coco460x100Pixel 460x100 anim

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

Dir. Frank Spano

The starting point for the action in the film is the real extremal situation, resurrected on screen with documentary shots of the wild outrage of nature. Streams of rain water, sweeping away bridges, houses, streets. Unprecedented flood happened on the North cost of Venezuela in 1999 – with 15 thousand victims and many people disappearing without a trace. Information about such disasters is branded upon our conscience just like that – in illegible details and panoramic shots that all look alike. The author of the film, famous actor Frank Spano, who’s debuting as a director, changes wide shot for a close shot, whipping away two destinies from this tragic whirl. He also points out the question, which is also relevant for the audience: how do you survive, when everything is lost, when your past has been swept away, and you are standing all alone with your grieve.

Two protagonists: 40 year old Isabel and 17 year old Yudeixi leave for Isabel’s native land – Spain, or to be more precise - the Canary Islands, to start a new life and get a chance to have some decent – maybe not future, but at least the present. They have nothing in common, except the loss of their loved ones: Isabel has lost her husband, and Yudeixi’s lost her child. Isabel – a medical nurse, is a beautiful intelligent woman, filled with inner grace and unbearable pain in the same time. That’s the way this character is portrait by the Spanish actress Rosana Pastor. Her adolescent companion Yudeixi has grown up on a street and was living on picking; she is daring and rebellious. Despite the fact that Isabel perfectly recalls the face of the girl, who has robbed her in a hotel’s hall just before the flood happened, she is helping her to get on a plane, having presented herself as her mother. From this moment on, their lives are tied together, despite that they differ in just about everything – their outlooks on life, their habits, manner and the way they talk – slang words that Yudeixi uses is hard would be hard to find in a dictionary. And this contrast creates the main strain of the action, centering on the development of the heroines’ relationships, who has suddenly become emigrants. Isabel will be telling her young friend that “thieving means slowly dying”, and will explain who Hitchcock is and what suspense is. Thought soon she will be forced to forget her principles and start making money for a living by transporting illegal Peruvian workers from the airport. And one day Yudeixi will run off with a big sum of money – an advance received by Isabel from their employer – and tries to live independently, working as a dancer. Fabulous Canary Islands – a delightsome place for Russian tourists – is shown her from a different perspective: without common landscapes, but through the eyes of those who doesn’t relax, but works.

The final can be called a happy ending – Yudeixi comes back to Isabel with the money, she earned. She has now started to think about her life and not just about how to survive, like before. Together with Isabel and a little Peruvian boy she saved, they come back to Venezuela. And that’s how the transformation of alienated people to a real family has finally happened – as well as Frank Spano’s debut as director.

Tatiana Vetrova

Dir. Rob Nilsson

A small sketch from the life of Ukrainian emigrant woman Miri, who – after her husband had deceased – is trying to contrive the small hotel she owns, placed in a porch of a house in some troubled district of San Francisco suburbs. There is an international cacophony of sounds in the air – English, German and French tongues are found side by side with the story about Holocaust told by Ukrainian host on a radio and with the sounds of Russian songs, coming from the only decent restaurant in this distinct. The community is quite relevant. There is homeless who’s feeding Miri, when things get too bad. A seller in a small shop, who’s come to USA from Germany. A black man, who’s living in Miri’s hotel with his children and stealing money from her to buy drugs. A female bartender – also and emigrant (from Paris), who is playing solitaire and is bragging about the love adventures of her past. Soon Miri’s niece will suddenly come with a visit and will experience some difficulties getting used to all this poor scenery.

Just the same thing – poor scenery, but of the film, not the hotel – is the first thing to be noticed, even before the main credits start. Rob Nilsson, being classic and cult figure of American independent cinema and also one of the first authors to start experimenting with video, has finally come to extremes in his aspiration to move far away from traditional cinema. Image in “The Steppes” reminds of that shot by mobile phone. The sound is recorded by microphones hidden under the clothes, with results in awful rasp in moments of embracement. Outside, the sound of wind is so strong, that almost drowns the words of characters, and real citizens of San-Francisco function as extras, seemingly having no idea they are being pictured. But one can easily adapt to all of this: together with respectabilities the characters start to lose their masks, which differs them from real people. Abrupt picturing starts looking as the fragment from someone’s private archives, and all together it turns out to be one more proof of the common statement that it doesn’t really matter what optics does the author use. What matters is what this optics is picturing.

