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Dir. Uta Arning

When there is a multi-storied parking on the screen, the viewer has good reason to expect a car chase in the near future and almost certainly there will be a shoot-out. In the same way a lonely hotel or house spells imminent death at the hands of a murderer, an evil spirit or as a result of a suicide. Like in Hideo Nakata’s “Incite Mill”, a Japanese equivalent of “The Haunting” by Jan De Bont. Like in Govorukhin’s “Ten Little Indians”. Like in Kaneto Shindo’s “The Owl”, where a mother and a daughter, living in the only remaining house in the village, solved the problems of their life by taking the life of men, who chanced to come into their dwelling.

Viewers of the Moscow Festival might remember the dark musical comedy by Takashi Miike “Happiness of the Katakuris”. It dealt with a small family hotel which had been built at the site of the future highway, but the large-scale plans changed and the hotel was now standing in the middle of nowhere. That is why the owners heartily welcomed any chance customer. Things would not have been quite so bad if the visitors did not adopt the practice of dieing the very next morning.

“Snowchild” seems an ideal sequel to Miike’s film. This time the owner of the hotel expects her guests to part with their lives earlier, than with her. So she arranges everything accordingly: the rooms are gloomy, the meals are always the same, the railing on the veranda overlooking the precipice is not too high. Clients are wisely asked to pay in advance. The woman has even calculated the number of days it usually takes to carry out their intentions – two or three. But the essential element is the steep cliff with waves breaking at its foot. One look at it is sufficient to arouse suicidal thoughts. It is impossible not to jump from it, like from the notorious Beachy Head near Eastbourne in England.

It is only natural that the young German director Uta Arning decided to set her film about suicides in Japan. This way of ending one’s life is probably more popular here than anywhere else. At least this problem is openly talked about. Just remember the controversial “Suicide Club” by Shion Sono, where groups of schoolchildren held hands and merrily threw themselves under the wheels of an approaching train, jumped from castle walls or the roof of the school.

Lodgers of the Nameless Hotel (yes, that is what it is called) have better reasons to part with their lives, although their stories are incredibly trite: some one has been left by the loved one, some one has been deflowered, another one can’t complete a haiku and still another suffers from an unrealized sexual desire. People come here with the sole purpose of ending their lives quietly and elegantly. Guests are having breakfast, somewhere in the background a blurred figure appears in the window on the parapet and quietly disappears. No thud, no shout. No one would have noticed anything if an old lady had not uttered a cry. But immediately she acquired a businesslike air and started adding another point to the already monstrous figure in her notebook – 1908.
Given the seriousness of the topic, there are nevertheless quite a few grotesquely funny moments in the movie. The young psychoanalyst is using a teach-yourself book to get ready for her next telephone conversation with a potential suicide victim. The owner of the hotel usually has her artificial eyelashes glued at different heights on both eyes. Her son merrily installs photos of the lodgers, who have jumped from the cliff, on the wagons of his toy railroad.

It is heartwarming that in contrast to Sono or Miike, Uta Arning treats her characters with warmth and compassion. The hapless psychoanalyst sincerely cares for each of her “clients” and looks after her paralyzed father with touching faithfulness. The poet pushes the girl away form him no because he is heartless but because he understands that he is better suited to be her father than her lover. Even the owner of the hotel finally starts to see things clearly. But before it happened her own son had to jump from the parapet.

Maria Terakopian

Dir. Cornel George Popa

A very tired woman strolls before the video camera in the Budapest park with the microphone attached to her skirt from behind. She is a single mother of 26. A guy whom she knew in the nursery school and has completely forgotten since, learns that she is employed in a sex shop and persuades her to record a video about her work which is still shocking in the post-Soviet space. In the film we will see part of this poorly shot footage, where Dorina – that is her name – will introduce her work as very similar to that of an accountant. The rest of the movie, showing Dorina’s everyday life in the familiar worn-out interiors of a 10-storied block of flats and her work, is composed of mostly static digital shots. The result is something like a mixture of “Romanian wave” and Godard of the time of his social questionnaires like “2 ou 3 choses que je sais d'elle”.

