Refugee Drama Tops Karlovy Vary Awards

Nancy Mensah-Offei and Ibrahim Koma in Stefan Arsenijević’s As Far as I Can Walk (2021)

In 2003, when Serbian filmmaker Stefan Arsenijević was just twenty-five, his short film (A)Torzija scored a Golden Bear in Berlin, an Oscar nomination, and a European Film Award. After making his first feature, the well-received Love and Other Crimes (2008), and contributing to two omnibus films, Arsenijević fell silent for about ten years. At this year’s fifty-fifth Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, he reemerged with his second feature, As Far as I Can Walk, which won the festival’s top prize, the Crystal Globe, as well as a best actor award for Ibrahim Koma and a special mention for cinematographer Jelena Stanković.

Koma and Nancy Mensah-Offei play Samita and Ababuo, a married couple who leave Ghana for Germany but wind up stuck in a Serbian refugee camp. As a professional soccer player, Samita manages to find ways to cope with their predicament, but Ababuo is an actor with nowhere to perform. When she leaves the camp for the Hungarian border, Samita strikes out to find her. “Shouldering the film alone for much of its screen time, French star Koma is quietly reticent but never impassive on screen,” writes Guy Lodge for Variety. “His reconsiderations of his life and marriage up to this point play out on his face in palpable waves of anger, resignation, and self-recrimination. Ghanaian actor Mensah-Offei is permitted more vocally expressive anguish, though her whole body is defensively hunched with the anxiety of one no longer at home in her world, even with the man she loves most.”

As Karlovy Vary wrapped over the weekend, a special jury award went to Erika Hníková’s Every Single Minute, a documentary about a Slovakian couple raising their four-year-old son according to Kamevéda, an approach that blends mental and physical training with play. “All of my previous films were critical and had a straightforward point of view,” Hníková tells Kaleem Aftab at Cineuropa. “But here, it was up and down all the time. I felt like how they were treating him was horrible, but on the other hand, they like him and he likes them. They are full of energy, and they can dedicate so much time to him. When this feeling continued during the shoot, I felt that I wanted to make a neutral film where you would see how they live and make your own mind up according to what you witness in the movie.”

Eléonore Loiselle won the best actress award for her performance as a young Canadian woman who joins the army in Nicolas Roy’s Wars, and Dietrich Brüggemann won best director for Nö. Cowritten with and starring Anna Brüggemann, the director’s sister, “takes a close, cool gaze at a relationship that seems, the longer we look at it, more a social construct than anything more intimate,” writes Guy Lodge. The film is “a playful, distinctive return to form for the Brüggemanns, who had a festival hit with 2014’s stark religious satire Stations of the Cross before wiping out with the ill-considered anti-fascist comedy Heil.

Karlovy Vary’s decision to pay tribute to Johnny Depp kicked up a bit of controversy in light of the actor’s ongoing legal battle with ex-wife Amber Heard over domestic abuse allegations, but this year’s two other honorees, Michael Caine and Ethan Hawke, were warmly received across the board. Anyone with an hour and a half to spare for one of the highlights of KVIFF 2021 might want to watch the conversation with Radu Jude and Sergei Loznitsa moderated by critic Neil Young.

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