The 46th curtain drops in Thessaloniki
THESSALONIKI – A chance discovery is the starting point for Fien Troch’s Belgian-Dutch «Someone Else’s Happiness,» which walked away from the 46th Thessaloniki International Film Festival (TIFF) with the much-coveted Golden Alexander and a cash prize of 37,000 euros, as well as the Best Screenplay (Troch) and Best Actress (Ina Geerts) awards, and a special mention for the performance of Natali Broods. A young woman finds the body of a child who has been hit by a car and left to die. The community of the Flemish town where this tragedy has occurred tries to find the culprit, and in this quest, people begin to look at their neighbors and revive old animosities. The Silver Alexander, with a 22,000-euro purse, went to «Blood,» a Mexican-French production by Amat Escalante, for his brutal, bloodless portrait of an ordinary-looking couple who have a lot of weirdness stored up behind closed doors. Pot-bellied, balding and with a twitchy eye, the humble public servant hardly seems the Casanova that she would so passionately covet. However, her passion is restricted to jealousy. «I chose actors from the people around me. I wanted to show people that were not acting, to put across the feeling that there was nothing standing between the face and the camera,» said Escalante in Thessaloniki, where the competition was tight and speculation ran asunder. Anticipation With absolutely lousy weather casting a bit of a pall over the festival, the warehouse complex on the pier, normally bustling with activity, seemed somewhat deserted for the main part of the 10-day event, but Saturday saw a burst of spring weather that brought cinemagoers outdoors, squinting into the sun’s rays. Even so, the prevailing mood was excitement, with several headliners that were sure crowd pleasers: Francis Ford Coppola and his family made a brief appearance in town to attend the exhibition on Dean Tavoularis, organized by the Attiki Cultural Society at the Macedonian Museum of Contemporary Art. While here, Coppola also took the stage at the Olympion movie theater to receive an honorary Golden Alexander from the TIFF. Prolific British filmmaker Michael Winterbottom turned up for the screening of his latest kooky comedy «Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story,» and to have a Q&A session with the audience, as well as attending a party last Thursday night at the local club/bar Sante. The TIFF was showing all of Winterbottom’s films in the tribute series, which also included showcases on the work of Hou Hsiao-hsien, Patrice Chereau and Vittorio Storaro, all of whom attended the festival. Anticipation also ran high this year, not the least of which concerned how the new management would fare following a rather eventful reshuffle last spring that saw Theo Angelopoulos replaced by Pantelis Voulgaris and subsequently (after he resigned) Georges Corraface in the presidency, and Michel Demopoulos replaced by Despina Mouzaki as director. The changes made to the structure and staff of the festival, as well as the program structure, have been minimal; and as it turns out, perhaps these were for the best since an event of this size may well have suffered from overambitious alterations. Ambitious the festival certainly was, featuring over 200 films and myriad parallel events from exhibitions, performances and master classes to presentations, professional fora, parties, gatherings and other happenings, including acrobats sailing down to the Olympion movie theater’s stage at the opening ceremony on Friday, November 18. Other awards The Best Director Award was shared by Hungary’s Roland Vranik for «Black Brush» – in which he follows a group of four slacker friends who are embroiled in a series of misadventures in a black-and-white documentary style – and Emmanuelle Bercot for «Backstage.» The French director takes a star-struck teenager behind the scenes of her favorite pop idol, where she sees that the life of glitz and glamour is nothing more than seedy. Lead Isild Le Besco also shared the Best Actress prize with Geerts from «Someone Else’s Happiness.» Ahmad Razvi was voted Best Actor for his role in «Man Push Cart,» in which he plays a young Pakistani man in New York City trying to eke out a living by selling breakfast from a mobile stand and scalping some porn, with his glory days as a pop singer in Lahore well in the past. His tragedy: His wife has died and his mother-in-law has taken away his son, believing he is not a worthy father. «Man Push Cart» also won the Jameson award (with a 3,000-euro cash prize), which gives the audience the opportunity to vote on the merit of a film after each screening through a ballot, a process the public at