Written by Jason Pirodsky
Febiofest is here again, playing in Prague´s Village Cinemas Anděl from March 22 – 30. The largest festival in Prague is a blessing for English-speaking film lovers, as most of the films screened will be presented in their original language. Outside of other festivals, this is usually the only chance you´ll have to see a non-Czech foreign-language film with English subtitles in a Czech cinema. The Fest is highly affordable, as well, with tickets at 79 CZK per film. And if you don´t live in Prague, the Febiofest moves on to other parts of the Czech Republic throughout the first half of April. Check www.febiofest.cz for more details.
Following are my personal picks for the fest, separated by the section they´re playing in. There´s too much wealth to choose a select few, but the sections on Béla Tarr (specifically his masterpiece Sátántangó) and the Japanese New Wave films deserve special mention.
NOTE: ALL of the films mentioned in this article will be screening in English or with English subtitles (as will most of the other films at the Fest).
Strangers with Candy : Paul Dinello´s film based on the now-defunct Comedy Central TV has floundered around now for a couple years; it´s occasionally hilarious despite Amy Sedaris´ profoundly unpleasant lead.
Eleven Men Out : Icelandic film about a football star who comes out of the closet sounds like a lot of fun.
Amnesia: The James Brighton Enigma : potentially fascinating true-life story from director Denis Langlois has received mixed reviews.
Art Theater Guild: Japanese Cinema 1968-1978
(Best of the Fest here – a number of little-seen classics from the largely ignored Japanese New Wave. Art house lovers, take note – many of the films presented are widely unavailable in any format.)
Funeral Parade of Roses : plot summary from IMDb: “A gay son kills his mother and sleeps with his father in this Japanese version of the Oedipus legend.” How can you go wrong? Directed by Toshio Matsumoto.
Eros plus massacre : Yoshishige Yoshida´s epic is apparently screening in a 160 minute cut, not the 202 minute version listed on IMDb.
Nanami: The Inferno of First Love : Susumu Hani´s fetishistic, X-rated film.
Preparation for the Festival : from director Kazuo Kuroki
Ecstasy of the Angels : directed by Koji Wakamatsu
A Boy Called Third Base : from Yoichi Higashi
Tsugaru Folksong : directed by Kôichi Saitô
Funky Forest: The First Contact : Surrealist effort from directors Katsuhito Ishii, Hajime Ishimine, and Shinichiro Miki sounds like plenty of fun.
Nomad : Kazakhstan epic directed by Czech émigré Ivan Passer along with Sergei Bodrov and Talgat Temenov, film has been internationally well-received.
I Don´t Want to Sleep Alone : from minimalist Malaysian director Ming-liang Tsai.
Black : Sanjay Leela Bhansali´s song-and-dance-less Bollywood flick has been roundly praised.
Reminiscences of a Journey to Lithuania : from Jonas Mekas, Lithuanian émigré and iconic director.
David Holzman´s Diary : cinéma vérité satire from Jim McBride.
Film Portrait : from Oscar-winning avant-garde filmmaker Jerome Hill.
The Long Holiday : swan song from Dutch documentarian Johan van der Keuken, made while he was dying of cancer.
Magic Eye : Kujtim Çashku´s film tackles the subject of media manipulation in Albania.
Angel´s Fall : Turkish relationship drama from director Semih Kaplanoglu.
The Weeping Meadow : eclectic director Theo Angelopoulos´ start to an intended trilogy has been widely praised.
My Father and Son : Turkish film from director Çagan Irmak has attained some impressive, highly positive word-of-mouth.
Times and Winds : intimate drama from Turkish director Reha Erdem.
Half Nelson : wonderful film with a star-making, Oscar-nominated performance by Ryan Gosling; gritty and realistic, also deeply moving. Directed by Ryan Fleck.
Quinceañera : surprise winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance last year, hype has died down; directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland.
Art School Confidential : latest from Terry Zwigoff was uniformly slammed by critics, but I loved it; more conventional than Ghost World but satire is dead-on.
Red Road : initially intriguing film about a CCTV operator and a mysterious man; others have loved it, but I felt jerked around. Directed by Andrea Arnold.
Alpha Dog : for 90 minutes, a compelling film with an overpowering sense of dread; after that, director Nick Cassevettes almost completely loses us. Justin Timberlake, amazingly, isn´t bad.
The Situation : love triangle story set against the backdrop of the Iraq war sounds interesting. From director Philip Haas.
Black Dahlia : almost complete dud from Brian De Palma; still watchable, wonderful set design.
Catch a Fire : Apartheid tale from Philip Noyce failed to draw Oscar interest but received mostly positive reviews; Tim Robbins, Derek Luke star.
Warm Springs : Made-for-TV films wouldn´t normally receive festival attention, but this one stars Kenneth Branagh as FDR. Extremely positive reviews and a few Emmys; from iconic TV helmer Joseph Sargent.
Contemporary Hungarian Cinema
Forest : Benedek Fliegauf´s well-reviewed drama.
Fresh Air : from director Ágnes Kocsis´s.
Fateless : Lajos Koltai´s internationally acclaimed holocaust tale.
El Perro Negro : Stories from the Spanish Civil War : a documentary from Péter Forgács that uses amateur footage to set the story of 1930´s Spain.
