FESTIVALS: Europeans Dominate Art Film Fest Competition

By Aft Film Fest
    As in previous years, the centrepiece of the 20th Art Film Fest (www.artfilmfest.sk), running from 16 to 23 June in Trenčianske Teplice and Trenčín, will be the International Competition of Feature Films, a cinematic showdown juxtaposing the work of some of the world's most talented directors.

    Aside from the power and humanity of their narratives, the competing films also share heaps of awards from renowned international festivals such as Sundance, Locarno and the Berlinale. At this year's Art Film Fest, 12 pictures will vie for the festival trophy - the Blue Angel.

    One of the competition's major attractions is the Danish film Teddy Bear, which earned director Mads Matthiesen the Directing Award at this year's Sundance, the top American independent film festival. It tells the story of a man with a rugged face, but a delicate heart: 38-year-old bodybuilder Dennis, who lives alone with his imperious mother. He longs to break free from their unhealthy relationship and finally live on his own two feet. One day he decides to change his life, embarking on a quest for love that takes him all the way to Thailand. "Most of the actors in the film are real people (‘non actors')...Working mostly with amateurs was a big challenge but also a gift, because you get a great deal of authenticity when you work with real people in real environments," says Matthiesen. His short film Dennis, which Teddy Bear is based on, won the Grand Prix at the 2008 Melbourne IFF.

    Another film to arrive at Art Film Fest festooned with awards is Justin Kurzel's Snowtown, internationally premiered at Cannes's Critics Week, where it won the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) Prize, in addition to six Australian Film Institute awards in 2012, including Best Film. The picture's protagonist, 16-year-old Jamie, is taken under the wing of John, his mother's dominant new boyfriend. The false hero leads the teenager into an unstoppable spiral of ever-deepening horror, as Jamie becomes accomplice to an orgy of torture and murder. Most horrifying of all, the film is based on the actual crimes of an Australian serial killer, discovered in 1999 when police found barrels full of decomposing body parts in the rural community of Snowtown. But far from being a sensationalistic rehash of the shocking murders, Kurzel's cinematic treatment is a dark exploration of social dependence, drug addiction, domestic violence, brutality and sexual abuse.

    For a truly unusual experience, turn to French director Valérie Massadian's Nana, winner of Locarno's award for best first film and the Grand Jury Award for best film at the Istanbul IFF. The picture is shot from the perspective of four-year-old Nana, who comes home one day to find her house inexplicably empty. But even without her mother, she dresses herself, heads into the woods, jumps over a stream, eats a sandwich... This intimate and remarkable debut is a minimalist depiction of childhood in all of its variety and elusiveness.

    The competition will also feature last year's best Polish film, Rose from director Wojciech Smarzowski. The picture won all the top prizes at the Polish Eagle Awards, as well as the Grand Prix at the Warsaw FF. Set in 1945, the film begins with Tadeusz, a former Home Army (AK) soldier who lost everything in the war. Journeying across the countryside, he arrives at the home of a German soldier's widow. Rose gives him a frosty welcome, but Tadeusz wins her trust by helping around the farm. In a landscape ravaged by war, an impossible love is born between two people from completely separate worlds.

    Entering Art Film Fest's competition with the Berlinale's Silver Bear in tow, the Swiss-French co-production Sister is a portrait of a boy on the brink of puberty, poised between deceit and an unquenchable need for love. The Russian film Twilight Portrait won Thessaloniki's Golden Alexander for best director, along with the Film Critics Award, and at Cottbus it won the Grand Prix for best film. It centres on Marina, an upper-class professional whose marriage is in a state of crisis. After being brutally attacked and raped by three policemen, she begins to reassess her life. Israel will also be represented in the competition, by the fascinating Sharqiya, the story of a Bedouin living in Israel who hatches a plan to save his ancestral home, scheduled for demolition by the government.