers that question to mostly satisfying effect with his sixth feature, the story of a talented paramedic whose headstrong arrogance ends up poisoning both his personal and professional life.”

    Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa on Men Don’t Cry: “Essentially a chamber piece set in one hotel, the film depicts a therapeutic workshop for war veterans from the former Yugoslavia who face up to their traumatic pasts in the form of a psychodrama.” And it ultimately “proves to be as cathartic for the audience as it is for the characters.” Petkovic also interviews director Alen Drljević.

    Update, 7/3: “The line between despair and hilarity is a fine one in Requiem for Mrs. J, a Sahara-dry comedy of abject depression in Serbian suburbia that could play from certain angles as an entirely stern affair,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “The serpentine inefficiencies of national bureaucracy are bitterly satirized in writer-director Bojan Vuletic’s trim, impeccably composed sophomore feature, which follows a middle-aged widow through the uncertain corridor of suicide crisis—though it’s a tough call as to whether or not greater familiarity with these structures will enhance the film’s fragile humor for viewers or cause it to dissipate entirely. Either way, it’s a bleak trip to the emotional gallows, lent human shading and flickers of tenderness by Mirjana Karanović’s soulful, sorrowful performance in the title role.”

    “Ostensibly based on the final few months in the life of Georgian President Zviad Gamsachurdia—who, after only a few months in office, was deposed in a 1991 coup—the latest film from George Ovashvili initially feels as if it’s historically accurate,” writes Laurence Boyce for Screen. “But as Khibula goes on, it becomes apparent that Ovashvili is less concerned with presenting a straight political biopic and more with deconstructing the symbols of power and examining the individual behind said symbols.”

    In Edon Rizvanolli’s Unwanted, the “contrast between Amsterdam and Pristina is well exploited, both visually and emotionally,” writes Vladan Petkovic, “and special attention was clearly paid to two different camera styles by Danny Noordanus: an impressionistic one, with skewed angles and close-ups on one hand, and clean-cut medium and wide shots on the other.”

    Also at Cineuropa, Martin Kudláč talks with Vít Klusák about The White World According to Daliborek: “A documentarian should be oversensitive, in a positive sense; ideally, he or she should recognize and identify crucial social phenomena more deeply, more precisely, and in a more surprising, piercing and lasting way than the mainstream media, and this is what I attempt to do.”

    Kudláč also interviews Marina Stepanska, whose debut feature is Falling, “a psychological drama with a love story at its heart, which also portrays the young generation trying to find its place in post-revolutionary Ukraine.”

    And Fabien Lemercier talks with Nicolas Silhol about his debut feature, Corporate: “It all started when I found out about the string of suicides at France Télécom between 2009 and 2010, and I started looking into them with my co-screenwriter Nicolas Fleureau.”

    Updates, 7/4: Khibula “prioritizes environmental texture and flourishes of folk art over Wikipedia-style biographical detail as it attempts to unpick the mentality of a leader in uncertain exile,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “Following its subject and his entourage through the wilderness from one temporary resting place to the next, the film becomes, at least partly by design, something of a slog: The physical and psychological exhaustion of a life lived in constant limbo is felt here, though any emotional rewards are low-key ones.” More from Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa.

    For Screen, Ben Croll reviews The White World According to Daliborek, “an absurdist documentary that works best when it lets its Czech neo-Nazi protagonist reveal his cretinous nature all by himself. This portrait of the titular Daliborek plays like a deadpan mix between Grey Gardens and This Is England, taking an angry white nationalist and showing the bewildered man-child he really is, and operating as kind of testament to the idiom that sunlight is the best disinfectant. Inchoate hate-speech notwithstanding, the film is most disturbing when Daliborek’s oafish ineptitude turns him into comically endearing character.” More from David González at Cineuropa.

    Sarah Ward for Screen on The Cakemaker: “Ofir Raul Graizer’s debut feature explores the struggles of mourning from two initially contrasting, latterly intertwined perspectives: a married Israeli man’s secret Berlin-based lover, and that of his wife and the mother of his son, who owns a cafe in Jerusalem. . . . Bubbling beneath his nuanced dual character study is a rumination on traditions and the divisions they inspire, be they national, sexual or religious.” And Emiliano Granada talks with Ofir Raul Graizer for Variety: “The people in the film—the protagonist, his lover, and his lover’s wife—what they all have in common is that they don’t want to be defined in a certain way. They want to be, though it might seem kitsch to say this, they want to be human beings, not defined by sexuality, observance of religion or nationality.”

