International film festival’s jury strikes a balance between art and exuberance

There are two types of films: those for the critics and those for the audience. It is very rare for a film to be both.» The award-winning entries of the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival competition proved the opinion of German producer Tobias Buchner, at the festival backing «Bungalow.» In a brilliant ceremony held on Sunday night at the Olympion cinema, the jury of the international competition distributed the awards in a manner showing that while they had their eye on art, they were also looking for modern expressions of social issues, strong scripts and youth appeal. The diversity of the entries is reflected in the fact that the Golden Alexander was shared between the Japanese film «Woman of Water» by Hidenori Sugimori, and the provocative Thai entry «Blissfully Yours» by Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Sugimori has weaved a dreamy folk tale about a woman (owner of a sento bathhouse) who provokes the rains every time she experiences something significant. After the death of her fiance and father, she looks for solace in the countryside, encountering a woman symbolizing the wind. Upon her return, she falls in love with a man – fire – hired to stoke the furnaces of the sento, and builds a relationship with earth, seen in the character of an elderly cleaning woman. On the other hand, «Blissfully Yours» comes hot on the heels of other challenging Thai films such as «Jan Dara» and «Iron Ladies,» with an explicit and beautifully rendered story of two couples examining their sexuality, superstitions and norms on the Thai-Burmese border crossing. After receiving awards in Cannes, Edinburgh and Sao Paulo, Mexican director Carlos Reygadas was a favorite for the Best Director award from the start. His film «Japon» is stunningly beautiful and technically interesting. Shot in a bleached-out color using a technique called Super-Cinemascope that renders harsh lighting contrasts, and blown up from 16 mm to 35 mm, giving it a horizontal elongation, Reygadas’s lingering poetic tale of man who rediscovers his lust for life in a small village embraces the stunning landscapes of rural Mexico. Modern themes The Silver Alexander, on the other hand, went to a film with little poetry at all. Ulrich Kohl’s «Bungalow» is as «everyday» as it gets, grappling with the sexual and social angst of a young German who has skipped out of his military service. Though lacking in cinematographic qualities, the starkness of image and narrative makes the man’s sense of emptiness all the more acute. Another youth-oriented film, «Blind Spot,» drew the jury’s attention as it bestowed the Best Actress Award to lead Manca Dorrer for her powerfully acted role as a young woman helping a friend to kick his heroin addiction. The focus of Hanna A.W. Slak’s film rests, however, on the emotional and social isolation in which Lupa (Dorrer) finds herself after having to get into the mind of Gladki. The Best Actor Award was a double treat for local talent Christos Stergioglou, who appeared in two international competition entries. In Penny Panayiotopoulou’s «Hard Goodbyes: My Father,» he plays the uncle of a young boy who tries to come to terms with the loss of his father, and in Katerina Evangelakou’s «Think it Over,» the lead character’s mother’s boyfriend who ends up with another woman. Czech artist Alice Nellis’s film «Some Secrets» – which she wrote the screenplay for and directed – received the well-justified Best Screenplay Award. A film for both critics and the public, «Some Secrets» has a tight structure, well-paced and clever dialogues and an easy flow as it follows a family’s journey by car from the Czech Republic to Slovenia in order to bury the ashes of the father in his town of birth. A former recipient of the Silver Alexander (in 1999 for «The Flight of the Bee»), Korean director Min Boung-hun received a surprising Artistic Achievement Award for «Let’s Not Cry,» while his lead actor Muhamad Rahimov was given a special mention. Other awards The audience at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival was also given the right to vote in a poll organized by Dewars’ whisky. Two prizes worth 3,000 euros each were thus bestowed, in a separate ceremony, upon Romania’s Christian Mungiu for «Occident» and Evangelakou for «Think it Over.» The jury of the International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) split its top prize between «Some Secrets» and «Hard Goodbyes.»

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