Nikita Kartsev

This year we have finally made a short film contest, and we made it in the Internet. This is importaint for two reasons: first, short films section has never been a contest before, and we are happy that this first competition is users' choice, because viewers are usually the most honest audience. Second thing is the Internet - partly or fully, movig into the interactivity is a powerfull tendency among the festivals, and like it or not, it is tomorrow.

Also, it's locigal that first Internet competition is short films one - shorts have always been the most flexible and fresh area of the cinema. Most of the authors are young and independent, so their films really reflect what they wanted to say, especially if it is something linked to videoart, formal experiments animation - short films are very good territory for the experiments. For this year's contest we selected films that are very different - by genre, by language, by author's point of view - and our only request for the audience is not to be preconcieved. We are very interested ourselves in the results of the competition.
Please, enjoy the films!

Dir. Mounir Maasri

Any director is flattered when he turns out to be a prophet. At a meeting some two years ago a young filmmaker was passionately insisting that the scenes with “bad cops” had been shot in that very precinct which later became notorious because of the major Yevsyukov’s case. He lamented that they had cut out the sign-boards. If that is the case, then Mounir Maasri can smile modestly without having to prove anything to anybody. His movie about revolutionary unrest in the Middle East (events in Lebanon ten years ago) was released perfectly on time. Including “direct hits”: Syria is the hot news and in “Huvelin Street” the group of merry students fight the army of that country…

There is no need to go into the subtleties of Middle-eastern history (who occupied whom and why and what is the pretext for the presence of foreign troops in the country) to understand the restlessness of these youngsters for whom their not too secret activities in the underground student organization as merely part of their tumultuous, risky youth, their robust life. That is what is so charming about all their gatherings, get-togethers with girls and guitars and heated arguments about the best way to oppose the military: by surprise or silently with stickers saying “Freedom” covering their mouths. The night before the final face-down these nice guys boisterously smoke at the poker table and ask each other what is going to happen the next day. The metaphor for the message of the movie (or at least one of the messages) could be the scene in which Joy, a dark-haired revolutionary, can barely drag the heavy suitcase into his room in the hostel. “Flags? Leaflets?” demands the strict janitor. Somehow Joy manages to persuade him that it is only summer clothes. Anything could be expected, even weapons, but instead a girl jumps out of the suitcase in the room. It can’t be helped. In Russian just like in Lebanon, guards in hostels are especially strict about the morals of the students.

This does not invalidate their sincere hatred of the occupants. In general where there is public spirit, the youthful student racket becomes more meaningful. The youngsters are so passionately running about the night campus, hiding Lebanese flags in the bushes. How enthusiastically they meet an American journalist in a café: they seem to be saying very bold things, but at the same time are fearful lest it all should appear in the news.

But the principal plotline seems a bit artificial. Ives, an incipient journalist, is happy to have acquired a new camera and can now shoot everything during their gatherings. But the sudden (!) realization of how misery his salary is, forces him to sell the most explosive shots to the newspaper… It is hard do say why he opens the Pandora box: the driving forces, the conditions, the conflict are – to put it bluntly – a far cry form the “Ascent” by Larisa Shepitko. But there is a certain fundamental truth. It is felt in the demands of friends that Ives, a creative personality, should fight almost with an automatic gun, but he is not at all happy about the idea that word should be equaled to bayonet. It probably is no accident that in one of the scenes the director makes Ives sit next to Che Gevara’s portrait. The haircut, the beard, the moustache are all exact copies of those in the picture. This is the message: don’t put pressure on a creative personality, he will definitely sell everybody out.

Igor Saveliev

Dir. Lee Young-mi

A woman in her forties, a university professor, is carrying out scientific research on a relevant theme: “Changes in female psychology following marital unfaithfulness”. The story of her unfortunate personal life (but that is a big “secret”) is told by… an inanimate object, by a copier, so let us forgive a certain straightforwardness of the narration. The copier is worried: since the time its owner hired a new assistant for her sociological research, her life has become all messed-up. The young man has the looks of a super model as though he stepped down from the video supplement to the South Korean version of “Penthouse”.
It became especially noticeable after the professor and the student interviewed a lascivious woman who enthusiastically cheated on her husband and had no remorse about it.