    For Gregory Ellwood at the Playlist, what’s “most intriguing about The Cakemaker is how its ending will be interpreted in different ways by different audiences. Is love defined by just our sexuality? Can we fall in love outside of it? Or can we find closure in having those who loved who we loved in our lives? It will make you ponder.”

    At Cineuropa, Vladan Petkovic calls Arrhythmia “a vibrant, engaging and realistic exploration of a married couple's relationship, both counterpointed and intertwined with their occupations in the medical profession.”

    Updates, 7/5:Censor, from Slovakian director and producer Peter Kerekes, has won the 14th edition of the works in progress award,” reports Laurence Boyce for Screen. At Cineuropa, Martin Kudláč, who has an overview of all the projects, notes that Censor’s “story follows the tragicomic micro love stories of prisoners, through the protagonist, Irina Alexandrovna, a censor in Odessa prison.”

    Today’s review from Boyce: “Dealing with the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and inherent topics of trauma, racism and the treatment of women, The Birds Are Singing In Kigali (Ptaki śpiewają w Kigali) is a raw but ultimately hopeful film about the extremes of human nature. Directed by wife-and-husband duo Joanna Kos-Krauze and Krzystof Krauze—whose previous films together include 2013’s Papusza—the film will have its world premiere in Karlovy Vary’s Official Competition where Kryzstof Krauze won a Crystal Globe in 2004 for the film My Nikifor. It’s a bittersweet affair as Krauze passed away from cancer in 2014, leaving his wife to complete the film.”

    Arrhythmia is “a Blue Valentine-meets-ER-style competition title more remarkable for its lightness of touch than for its social comment or despairing self-examination,” finds Jessica Kiang in Variety. “Oleg (Alexander Yatsenko) is a paramedic working with an ambulance crew, who has been married to med-school sweetheart Katya (Irina Gorbacheva), also a junior doctor, for some years now. . . . In cinematographer Alisher Khamidkhodzhaev’s casually artful frames, the breakdown of allyship between them is encapsulated in a series of utterly believable interactions.”

    “With its soft lighting, prettily wistful piano-based score and enough lingering images of onscreen patisserie to make Mary Berry unpurse her lips and drool, The Cakemaker might look from the outside like a purely crowd-pleasing confection,” writes Guy Lodge in Variety, “but it’s far from fondant-centered, refusing to sentimentalize or patly resolve the tricky matters of the heart that bind its unhappy characters. Graizer’s script treats them (and, by extension, the audience) like adults, observing moral errors on all sides, with empathy for everyone’s particular strain of pain. It’s also an unusual story of same-sex romance that acknowledges the fluidity of sexuality and desire, particularly in light of emotional need; love takes a variety of shapes here, none more pure than any other.” More from Vladan Petkovic at Cineuropa, where he also interviews Graizer.

    Petkovic also reviews Josef Tuka's debut feature, Absence of Closeness, “a well-crafted piece of cinema, enhanced by some excellent acting, especially by Plodková, Jan Cabalka's precise cinematography and clear editing by Šimon Hájek, but how enjoyable it is for viewers with its unsympathetic, sometimes even loathsome, characters is another matter.”

    And Cineuropa’s posted a video interview with Unwanted director Edon Rizvanolli (7’20”).

    Updates, 7/7: “If you like your metaphors thuddingly literal (and literally thudding, with the whole final act unfolding to the grunting rhythm of a man bashing away at a cliff face with a mallet), [Amir Naderi’s] Monte will prove a treat,” writes Jessica Kiang for Variety. “The rest of us may find ourselves wondering, like the biblically unfortunate central character, just what we’ve done to deserve this.”

