THESSALONIKI – There are rich pickings for film buffs at the International Competition of the Thessaloniki Film Festival this year, in a tight contest that makes it difficult to predict which of the 16 entries will walk off with the Silver and Golden Alexander given as second and first prizes. Among the favorites are Alice Nellis’s «Vylet» (Some Secrets) and Dylan Kidd’s «Roger Dodger,» which has already been bought by a local distributor. «Vylet» is the second feature film by the 31-year-old Czech director (who received the Best New Director Award at San Sebastian this year), just two years after «Ene Bene» (Eeny Meeny), which won Nellis the SKYY Prize at the San Francisco International Film Festival. Backed by a great lady of Czech theater – Iva Janzurova, who plays the mother – Nellis’s new film is a refreshing, charming and humorous account of a family’s journey by car from the Czech Republic to Slovakia where they hope to bury the ashes of the father. Two daughters – one is pregnant and married to an indifferent man and the other is having an affair – the wayward wife’s husband, the mother, mother-in-law and young grandson embark upon a long road trip which brings them into conflict with each other. Family skeletons are brought out of the cupboard, the truth is revealed and hidden, alliances are made and broken, and the family members eventually make their peace. Nellis’s narrative is as smooth as her camera work is clever and the film is well paced. The film’s soundtrack, written by Tomas Polak, gives it added strength as it highlights moments of intensity, serenity and humor. American director Dylan Kidd has made a strong debut with his hyperactive «Roger Dodger,» a film that will be shown in mainstream movie theaters in early spring next year. As in «Vylet,» the director here has the support of a strong cast, led by producer/actor Campbell Scott and supported by Isabella Rossellini and 1980’s «Flashdance» star Jennifer Beals. A film very much about gender role reversal and the angst of modern man, Campbell brilliantly portrays the young, free and single successful ad man in New York who, for all his phenomenal success and machismo, is in the deepest of personal turmoil. His affair with his female boss (Rossellini) comes to anticlimactic end as she coolly tells him that their sexual stints are over and unless he takes it like a gentleman, his job is on the line. His alter ego appears in the form of his sensitive, intelligent, 16-year-old nephew, who has run away from his hometown in Ohio to find the answers to his teenage sexual anxieties in the big city and under the guidance of his reputedly Casanova-like uncle. Roger has the gift of the gab and his tirade of shallow advice on how best to get a woman into bed is delivered in a manner reminiscent of Jack Lemmon’s tips on real-estate success in the film adaptation of David Mamet’s «Glengarry Glenn Ross.» Shaky, weaving, hand-held camera shots add to Roger’s constant, feverish speech and movements. «We wanted the camera action to reflect Roger’s state of mind… It had to move in close to the faces of the actors so their personalities would not be trapped in the frame,» said Kidd. Campbell’s collaboration came as a gift to the fledgling director who said, «Sometimes the universe sets it up so that you are in the right room with the right person.» From his chance encounter with the actor/producer came the participation of Rossellini, who agreed to play in the film without even having read the script. «I had to spend a lot of time collecting myself off set because I was so freaked out about being in the same room with her. Then we got along really well. She was great. She is a typical Italian, very earthy,» admitted Kidd. Another interesting selection in the competition is the Palestinian film «Rana’s Wedding» by Hany Abu-Assad. This is a romantic drama set in Jerusalem just before the Israeli army moved into the Palestinian territories. Amid a backdrop of immense political tension, the young, beautiful Rana sneaks out of her father’s house at daybreak in search of her forbidden lover, Khalil. She has to marry Khalil secretly by four o’clock of the same day or her father will force her to marry a man from a list of eligible bachelors he has prepared for her. Faced with this fait accompli, Rana wrestles with her own doubts about marriage, struggling to find the people and papers necessary to have a wedding with a registrar, and frustrated at being unable to move freely in her own city. «When the abnormality of barriers and occupation becomes an everyday reality, normal things like love and marriage turn into fiction. This is life in Palestine now. I wanted to challenge it through cinema,» says the director in a press note. «In this film,» he adds, «I felt that reality was dictating me. It became a bloody fight between reality and fiction, in a country where the normal appears absurd and the absurd appears to be normal.» «Rana’s Wedding» is simple, human and touching, and the political context extremely poignant. And though its merits are many, its political message gives it a special place in the competition. A second-time competitor at Thessaloniki, Korean director Min Boung-Hun returns with a Silver Alexander under his belt for his 1998 «Flight of the Bee,» to present «Let’s Not Cry.» In his second film, he repeats the theme of life in a small village in Central Asia, but this time, the storyline is based on a young man who has frittered away his modest fortune in the casinos of Moscow, and returns – with loan sharks hot on his heels – to his village. Snubbing the lifestyle of his mother – who works on an agricultural collective – his friends and his grandfather, he tries to convince the sharp-witted villagers that in Moscow, he has become a world-famous violinist.