But the barely perceptible comic exaggeration in the gait of the woman with the microphone should have put us on our guard. Soon we will discover that those around her are super temperamental and easily recognizable prototypes. Like the familiar character of the neighbor who nags the janitress about the elevator which is always out of order and concludes her machine-gun utterance with the fail-safe maxim: “Some day my dog will piss on me while I go down from my 10th floor”. Like the psychological portrait of the mother who fakes total helplessness before her 35-year-old son: “Have you brought me something tasty, dearest?” – “You can’t eat sweets!” “I don’t mean sweets, no… Tomatoes! I haven’t tasted tomatoes for a long time…” Or the social characteristic of Dorina’s father with his endless complaints about how it was under the Communists and where we are going now. Heading to the shop, he is indignant: “Do I look like someone who needs a list?”. And of course he forgets to buy milk for the 18-months-old grandchild but most certainly remembers to buy a bottle for himself, which he skillfully (in his opinion) conceals and from which he even more secretly sips and snarls back turning the air blue.

When we have had enough fun and have believed in the verisimilitude of a dozen of these characters, then at night they will all find themselves in Dorina’s sex shop and all of it will prove a superstructure over the Eduardo De Filippo-like high-strung situation comedy set in one place. For example, Dorina’s suitor, the flabby homosexual mister Nastase, sprouting bouquets and poetry is a typical comic womanizer from Austro-Hungarian operetta, who has finally come clean with his orientation and is sporting a gay-porno cassette in a plastic bag. I have no doubt that on Romanian TV this movie will have a long and happy life and people not only of Dorina’s age but of the age of her baby will nostalgically watch it some 25 years hence. Neither the pitiful cheapness nor the smart allusions to the cinema of the past years and far away countries will be a problem. Similarly in this country the former did not hamper the popularity of the rightfully beloved TV comedy “Cherchez la femme”, and the latter – of the movie “Hello, I am your Aunt!”

Alexey Vasiliev

Dir. Christoph Stark

“Do you think it’s a sin?” – asks Margareta (Grete) in pensiveness of her brother, an expressionist poet Georg Trakl, after they’ve just had a sexual intercourse in the background of picturesque falls. “I don’t know”, - answers the poet straightly. During the course of the film these two will present to public several prosaic bed scenes, made in a detailed format of soft porno.

However, according to Christoph Stark’s movie, short ecstatic encounters with his beloved one, didn’t bring relieve to the poor Trakl. His existence was poisoned by impossibility of full and complete confluence with his sister, whom he considered to be single body and soul. One day Grete offers her brother to run off to Australia together, where no one could disturb them in their forbidden love, but – tough luck! – Trakl can’t imagine his life without beautiful German language. The poet tries to redeem his frustration with huge doses of cocaine, which will finally drive him to his grave in 27 years old.

Trakl is convinced of miraculous force of sexual discontent by the artist Oskar Kokoschka, who is suffering from unhappy love for Mahler’s widow, Alma. Both Trakl and Kokoschka could’ve found it useful to get a consultation from another famous citizen of Vienna of those days - Sigmund Freud. But unfortunately, the famous psychoanalyst wasn’t pictured as the character of this tragic story.

By the fact, Trakl’s death is not reflected in the film, just like his heroic service in army during World War I of about his selfless work in Polish hospitals, where he, being tortured by depression, had to take care of dozens of badly wounded soldiers, all by himself. Having concealed the tragic end of Trakl’s life, the director ends his picture with the information about the suicide of poor Grete. Doesn’t it prove the fact that the complicated image of the “damned poet” (a bearer of the “mystery Austrian soul”) is not the main theme of Stark’s movie? Relationships of the relatives, which were, probably, much more complicated, are melodramatized and scandalized: theme of incest suddenly became very actual in this festival season…

Stas Tyrkin

Dir. Barbara Sass

To begin with, in reality the events turned out to happen in a much notorious way. The noted filmmaker Barbara Sass intentionally avoided the most chocking circumstances, which had taken place in 2007 in one of the Polish nunneries in the provincial town of Kazimierz Dolny. Anyhow, according to Sass, she did not try to document what happened there, and did not even talk with the nuns who were participants of the events.