    Also: “A compellingly well-made if minor addition to a major canon, Romanian director Iulia Rugină’s Breaking News bears many of the impressive hallmarks of her nation’s New Wave: emotional maturity; a restrained, naturalistic performance and shooting style; and an eye for the intimate moral conundrum that comments on a broader sphere of experience. But its conclusion lacks the devastating precision attack of the movement’s greatest works, as well as a sense, most recently felt in Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation, of allegorical importance: the feeling that the ripples and quakes of the story are only the most visible effects of tectonic plates of social anxiety shifting far below.” Stefan Dobroiu interviews Rugină for Cineuropa.

    And Marina Stepanska’s Falling “is far more of an ephemeral experience than an event-driven narrative, reflecting the uncertain lives and life stages of a whole generation of young Ukrainians whose passage into adulthood has happened during these last few years, against the backdrop of a conflict that is both oppressively present and yet faraway. There are no shots of tanks or strafed buildings: the war is a peripheral and slightly arbitrary fact of life, happening elsewhere to other people and only occasionally swooping in to snatch some man or other into its clutches.”

    And More: “Popular Turkish actor Onur Saylak makes an audacious, provocative directorial debut with his adaptation of Hakan Günday’s novel, a film that impresses for its craftsmanship and performances almost as much as it depresses with its relentless, uncompromising depiction of humanity’s basest depravities. Presenting the refugee emergency from a viewpoint rarely explored—that of the traffickers who exploit it for monetary gain—More adds a dimension of horror to the humanitarian catastrophe, and convincingly suggests it’s a crisis that corrupts everyone and everything it touches.” More from Ben Croll (Screen) and Gregory Ellwood (Playlist).

    Plus The White World According to Daliborek: “By the end of Klusák’s very funny film, we’re definitely not laughing anymore. But one nagging question lingers: Why did the subjects agree to participate in a project that at best makes them objects of ridicule and worst the targets of fully justifiable outrage? Their lack of self-awareness is little short of staggering.” More from Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter.

    Writing for Variety, Guy Lodge finds that Birds Are Singing in Kigali “appears to bear a few scars from its tragically interrupted production, but still achieves bittersweet catharsis by its conclusion.” More from David González at Cineuropa.

    Also, Little Crusader is “a tight-lipped study in Medieval minimalism from talented Czech formalist Václav Kadrnka. Saddling up alongside an ageing warrior on a grueling, far-reaching search for his missing son, Kadrnka’s first feature since his Berlinale-premiered 2011 debut Eighty Letters takes inspiration from 19th-century lyrical poet Jaroslav Vrchlický—but swiftly sheds any period adventure trappings in favor of a more metaphysical journey, sewn through with religious imagery and devotional slow-cinema technique. As a kind of monument to be gazed upon, with its wealth of stark, sun-bleached tableaux in Academy ratio, it’s rather arresting; as living, breathing cinema, it’s somewhat hard work, inspiring more formal curiosity than feeling, despite its elemental emotional stakes.” More from Stefan Dobroiu at Cineuropa, where Martin Kudláč interviews Kadrnka.

    And Alissa Simon: “Redolent of The Godfather and The Sopranos with a soupçon of Animal Kingdom and a welcome dose of black humor, The Line is an entertaining, fast-paced crime thriller set in the lawless borderlands of the Slovak Republic and Ukraine prior to Slovakia’s accession to the European Union in 2007. Stories abound about criminal clans and a mob kingpin’s struggle to balance nuclear family with The Family. But The Line leaps to the top of its genre class with muscular direction from Slovak helmer Peter Bebjak (Apricot Island); a genre-savvy screenplay by Peter Balko; unusual locations spectacularly captured; a propulsive score; and impressive performances, in particular, a go-for-broke, extremely physical turn from Slovak theater and TV star Tomáš Maštalír as the lead.” More from Ben Croll (Screen), Gregory Ellwood (Playlist), Vladan Petkovic (Cineuropa), and Boyd van Hoeij (Hollywood Reporter). Martin Kudláč interviews Bebjak for Cineuropa.

    Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter on The Cakemaker: “This is the kind of polite, hushed melodrama that might have a theoretically bisexual protagonist but that's been made—or should that read neutered?—for the widest possible (straight) audience. To paraphrase the critic Jay Weissberg, this is the kind of queer film that won't ruffle the feathers of a granny in Manitoba, though it's bound to make more discerning audiences groan.”