This fateful encounter had a deep effect on the professor. She looked at her student with different eyes and it occurred to her academic mind to do with him what is very reluctantly indulged in (judging by the movie) with middle-aged women in South Korea. But her views which proved to be not so liberal prevented this lady with the Internet nickname “Liberalcunt” from accomplishing an instant transition from words to actions. There are a number of reasons. First of all, the rigid morals still do not allow a South Korean woman (especially an older one) to look upon a man (especially a youth) as a sexual “object” (the morals, naturally, do not look the other way). Secondly, the traditional Confucian approach denies any erotic overtones in the lofty relations between the teacher and the disciple.

In her feature-length debut, which caused an uproar in her native country, the 45-year-old feminist Lee Young-mi boldly challenged the obsolete taboos, but unfortunately did no find the radical artistic means to express these legitimate protests. Feminine sexual longing is shown with the help of trite metaphors worthy of erotic Hollywood blockbusters like “Wild Orchid” or “Two Moon Juncture”, intended for the same grateful audience but shot by men. Subconsciously copying those movies, the brave Young-mi turns her romantic hero into a voyeristic sexual object, who is as animate as silicone sex symbols from movies directed by males. They admire females as impotents would and possess them purely symbolically.

Stas Tyrkin

Dir. Dragan Bjelogrlić

The characters in the film are often wiping out their tears. One would say – isn’t it usual for a Eastern European film about some events of the 20th century? – and would be completely wrong. Because those are the tears of joy. Dragan Bjelogrlić’s film is unique in its own way for contemporary cinema – it is optimistic all the way through. The movie starts with a scene of virtuosic football play performed by a young boy called Tirke. As it usually goes, Tirke find it difficult to find a job, which saddens his mother, but constantly insists that he has a strong moral core, conscience and ethics instead. And when Tirke’s skills are noticed by Bosko Simonovic, the feature coach of the national team… Well, the following course of the film is easy to predict: up to a huge success of Serbian national team in the play vs. Bulgaria.

It is interesting to watch this almost chemical reaction, which is being built by the director: to watch a few dashing boys create an almost sacred fraternity and develop such “triumph of will” that it seems like they could make almost anything. Let’s say, to get to World Cup in Montevideo, where they didn’t even hoped to come. Or knock teeth out of a jerky son of the Prime Minister. Or to dislocate from jail to royal castle… It seems like they could really make anything.

The subplot “soccer instead of war” starts to sound in the film in a subtle way: everybody knows, what’s going to happen in Europe in a few years, when it will be no time for sport (the action takes place in 1930). FIFA has just been created. World Cup in Montevideo is the first one in history. Most of the characters in the film take words “soccer” and “Montevideo” as some kind of swearing and can’t understand how grown up men can waste their time on this. Of how can anyone barter away a position of apprentice at the factory “Ikarus” to be a leading forward in the national team… Films about people who put their houses up, lie to their relatives and risk everything, believing in nothing but their dream, have some purgative meaning. So after “Montevideo” one would probably want to let all the routine fly, throw away the cell phone, right here, by the cinema hall, and run away anywhere where the real life is.

And in the same time Serbs would not be themselves, if their national tragedy didn’t reflect through the football drive of the film. The King is willing to send “the national team of Yugoslavia” to the championship, but on a condition that there will be some Croations in there. The Croations refuse. A local tycoon is ready to put his money in the trip, but only if the team will be called Serbian, and not Yugoslavian. It is the team now who says no… And so you start to shiver unwillingly, when you hear the words: “Yugoslavia has signed a convention with the court in Hague”.

It is not without a reason that the film may seem simple-minded at first. The key to it lies in the words, that are pronounced in the first minutes on screen. “It was the best decade – after the big war… Then we didn’t yet what a real big war means”. The times before war are always simple-minded. In fact, the 21st of June in 1941 in Russian films is filled with sounds of “Riorita”.

The best players of the film, Tirke and Mosa are often having fun playing with a raw chicken egg. And a prophecy is told: ones who are able not to break the egg by playing with it, are going to die soon. The real Mosa (Blagoje Marjanovic) and Tirke (Aleksandar Tirnanic), the stars of soccer, have lived a long life. But artistic world has its own laws. And you never know, what’s waiting for these dashing boys after “the best decade” will be over.