A sense of taste and balance didn’t’ allow the helmer to exploit the most scandalous details which would certainly unnerve the viewer - in order to make one come to some more general conclusion. One of the two Polish entries into the Competition of The Moscow International - In the Name of the Devil – tells of the story about a priest, father Franciszek (Mariusz Bonaszewski), a renegade Franciscan monk and a charismatic charmer, who comes into the convent propagating a radically unorthodox conception of faith, calling on the nuns to devote to the Lord not only their souls, but their bodies too.

Foreseeing complications, the new confessor and his staunch assistant – the severe fanatic mother superior (Anna Radwan) barricaded the nunnery and enclosed it with barbed wire, so nobody was able to break through the thick stone walls. The inhabitants of the convent – mostly young and naïve girls, disarmed by religious fanatism, appear victims of mass psychosis. But in any community, whatever insane, always at least one person occurs who can oppose the total madness. The plot revolves around the 20-years old Anna, the girl who is tortured by nightmares from some terrible past. Whereas strongly determined to get rid from her demons,
Anna (Katarzyna Zawadzka) is trying to resist the manipulations of the priest who evidently substitutes himself for the God craving for the girls’ flesh.

Long before the premiere in Poland the film has been much rumoured about as the subversive gesture aimed against the institution of faith. “I myself am a Catholic and I have not done this film against the Church, - the director objects. - It was conceived against people who try to manipulate others so as to realize their goals”. Thus Anna’s revolt stands for mutiny against any kind of concealed and ingenious manipulation experienced by people in our informational society.

Classical narration deceitfully prompts us that we wisely predict the finale. Against all expectations the leader of the Polish ‘female cinema’ brings us to an absolutely unexpected ending telling something nonpresumable about the mysterious woman’s soul.

Nina Tsyrkun

Dir. Gustavo Loza

Taking into consideration that his mother is a crack-addict, it is not difficult to guess why the round-faced big-eyed 7-year-old protagonist of the movie has such a strange and not at all Mexican name Hendrix. In the song written by Serge Gainsbourg back in 1978 and called “Ex Fan des Sixties” Jane Birkin missed the legendary black guitarist together with all those who were the meaning of her youth - Brian Jones, Janis Joplin etc. That is not the case with the Mexican Nina. All their bequests and they themselves are still a part of her life. Only her own son Hendrix is calling for his Mom in vain at night. So Nina’s friend, the lesbian Ivana settles him with a family of gays, who have finally registered their marriage after ten years and who live in an impeccable house with a swimming pool. She herself is busy talking her brother into becoming a sperm donor for her friend’s egg cell, which Ivana wants to implant and then give birth to a child.

When one of the gays brings home an unknown boy, everyone is amazed - not merely the servants, but the newlywed, who is having a hangover, as well. During the first hour it is a sitcom familiar from Latino TV series with melodramatic and criminal injections. Servants and maids who have too many personal opinions, nevertheless do their job thoroughly, dusting photo albums like “Big Penis Book”, where the quirkier the fantasies of the rich, the larger their hearts, and by means of which housewives are given the right idea in an accessible language of easily foretold mishaps that all people are equally necessary and important.

But towards the end, when the boy is sent to the orphanage, the sodomites go to court and the lesbian is undergoing surgery at the Huston clinic of artificial insemination, the movie will reveal the contrast, which is probably the deepest for modern society. It is the contrast between what the establishment of today approves and what it tries to push away into he sphere of denunciated, the shocking TV news. The former is everything sterile, impersonal, orderly and artificial, like that insemination. And the latter is everything that lives and breathes. The former is created by the familiar (at least from Paul Anderson’s “Magnolia”) technique of monotonous enumeration achieved by cutting. The latter, the image of the living world which is being ousted, is the sole responsibility of Nailea Norvind playing Nina. While most actors are content with creating familiar stereotypes, Norvind resorts to “acting shrieks”, but communicates the sexual challenge, the animal dependence, Nina’s tears of helplessness and of that other world. This is important for the hierarchy of meanings in the film. The world of Hendrix’s blood mother. And it was Hendrix who caused all the hubbub. It is interesting, that the father of this fantastic actress was the Russian count Pavel Chegodayev Saxon. And her mother was an eminent psychotherapist Eva Norvind, who was hired in Hollywood to train Rene Russo in the sexual behavior, with which she flabbergasted us 12 years ago in “The Thomas Crown Affair”.