the festival seemed to relish. The Artistic Achievement Award for cinematography went to «Falling… in Love» by Taiwan’s Wang Ming-Tai. The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI) was in tune with the buzz at the festival, which was pointing to Argentinean filmmaker Ines de Oliveira Cezar’s «The Hours Go By,» a tragic lullaby about sudden loss, sensitive and poetic, with beautiful photographic tableaux and emotive scenery, underscoring a single day in the life of a family, when mother and infirm grandmother take a walk in the woods, and father and son go to play on the beach. The story is simplicity itself, but there is something mesmerizing about the way Oliveira Cezar has chosen to portray it. At Thessaloniki, the director told Kathimerini English Edition that she is also working on a new project right now, placing «Iphigenia at Aulis» in a small Argentinean village, untouched by civilization, where the role of Agamemnon is replaced by the local witch doctor. Her preparations include meetings with Greek producers with an eye to making it a joint production. The jury «The festival is like a mother giving birth to many children,» said International Jury President Vittorio Storaro, the celebrated Italian cinematographer, at a press conference early last week. «This new generation can supply us with new ideas, urging us to create new and better films.» What the jury as a whole noted was that the TIFF, in contrast to many other international festivals, focuses strongly on emerging, young directors. «It is important to discover fresh ideas in the work of these younger artists,» noted Mexican film critic Leonardo Garcia Tsao of the jury. New ideas, a fresh take on the medium of cinema and original scripts are what the jury is looking for in the competition. Malian director, writer and actor Sotigui Kouyate said: «I believe the standard we judge upon is the artist’s desire to express something through his/her film. Besides, that is the reason that an artist makes a film. On the one hand, to entertain the audience, and, on the other, to share something personal with them.» Greek filmmaker Antoinetta Angelidi stressed that the jury wants «a film to BE, not to PORTRAY,» while American director Lodge Kerrigan, addressing the subject that the audience’s apparent preference is often at odds with that of the jury, said: «The audience is abstract. Therefore, I have to stay with my own reasoning, otherwise I’ll be lost without a reference point.» German producer Ulrich Felsberg concurred with this opinion, adding that «each film has its own audience and therefore there are many different audiences.» Last, but not least, French actress Natacha Regnier said that her duty as a juror does not feel like a burden. «On the contrary,» she explained, «I feel that I’m sharing a common passion with the audience: cinema.» Other films in the competition were Perry Ogden’s «The Traveler Girl,» the story of a large family of Irish travelers, who share similarities with the Rom Gypsies, but about which very little is known or has been recorded. By showing this one particular family and specifically the tribulations of one of the 10 children, Ogden underlines how the very system that offers these nomadic groups support in education and housing, for example, is also the one to disenfranchise them even further when they evict them off the land on which they have parked their trailers. «Grain in Ear,» a joint production of China and South Korea, directed by Zhang Lu, looks at the tribulations of Ciu, a woman of Korean ethnicity living in China, whose husband is in jail, leaving her to her own, scant devices, while in «Play,» Chile’s Alicia Scherson turns a chance find of a lost briefcase into a passport to another, wealthy world for Cristina, who passes her days looking after an elderly woman and playing computer games. The theme of a crime and its consequences is at the heart of «Drifting States» by Canada’s Denis Cote, as Christian, after committing a crime of passion, seeks to rebuild his life in a small, remote village; and in «One Night,» Iranian actress-turned-director Niki Karimi looks at the role of middle-class men in contemporary Iranian society through a young woman’s nighttime city wanderings. Lastly, there were two Greek entries in the International Competition: «Sweet Memory» by Nikos Grammatikos, who tells the story of a Russian woman returning to Greece after a 25-year absence in search of her brother, and «Kinetta,» a surreal, cinema-verite-style entry by promising young director Giorgos Lanthimos. The Greek State Awards competition section of the festival, featuring all of the year’s Greek productions, wraps up tonight with a separate awards ceremony.