CULTURE

Salonica gets ready for movie fest

The time of year when the center of Thessaloniki surrenders itself to film buffs from far and wide is upon us again and the organizers of the 43rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival are in a fever of preparation to raise the curtains on the 10-day celebration of cinema on Friday. A plethora of new directors presenting their first or second films will be sharing screening space with established artists, such as Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Otar Iosseliani, Aleksandr Sokurov, Maoel de Oliveira, Jean Francois Stevenin, Marco Bellocchio, Bela Tarr and Bob Rafelson, while 16 of them, who have made it into the main event of the festival – the International Competition – will vie for the gold and silver Alexander Awards. After a rather gloomy season overshadowed by the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington last year, this year’s International Competition has a small smattering of comedy and romance. Competition In his comedy «Occident,» Romania’s Cristian Mungiu brings three sets of characters together under the common theme of a desire to flee Romania and seek a better future in a romanticized West, while America’s Dylan Kidd weaves a bittersweet comedy drama in «Roger Dodger,» a 2002 production which was awarded the Don Quixote Award at the Venice International Film Festival, the FIPRESCI international union of critics award and the Luigi de Laurentiis Award. Argentina’s Pablo Trapero, who left his mark on the Thessaloniki festival in 2000 with the harsh «Mundo Grua,» returns this year with another drama commenting on the gradual unravelling of Argentinean society, «El Bonaerense,» which received the FIPRESCI award at this year’s Chicago International Film Festival. His Mexican counterpart, Carlos Reygadas, enters the competition strongly with «Japon» (Japan), a psychological drama which won the 31-year-old director a Cannes Film Festival Golden Camera special mention and the New Director’s Award at the Edinburgh Festival. The Cannes festival also gave special mention, with the «Un Certain Regard» Award, to the romantic drama set on the Thai/Burmese border, «Sud Sanaeha» (Blissfully Yours) by the 32-year-old Thai filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul. Other entries in the International Competition include «Woman of Water» by Japan’s Hidenori Sugimori, «The Bungalow» by Germany’s Ulrich Kohler, «Let’s Not Cry» by South Korea’s Min Boung-Hun, the Slovenian film «Blind Spot» by Hanna A.W. Slak, two French entries – «Under Another Sky» by Gael Morel and «Living Kills Me» by Pierre Sinapi – «Wishes of Another Land» by Iran’s Vahid Mousaian, «Some Secrets» by the San Sebastian Festival’s Best Director Alice Nellis, «Rana’s Wedding» by Palestinian filmmaker Hanu Abu-Assad and two Greek entries – Penny Panayiotopoulou’s «Hard Goodbyes: My Father,» which walked away from the Locarno International Film Festival with the Bronze Leopard for best actor, and «Think it Over» by Katerina Evangelakou. Another pivotal part of the Thessaloniki International Film Festival, and the one which is perhaps most interesting in terms of tracing new developments in independent film, is the New Horizons section, whose program is due to be announced tomorrow by that division’s director, Dimitris Eipidis. The Balkan Survey has also helped the festival establish itself as a regional force in cinema and, this year, the section will be showcasing 11 films, though what has grabbed film buffs’ attention is this year’s Asian Vision. The sector is composed of seven films, among which is «Unknown Pleasures,» a multicultural production set in China, which shows the comic side of two teenagers’ cultural angst, and which was nominated for the Golden Palm at Cannes. This is followed by the Indonesian film «Whispering Sands» (Best Cinematography Award at the Asia-Pacific Film Festival), and the Japanese production, «Blue,» which received the Best Actress Award at the Moscow Festival. Tributes Those cinemagoers less inclined to sitting through hours of what are often shaky shots and grainy dialogue can enjoy the festival’s tributes to well-established artists. The most exciting of these is a marathon screening of Fassbinder’s German television series «Berlin Alexanderplatz,» which will be shown over the course of three long nights. Also of interest is the focus on the prolific French actor and director Jean Francois Stevenin and though his oeuvre is only composed of three films, his vast experience as an actor – he has played over 100 roles, among which are parts in films by Truffaut, Godard and Rivette – is reflected in the strong characters he portrays in his own creations and his poetic cinematography. A 28-film retrospective of the work of Marco Bellocchio highlights the filmmaker’s enormous contribution to Italian cinema throughout his 40-year career, while Hungarian visionary Bela Tarr’s vision is represented by 10 of his films, including the legendary «Satantango.» The final tribute to a foreign filmmaker – another is to native Greek director Pantelis Voulgaris – is to America’s Bob Rafelson, director of cult movies such as «The Postman Always Rings Twice» and «Blood and Wine.»