Alexey Vasiliev

Dir. Václav Havel

“Leaving” is the feature film version of the Vaclav Havel’s play, the draught of which he had written in the late ‘80s. At that time the play wasn’t completed since the author had been driven away with something more important: the former dissident, persecuted writer and a political prisoner took the helm of the Velvet Revolution, which ended years of Communistic regime in Czechoslovakia and brought him into the chair of the president of the Republic. But the demonstrative theatrical architecture of the film bears some more profound rationale. If, as Shakespere states, all the world’s a stage, politics are stage twice.

"Leaving” is the seriocomical grotesque or rather political pamphlet. No wonder the plot is loaded with lots of citations and allusions at the classical plays – from “The Cherry Orchard” to “King Lear” and even “Hamlet”. The story is focused around Vilém Rieger (Josef Abrham) - the newly dismissed chancellor of an unnamed country (though one shouldn’t look for any similarity between the protagonist and the author). The scene is laid at the premises of his beautiful country residence in the cherry orchard. Rieger, humiliated by sad circumstances of resignation, is told to make a crucial choice: either leave his comfortable state-owned villa or publicly support his successor, Vlastik Klein – his most hated political opponent.

The main hero is surrounded by whimsical figures of his family members, servants, the former secretary and a couple of ubiquitous paparazzi, who play not the last role in the chancellor’s future.

Among the brilliant cast Havel's wife, actress Dagmar Havlova must be singled out as his screen wife Irene. Though 74-years old Havel is a debutant in filmmaking, he is not an occasional person in cinema. The Havel family is closely connected with Czech film; his uncle Miloš built the famous Barrandov film studios, and his grandfather opened Lucerna Palace the first permanent cinema-theatre in Prague.

By the way, Havel says he won’t stand behind the camera anymore; but in this film he appears in a funny prankish cameo, summing up the message of the picture, which can be in other words put as follows: what frustrate the lives of those no longer in office may be less the loss of power than the loss of a sense of purpose, that is human impotence at finding oneself.

Nina Tsyrkun

Dir. Sergei Loban

Pretty, but lonesome girl meets a nihistic guy nicknamed Cyber Ranger on the Internet. First she drags him out of the virtual space on a real date, and then – to Cremea, where she continues to draggle him around with her – to the beach, dinner or discotheque – with fatal consequences for not so experienced in love affairs blogger.

In the second part of the film it is deaf young man Lyosha’s turn to come to the resort, together with a bunch of bohemian guys leaded by a impetuous Pioneer (the gang calls themselves a unit and wears red ties). Lyosha is followed by his old friends, who are also deaf and numb and ready to fight furiously for their right to stay the way they are in the face of the sounding world.

In the third novella the young and shy first-time director encounters his father – famous actor – after a long time of absence. The father wants his son to forgive and drags the boy to the wild nature – to be closer to wildlife and feel true spirituality.

Finally, in the last chapter of the movie an ambitious producer from Moscow takes his mentee, the look-alike of Viktor Tsoi for a tour, with the not so smart guy not aware of the fact that he is looking like an idiot in the eyes of the whole country.

The chapters of the films, named Love, Friendship, Respect and Cooperation, are crossed as the plot develops (the protagonists of one novella appear in others as extras) and rebound one from another with the same idea: that every given private tragedy feels like a banality, not only in the face of the eternity, but even being compared with another given private misery. This thought is also confirmed here by the fact that all of the protagonists of each chapter in the moment of crisis points say one and the same monologue, and the closer is the end of the films, the more piercingly those words sound.