Igor Saveliev

Dir. Levan Tutberidze

You must be a football fan to understand how the protagonist, a 38-year-old writer Zaza, managed to make a large scoop. Otherwise his exclamations about sir Alex Fergusson and Jose Alvalade, who owns a stadium in Lisbon, will be gibberish to the viewer. Even more so because Zaza uses it in everyday life. He welcomes the women going to the funeral with the words: “Ah, Sicilian weepers! Let me introduce myself. Gaetano Donizetti! Gaetano, very pleased!” Yes, Zaza won at the football pools, so don’t imagine anything about underground lotteries in Tbilisi. As for the money for the bet, it was borrowed from an old drug dealer, whose fridge will be the convergence point for all the paths in this tangled story with a strong criminal taste a la Guy Ritchie. Having clarified the point about the football pools it would be noble to let the viewer get the pleasure of puzzling out the rest.

We would like to focus on how the filmmakers use the wide screen, which was rare in Georgian cinema even in Soviet times (only Abuladze’z “The Entreaty” comes to mind), while for the cinema of the independent Georgia this is downright extraordinary. When in some country filmmakers start using the wide screen, it means the cinema of this country has gained sufficient momentum. But the pretty dilapidated Tbilisi of the present day is not a very good setting for the wide screen and the director Tutberidze found a witty and probably the only possible way out, using glamorous foreign visual quotations as pieces of the puzzle. They are of such diverse origin, that one can’t help being amazed at the director’s knowledge of cinema. Perhaps that is the origin of the line of dialogue in the movie, which expresses a very sane idea: “When you watch something alone, you become wiser”. For example when during a pause in the rehearsal one of the characters, a ballerina, records Zaza’s favourite song “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” on his cell-phone at his request, she walks across the stage under the flashlights of different colors, which cast colorful patches of light around her silhouette, and comes to a stop under a box, decorated with stucco mouldings and gilt like a temple. This is a direct quotation from the wide-screen musical “Corps-de-ballet” (the item called “Nothing”) which Tutberidze must have surely seen in Soviet cinemas at the time of his own film debut “Nazare’s Last Prayer”. Then characters who do not know each other, enter one and the same house, ring the doorbell, receive no answer and leave, walking further down the street. The camera pans on the first person from the roof, then up again, letting the first depart and the second approach during the same shot, and then pans down again. This is a quotation from the newest cinema. Gaspar Noé for example used this technique to record the wanderings of his characters, including the departing soul, through Tokyo in “Enter the Void”. Tutberidze, the author of the Georgian box-office hit “Trip to Karabakh” could have seen the film in Cannes, for example.

But even more interesting than the use of the new scale, unfamiliar not only to himself, but to the country, was one daring, indecent and, by consequence, immediately alluring association. Having sex with a prostitute in the sauna the gangster Mamuka almost at the moment of orgasm looks at his groin and remembers that the automatic gun which was used to shoot his friend to death today, had a red handle, bent like a banana (there is an immediate cross-cut to the automatic gun, which is currently store in the fridge). When the director’s logic can baffle you to that extent, it is worthwhile to say after the screening that while we were all having a good time, somewhere out there in the world cinema a great original was born!

Alexey Vasiliev


Festivals 2011-06-29

Dir. Feliks Falk

The fascist occupation of Krakow. Another anti-Jewish raid catches little Róza and her mother in a café, where she is enjoying cakes on the occasion of her sixth birthday. Mother tells her to run to the church and wait for her there. Róza’s mother never comes but Joanna, a young average woman her mother’s age will take the girl to live with her in a sturdy old house. On the chest of drawers there is a photo of Joanna and a young man, both wearing ski suits. They are herself and Zbyshek on the snow-covered range in Tatry during their holiday in Zakopane, when he proposed to her. Joanna waits for Zbyshek to comeback from the front and in the meantime hides Róza from the concierge’s curious gaze and reads her fairy tales in the evenings.