Contemporary Italian Women Cinema
I Love to Work : Francesca Comencini´s workplace psychological drama sounds fascinating.
Don´t Tell : Oscar-nominated film from director Cristina Comencini about the repercussions of childhood trauma and repressed memories.
DIY – Do it Yourself
Style Wars : Henry Chalfant and Tony Silver´s classic documentary follows the beginnings of the hip hop movement.
The Dreamer That Remains : Stephen Pouliot´s obscure documentary on avant garde musician Harry Partch.
Helvetica : Gary Hustwit´s doc on the famed typeface sounds intriguing.
Made in Serbia : Mladen Djordjevic´s look at the Serbian Porn industry.
The Wild Blue Yonder : anything from Werner Herzog is a must-see, and this sci-fi ‘documentary´ starring Brad Dourif sounds fascinating.
Vers Mathilde : little info exists about this two year-old doc, but anything from director Claire Denis draws interest.
Latin American Panorama
Glue : tale of adolescence, isolation, and glue-sniffing from director Alexis Dos Santos.
Cronos : Guillermo Del Toro´s enjoyable first feature about a mysterious device that grants eternal life; a sort of cross between the director´s Hollywood fare and his artistic successes (The Devil´s Backbone, Pan´s Labyrinth (see below))
Japan : highly praised debut film from Carlos Reygadas.
Love in the Time of Hysteria : Alfonso Cuaron´s low-budget, little-seen debut feature is just as good as some of his later films.
The Aura : Fabián Bielinsky´s thriller has received numerous positive reviews, many of which favorably compare it to the director´s previous Nine Queens.
New International Releases
Black Book : latest from director Paul Verhoeven has received all sorts of praise. Great to see the director of Starship Troopers finally return to his roots with this Dutch WWII tale.
Days of Glory : Rachid Bouchareb´s Oscar-nominated story of the North Africans who fought for France during WWII.
Heading South : Laurence Cantet´s tale of female sex tourists in 1980´s Haiti looks extremely interesting.
Hollywoodland : disappointing but nicely produced drama centering on the suspicious suicide of Superman actor George Reeves. Strangely, film focuses more on Adrien Brody´s detective rather than Ben Affleck´s bland Reeves
Chronicle of an Escape : true-life story of a soccer player kidnapped in Argentina looks fascinating. Director: Adrián Caetano
Marie Antoinette : Sofia Coppola´s latest divided the critics but is essentially an intimate look at a larger-than-life figure. A step down from Lost in Translation but still interesting and beautifully shot. Expectations of grandeur, however, will be met with disappointment.
Notes on a Scandal : wildly overpraised film from director Richard Eyre, but Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett are great to watch as always.
Pan´s Labyrinth :one of the best films from 2006. A young girl´s fantasies harshly contrast with grim realities under Spain´s fascist regime at the end of WWII. Classic stuff, with some jarring outbursts of violence. Wonderful filmmaking from Guillermo del Toro.
Sketches of Frank Gehry : doc on the famous architect from Sydney Pollack.
Stranger Than Fiction : wonderful, inventive (Charlie) Kaufman-esque script from Zack Helm, though director Marc Forster occasionally lets things lag. Still, it´s a lot of fun.
Sunshine : the latest from Danny Boyle, with very little word-of-mouth out there at the moment. Boyle has rarely faltered as director (excepting The Beach) but the trailer and plot of this one reeks of Armageddon or The Core. We shall see
The Comedy of Power : it´s been a while since Claude Chabrol has directed a true masterpiece, but each film from the iconic director remains just as entertaining as the last.
The Good Shepherd : Robert de Niro´s tale of the beginnings of the CIA received a lot of positive reviews but little enthusiasm.
The Painted Veil : John Curran´s film version of W. Somerset Maugham´s classic novel about an expatriate couple (Edward Norton, Naomi Watts) in China has been mostly well-received by US critics.
New Israeli Cinema
Close to Home : Vardit Bilu and Dalia Hagar film about two young girls serving in the Israeli military has received plenty of positive word-of-mouth
The World of Islam
Ahlaam : contemporary fiction shot in Iraq draws interest nonetheless, but Mohamed Al Daradji´s film has received some encouraging reviews also.
Kilomčtre zéro : Iraq war story from Hiner Saleem.
Yacoubian Building : 3-hour epic, one of the most expensive Egyptian movies ever made. Impressive reviews and highly positive word-of-mouth. Directed by Marwan Hamed.
A number of special tribute sections give us films from: Hungarian director Béla Tarr, French director Bruno Dumont, Russian director Eldar Rjazanov, Macedonian actress Labina Mitevska, Slovak actor Marián Labuda, Italian director Mario Monicelli, Georgian director Otar Ioseliani, and Romanian actress Rona Hartner.
The work of Béla Tarr is the highlight here, especially a screening of his 7.5 hour masterpiece Sátántangó on Sunday 25.3 at 10:00. Tarr is an acquired taste, with lingering shots of little action, but his films are beautiful, poetic, haunting, and Sátántangó is justly regarded (by some) as one of the best films ever made. You´ll likely never get another chance to see it theatrically.
A special section on Music Films showcases docs on The Pixies, John Cale, and more. A few other sections, Czech Alternative, Febiofest Junior, and others, offer little in the way of English-friendly films.
Jason Pirodsky can be reached at email@example.com