The dramaturgy is interesting, but the way the screen space is organized is even more fascinating. Sergei Loban, who proved his talent of remaining realistic and precise in the bounds of grotesque genre in his previous work Dust, works here in the form of “quiet surrealism”. He takes reality as it is and doesn’t fabricate it, organizing it his own way instead, slightly turning the familiar accents. Having thrown away most of the fixations from which Russian cinema often suffers, the authors of the film are working with the most simple, most familiar details if life – Cremea, Tsoi, conversation about Jorge Luis Borges on the first date and constant drunken talks about ethics and aesthetics. The metaphors are also quite simple and obvious: in the moments of despair the real tempest hits the resort, in the moments of sincere yearning – the non-metaphorical fire happens. In some point of the story there appear a monstrous local producer, a wise cameraman, a miserable film director called Shpagin and another producer from Moscow, who is too sophisticated to realize that his stupid mentee gradually takes his life from him. The whole action starts looking self-ironical at the moment. At the very end of the film the miserable producer shouts: “By this gesture I wished to say…”, but, as it usually happens in such cases, he doesn’t have a chance to finish. Which is probably right. And from this point of view – not only this article should end right now, but to tell the truth, many it shouldn’t have been started at all.

Olga Artemieva

Dir. Ludwig Wüst

The director, having decided to make a new project, sets a casting at his place, which he also plans to tape on video. Having set the camera in such manner that there would be just red sofa, piano and the front door seen in picture, he presses “rec” – and the recording is going to stop in sixty minutes – this is the time “Tape End” lasts, which is made in single shot, in one take.

An actress come to the casting – the same one, the director has been working ten years ago. And something says that it wasn’t just plain work. The rehearsal gets interrupted by director’s wife and daughter, but soon they leave. When they are finally left alone it takes only ten minutes for the actress to put up a fight with the director, say some awkwardly rude words and blame him for all that went wrong in her life – from a forced abortion to her “lost youth”. Then, first her head is lying on his shoulder, then she is already sitting on his knees and soon – between his knees.

In the absence of the other artistic instrumentation, the film is based upon almost exclusively on the acting. This is the task Ludwig Wüst is challenging his actors with – to improvise, as much as they can, in the cramped bounds of the story. And this is also the thing the director is asking the stress to do in the film.
So the most interesting part here is to watch the improvisation of the real actress and that one of her character being crossed. When she breaks into tears, telling him that she was forced to make an abortion because she “didn’t want to have children with such moron” – was she sincere of was she just getting into her role? And in the moment she started to unbutton his pants?..

Unfortunately, this improvisation is not that powerful to keep the viewer’s attention for sixty minutes straight. The most agonizing moments are those of significant pauses between dialogues, when either nothing is happening or the sound of running water in the shower can be heard. This situation gets partially made up by the end of the film, when the woman demonstrates that she doesn’t need a professional education to be a real actress. Especially, when she is inspired by such powerful feeling as jealousy.

Nikita Kartsev

Dir. Nikolay Khomeriki

Once upon a time lived a young man named Kostya – employee of subway, with apartment, mother, girlfriend, and other standard features of normal life. One day Kostya went to see doctor to make EKG, which resulted in doctors telling him that he’s almost perfectly healthy, except for the fact that he has some illness of the heart, with which he could die any day – not necessarily that he would, but still. Kostya then drank some vodka in karaoke-bar and went on to live what’s left of his life – maybe a day, maybe a year, or maybe even hundred years – but still, his pictured in black and white life, lived by the uniform buzz of the outside world.

It may seem like the EKG divides Kostya’s life into two parts, as it usually goes – before and after, but this is not completely true: the scene in a hospital is the opening scene of the film, so there is formally no “before”, which only stays implied somewhere, beyond the screen space – just like the fact that this “before” is not so different from “now”. Using this slide of dramaturgy, the authors of the film turn the story told from the plot about how a man’s life’s changing after some fateful new, into a story about how impossible it is to really change it. If, if one would go a little more further, - about how fatal can a pronounced word turn out to be. The unsophisticated statement that every given person – despite his own capacities, talents or ambitions – can stop existing any minute, being articulated and properly addressed, has the effect of gardening equipment with which one is being heat on the head – no doubt it is a little awkward, but still effective.

To make the point more obvious the main protagonist of the film is chosen among those, not even average, but minimally tending for any kind of existential self consciousness. So Kostya embarks on his “free voyage” more intuitively than consciously. The material of abstract categories is developed on a level of everyday life. But even on this level any labors not to be a “clock orange” disappear. Every exit beyond the bounds of system turns out to be some absurdity.