As a director Feliks Falk became known with his late 1970s movie “Wodzirej”, which our old-time moviegoers are likely to remember. It was the time when Zanussi very closely approached the formula of Polish Catholic melodrama, which will be exemplified in its purest form by his films based on events in the rear during the second world war («Rok spokojnego slonca», «Wherever You Are...»), and Kieslowski, who purified the genre in “Dekalog”, was getting ready to direct his feature-film debut. The essence of Polish Catholic melodrama is to show the world and the people surrounding the protagonist as walls which are gradually closing in and pushing the character out of this world (suicide or madness is the usual outcome for characters in these movies) which can be discerned in the light imperceptibly falling on the forehead of the heroine like a gloomy halo, or sometimes illuminating inanimate objects (like a boiling kettle in the hospital in Zanussi’s “Bilans kwartalny”). The same light barely touches Joanna’s curls, while the events of the movie, the retelling of which will deny you the pleasure of discovering the plot while watching the film, are nothing else but her gradual ousting from life. The claustrophobic effect is achieved by deadly blush hues of the flat and nearby streets, by frequents shots of the front door hall with the fateful figure of the postman in the shade and incessant ringing of the door bells, vigorous knocks, rattle of door chains on the soundtrack which the Russian mentality immediately associates with Mandelshtam’s poem about Leningrad reworked by Pugacheva.

Falk’s new film is conceived in such lofty traditions that even the almost total lack of originality can’t be called a drawback or a miscalculation: we don’t blame the organist for being faithful to Bach’s original. But there are a couple of surprise after all. One of them is the paradoxical, unusual, but fairly legitimate interpretation of one of the liveliest and most relevant French novels of the 19th century - Stendhal’s “Le Rouge et le Noir” - by the German officer. The second is the finale (which can be safely disclosed in the films of this genre because it is part of the formula). Instead of Polish classic filmmakers it calls to mind a German classic: Joanna walks away along the snow-covered range of the Tatry holding that very photo from the chest of drawers just like Anselm does in the closing lines of Hermann Hesse’s tale, when he completed the transition from this world to the spiritual world by retreating into an iris bud, which opened like a cave. In his youth it was the focus of his fantasies about invisible universes.

Alexey Vasiliev

Dir. Fabien Gaillard

This is a movie about the guy who went too far in the direct and (as many would say) indirect sense of the word. Paul from Limoges is a young man of about 30. He has been living in Shanghai for a long time now, he speaks Chinese fluently and introduces himself as Da Bao, although his round European peasant face won’t cheat anyone as far as his origins are concerned, especially when he rides his bike among steaming pots with fragrant foods in his woolen cap pulled over his ears and a tight jacket like some character from the early videos of “Pet Shop Boys”. He has accepted China as his new motherland but he is not bent on Eastern practices and even his first falling-out with his new girlfriend arises because, in his opinion, the food she cooks for him is too spicy and too Eastern. Actually, it is the familiar story about the love of the Brave Tin Soldier. He makes his living offering computer assistance, but exclusively as a freelancer. When his former sweetheart invites him to a party in the hope of introducing him to an over-dressed lady boss of a big company and talking about his permanent job, he will get drunk, bawl out songs, fall asleep and turn the job interview into an ugly farce. When another company fails to transfer the money to his credit card on time he will turn up at the office and kick up another brawl shoving business papers to the floor. It is right, work must be paid for and he is not going to work.

In this movie nobody cares for the everyday routine, neither the camera, nor he, nor his girlfriend Mei played by Dan Tong Han whose striking model appearance is enough to make everyone forgive her hysterics and bouts of depression facing the wall and for whose smile one is ready to pay a million. But instead it is very important to observe what exercises the aged from the health group are doing in the park today, what pensioners are playing backgammon in the yard and to see the expression on the faces of working guys coming home on the ferry across Yangtze this evening. The latter episode will take place when the action shifts to Wǔhàn, deeper into the mainland, where Mei's family home is and where she will escape having suspected her bridegroom of unfaithfulness. His watch by the princess’s palace will come down to his daily appearances in Wǔhàn 's street karaoke with his own songs.

It is a movie in which the denial of present-day corporate and social priorities in favor of non-violent but stubborn pursuit of one’s own immediate interests is the way to achieve the very basic and fundamental priority – the real noisy family dinner party where everyone is at one with everyone else. And besides it is a film where we hear the phrase: “To gain something you must first lose it, to get something first let it go; just like smoking a cigarette: when I smoke it, look, I let it go”. Cigarette smoke floats over the sleepy Yangtze and the utterance liners in thin air as a worthy object of deep meditation: after all, despite the director’s French name it is an utterly Chinese film.

AlexeY Vasiliev