    For Variety, Jamie Lang talks with producer Diego Ignacio Pino Anguita and director Pelayo Lira about the latter’s debut feature, Kingdoms.

    Cineuropa’s been all over KVIFF 2017 in the past few days:

    And video interviews: George Ovashvili (Khibula) (7’10”), Alexandru Solomon (Tarzan’s Testicles) (6’40”), Boris Khlebnikov (Arrhythmia) (6’19”), and Bülent Öztürk (Blue Silence) (6’20”).

    Updates, 7/9: Václav Kadrnka’s Little Crusader has won the Crystal Globe for best film, and a special jury prize goes to Alen Drljević’s Men Don’t Cry. More Competition awards:

    • Best Director: Peter Bebjak, The Line.
    • Best Actress: Jowita Budnik and Eliane Umuhire, Birds Are Singing in Kigali.
    • Best Actor: Alexander Yatsenko, Arrhythmia.
    • Special Jury Prize for Best First Feature: Rachel Israel’s Keep the Change.
    • Special Jury Prize for Best Actress: Voica Oltean, Breaking News.

    And from the East of the West program:

    The Documentary Competition:

    • Best Film: Gustavo Salmerón’s Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle.
    • Special Jury Prize: Bernhard Braunstein’s Atelier de conversation.

    More awards:

    • Audience Award: Taylor Sheridan’s Wind River.
    • FIPRESCI Prize: Rachel Israel’s Keep the Change.
    • Ecumenical Jury Award: Ofir Raul Graizer’s The Cakemaker.
    • FEDEORA Award: Cristi Iftime’s Mariţa; special mention: Bülent Öztürk’s Blue Silence.
    • Europa Cinemas Label: Alen Drljević’s Men Don’t Cry.

    Writing for Variety, Guy Lodge notes that Little Crusader “may have been the first local production in fifteen years to win the Crystal Globe for Best Film at Karlovy Vary this year, but in all other respects it’s a typical success story from Eastern Europe’s largest film festival—one that exemplifies its programmers’ dual commitment to highlighting challenging independent auteur voices and showcasing a regional cinema often sidelined at other international fests.” Little Crusader is “a defiantly uncommercial work that may now get a greater shot at beyond-borders distribution thanks to its big win—the kind of boost to unconventional artistry that is Karlovy Vary’s raison d’etre.” Overall, the Competition “was dominated by stories of social and political crisis, many of them revisiting recent history.”

    Lodge also reviews Nicolas Silhol’s Corporate, “a smart, slow-simmering French workplace thriller that wades in deep, chilly waters of moral corruption and compromise.” It stars “the ever-interesting Céline Sallette as a human resources manager whose professional sangfroid cracks in the wake of an employee’s suicide.” More from Ben Croll (Screen).

    “A warm, cheerful romantic comedy, Keep the Change’s central love affair blossoms in a community support group for autistic adults,” writes Screen’s Dan Fainaru. Rachel Israel’s two leads “are non-professionals and emotionally impaired, just like the parts they play, and this makes all the difference. Their natural, uninhibited performances offer an authenticity that has often been lacking in earlier attempts to deal with autism on screen.”

    Cineuropa’s posted a video interview with Joanna Kos-Krauze, co-director of Birds Are Singing in Kigali (6’32”).

    Updates, 7/10: For Variety’s Alissa Simon, Ilgar Najaf’s Pomegranate Orchard “is a deliberately paced tale with a visually mannered style that keeps viewers at arm’s length and distances them from the full impact of the tragic proceedings. . . . The screenplay that Najaf co-wrote with Dutch script doctor Roelof Yan Minneboo (who also collaborated on Karlovy Vary competition title Khibula) and compatriot helmer Asif Rustamov (Down the River) is heavily reliant on dialogue for exposition, telling rather than showing. Even so, it begs many questions.”

    This Is Not Me “is the latest work helmed by controversial Slovakian documentarian Miro Remo, who, over a span of three years, followed famous Slovakian singer Richard Müller in order to document his daily struggles as he tried to revive his career,” writes Giampietro Balia at Cineuropa.