In the process of this Odyssey Kostya discovers the unpleasant truth about life being the sequence of physiological actions, which he lived, but had never felt or seen. However, it turns out that – just like in the case of gardening equipment, it is hard to answer something reasonably to this statement. Sure, one can always refuse to see his heart as an organ of human body and find somewhere its traditional poetic meaning. But it can easily lead to even more tragic repercussions – what if you finally find this poetic meaning, but instead of a symbol or a metaphor there will turn up a paper valentines card?

Olga Artemieva

Dir. Kaneto Shindo

Kaneto Shindo is the holder of the absolute record in the history of the Moscow Film Festival. He is the only one who took he main trophy three times: in 1961 (“The Naked Island”), in 1971 (“Live Today, Die Tomorrow”) and 1999 (“Will to Live”). On the 28th of April he turned 99 and all the younger competitors (especially the young ones!) should learn from him something about the thoughtful and unique mis-en-scene in every shot, the ability to foresee the end result when all these dissimilar episodes are brought together to make an organic whole. About the incredible precision in the timing of the narration which makes it possible to teach the student the art of scriptwriting, taking just this movie as an example. About that knowledge, lost even in Hollywood, of how to make a film larger than life without making it stylized or old-fashioned. In short, if the Golden George chooses him for a fourth time, it would only be justified.

The action begins in 1944 in the Tenrikyo Headquarters, where a hundred sailors toiled for a month to turn a sheer fleabag into a military base and a marine transfer point. Now they are getting further assignments by lots drawn by their commanders. Most of them will sail to conquer the Philippines, only a handful will be sent to reequip the Takarazuki theatre into another military base. Among the majority are a lard bucket, a candy hound and a funny performer of love songs Sazuo Morikawa. On the eve of the departure he leaves a note with his friend Keita, assigned to Takarazuka. It is a short postcard from his wife saying: “Today is the day of the carnival, but it is so empty without you”. He asks Keita to take it to his wife if he dies, which he surely will.

Why Keita will appear on the Morikawa widow’s doorstep only after 5 years and one hour of screen time later you will learn after watching the film, but the amount of events, happening during this period, will be enough to fill three series. There will be solemn scenes of seeing the soldiers off to the front to the pioneer-like spirited marches composed by Yukio Naguchi, and the placement of the urns of those who died in battle, reminding one of the marionettes theatre. There will be the hilarious episode of the instant death of a heart attack, the laconic style of which arouses memories of the silent cinema of the 1910s, and the hear-rending vision of sleepy sailors whose faces fade in the pre-dawn darkness of non-existence after the roll-call like lanterns in the night. There will be the Bollywood interlude in a striptease bar, the black-and-white chronicle of Hiroshima and the waves of such an emerald color which for some reason you can get only on Fuji Film. And only then the encounter of the man and the woman will take place. And the film, which is sadly enough always relevant, telling us that every soldier with his lot and number is some one’s dearest candy-hound, hulk and loud-mouth and is very much needed there.
Like all great cinema, “Postcard” is a one hundred per cent actors’ film.

Most surely, Shindo uses everything at the director’s disposal to support his actors: shows a close-up of the man’s face so that we could feel ill-at-ease because of the hysterics of the woman, left in the depth of the set, through the silence and the downcast gaze of the man, who is listening to her. Or wraps the head of the village elder in a kerchief like an old granny so that we could enjoy the comic situation when the man is caught eavesdropping. And when it comes to the men’s rough-and-tumble before the eyes of the thrilled widow, the showcase of judo, karate and boxing techniques will be presented in the rays of the vigorous sun over their heads.

Etsushi Toyokawa playing Keita deserves a special compliment: no one since Tatsuya Nakadai managed to move so graciously and look so stunningly good in yukata. After this hypnotic performance the question why the unforgettable role of the one who “lived daringly and died daringly”, played by Nakadai in Kurosawa’s “Tsubaki Sanjuro” half a century ago, was given to Toyokawa in the recent remake will be answered once and for all.

Alexey Vasiliev