    Laurence Boyce talks with Andres and Katrin Maimik about The Man Who Looks Like Me; and there are more video interviews up at Cineuropa as well: Priit Pääsuke (The End of the Chain) (4’52”) and Bojana Burnać (My Life Without Air) (6’42”).

    Updates, 7/11: Writing for Variety, Jessica Kiang suggests that Dede “could be a companion piece to The Handmaid’s Tale, except that these things do not belong to some fictional dystopia; they really happened, and occasionally happen still.”

    Also, for the characters in Men Don’t Cry, “representing all sides in the complex, multifaceted drawn-out series of conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, there was nothing purifying or simplifying about the war: on the contrary, it was where they learned to hate themselves as much as their putative enemies.” Screen’s Andreas Wiseman in the meantime reports that Picture Tree International has picked up international rights.

    “Fast-paced and cheerfully vulgar, bursting with comic-book violence and bodily fluids, How Viktor “the Garlic” Took Alexey “the Stud” to the Nursing Home is a much more entertaining ride than its irksome, ungainly title may suggest,” advises Stephen Dalton in the Hollywood Reporter. “Imagine Toni Erdmann directed by Quentin Tarantino.”

    Updates, 7/12: Lots of Kids, a Monkey and a Castle “is primarily a film that overflows with affection, warmth and humor, about a highly dysfunctional but deeply loving clan,” writes Jessica Kiang for Variety.

    For the Hollywood Reporter’s Stephen Dalton, Dede is an “elemental story with a universal message and a folkloric, fatalistic, almost ballad-like feel.”

    Update, 7/14: Jessica Kiang for Variety on Kyrgyz director Aktan Arym Kubat’s “enchanting” sixth feature: “There’s beauty, bawdiness and melancholy in this tale, which feels so ancient it might have been woven into a carpet and passed down through the generations as a family heirloom. And yet Centaur is also contemporary, and while it tugs on strands that reach back into a mythical past, it is shot and composed with a modernity that stands in stark complementary contrast.”

    Updates, 7/15: Once again, Jessica Kiang for Variety: “In times of crisis, suggests a character in The Nothing Factory, there are various possible responses: You can shoot a gun or form a community garden. Or in Portuguese documentary director Pedro Pinho’s case, you can make your narrative debut, an occasionally inspired, but often trying three-hour-long, genre-hopping patchwork of social-realist cinema.”

    Onur Saylak’s More turns “Hakan Gunday’s ink-black novel of despair into a film that’s a hard sit but that suggests an awful lot—awful being the operative word—about the world we live in today,” writes Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter.

    He also reviews Men Don’t Cry, the feature debut from Alen Drljevic: “The rookie cut his filmmaking teeth as an assistant director on the films of Golden Bear winner Jasmila Zbanic (Grbavica, On the Path), and she’s a producer here, but there’s also a sense that their partnership goes deeper than that, with Men Don’t Cry almost functioning as a testosterone-addled pendant to the female-focused stories of Zbanic. Both bring a keen eye for detail and nuance to stories that explore the thorny recent past; macho attitudes and shame; universal humanity vs. ethnic divides and religion and tradition vs. atheism and contemporary Western attitudes.”

    And THR’s Stephen Dalton on Arrhythmia: “Boris Khlebnikov originally planned his sixth feature as a comedy, but the tone turned darker and heavier as he began researching the lives of real Russian health professionals. The end result is a film that has the bright look and brisk pace of a comedy, but the visceral emotional kick of a serious art house drama.”

    Updates, 7/18: Boyd van Hoeij in the Hollywood Reporter on Khibula: “Poetic and elliptical, politically and psychologically often cryptic but ethnographically and geographically quite lovingly detailed, this is the kind of art house film for which a lot of patience is required and which offers modest—and some might argue ambiguous—rewards.”

    For Cineuropa, Martin Kudláč talks with Slovakian documentarian Peter Kerekes, who “won the Works in Progress Award@KVIFF for his latest project, Censor, at the 14th edition of the industry initiative.”

    Update, 7/20: “At times creepy and uncomfortable in all the wrong ways and then gorgeously poetic or piercingly lucid in all the right ones,” Tarzan’s Testicles is a “history of the world’s oldest primate research institute, in Abkhazia on the Black Sea,” writes THR’s Boyd van Hoeij.

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