Written by Jason Pirodsky
Ahh, FebioFest – the film festival for people who don´t like film festivals. The films playing here are mostly those that have been released widely elsewhere, or have been circling the festival circuit for a while, along with a bunch of classic films presented as tributes to selected directors and actors. Whatever the reason, you aren´t likely to make many “finds” at the FebioFest – you should be able to find enough information about a particular film to know whether it´s worth seeing or not, as opposed to going in blind at most other festivals where films are screening for the first time. And tickets are only 69 CZK, or less – a very nice break from the prices at other festivals (and even the regular cinemas here!)
So here are my tips and picks – I haven´t seen all of the following films (though I have seen a good number of them), but I tried to single out most of the ones that should be interesting. And unless noted, all of the films will be in English, or contain English subtitles (in fact, many of the foreign-language films at the fest will have English subs – one of the few chances you´ll get to see them theatrically in the Czech Republic).
FebioFest features a number of Oscar-nominated (and winning) films that have yet to play in the Czech Republic. Many should open here within the next couple months; one that may not, however, is my personal favorite from 2005 – Craig Brewer´s HUSTLE & FLOW. It´s a pulsating throwback to 70´s blaxploitation films, with a star-making (and Oscar-nominated) performance by Terence Howard as a low-rent pimp and drug dealer who attempts to escape his existence through music. The soundtrack is quite magnetic as well – picking up an Oscar for original song – even if you don´t particularly enjoy rap music.
Other notables include: Fernando Meirelles´ THE CONSTANT GARDENER, another of the year´s best, a stirring tale of corruption in the African drug market with fantastic performances from Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz; Woody Allen´s MATCH POINT, a return to form for the director and easily his best film since 1989´s Crimes and Misdemeanors; Noah Baumbach´s THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, a quirky, darkly comedic tale of divorce and teen angst from the director of Kicking and Screaming that has a similar (if lower-key) feel to the films of Wes Anderson (Baumbach also co-wrote The Life Aquatic); and Phil Morrison´s JUNEBUG, overrated in my opinion but still an affecting slice of Americana (specifically suburban North Carolina) with an impressive if grating Oscar-nominated performance from Amy Adams as a Southern gal. Also playing is Joshua Marston´s MARIA FULL OF GRACE, which was Oscar-nominated in 2005, played at Karlovy Vary in 2004, and has yet to see an official Czech release. It´s widely available on the home market by now, but still a compelling tale of a young Colombian woman who becomes a drug mule to support her family.
Other “New” English-Language Releases
It´s a true shame that Werner Herzog´s GRIZZLY MAN didn´t even make the short list for last year´s Best Documentary Oscar; comparisons to the scandal surrounding Hoop Dreams are valid. In any event, it should have been nominated, and would have won, the award – the story of animal rights Timothy Treadwell and his girlfriend meeting a grizzly end in the Alaskan wilderness, comprised mostly of footage shot by Treadwell himself, is extraordinary.
Richard Shepard´s THE MATADOR, with Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear, is a likable, entertaining farce, if a bit on the light side; I kept expecting a bit more drama throughout. MYSTERIOUS SKIN is probably director Greg Araki´s most fully-realized film, but the subject matter (pedophilia, prostitution, homosexuality) is dealt with so honestly that it can be difficult to watch. For those initiated to Araki´s world, however, it´s an excellent film. I didn´t feel ME AND YOU AND EVERYONE WE KNOW, the debut feature from Miranda July, was a total success, but it still had many interesting elements, and received rave reviews from some critics. Marc Forster´s STAY faded into obscurity almost as soon as it was released in the states, but I quite liked it; a good cast (Naomi Watts, Ewan McGregor, Ryan Gosling) and convoluted plot with an interesting if not entirely successful wrap-up.
Spike Lee´s THE INSIDE MAN is likely the highest-profile film without a wide release elsewhere to play at the fest. A cast including Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, Jodie Foster, and many more tells me to definitely check it out, but I suspect something may be off. Susan Stroman´s RENT and Chris Columbus´ THE PRODUCERS both tanked stateside, though either might be interesting if you´re into Hollywood musicals. INSIDE DEEP THROAT, Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato´s look into one of the most successful films of all time from, received mixed reviews in the U.S., but still looks be interesting with an impressive lineup of talking heads.
“New” Foreign-Language Releases
The foreign films at this year´s fest are difficult to single out; not very many are high-profile, and few have received wide releases elsewhere. Still, numerous films from respected directors are featured – to start with, 97-year old director Manoel de Oliveira and 80-year old actor-turned-director Michel Piccoli both have new films with MAGIC MIRROR and IT IS NOT REALLY THE LIFE I DREAMT OF, respectively; both should provide at least some interest (unfortunately Piccoli´s film doesn´t seem to have English subtitles).
I´ve been a fan of horror/comedy director Alex de la Iglesia for a while, and I´m looking forward to his new film, FERPECT CRIME, which looks to be a good black comedy. Takeshi Kitano (Zatoichi) films always provide at least some interest, as should his new one, TAKESHIS´; Kitano is also starring in director Yoichi Sai´s BLOOD AND BONES. Celebrated Israeli director Amos Gitai´s new film FREE ZONE is drawing a lot of attention, if only because it features Natalie Portman in a leading role. Hirokazu Koreeda´s NOBODY KNOWS comes highly recommended, picking up a best actor award for Yuya Yagira at last year´s Cannes festival. I know nothing of Belgian director Olivier Smolders or his film BLACK NIGHT, but the festival guide sold me with this line: “Eraserhead combined with the Hour of the Wolf.” We´ll see
Tribute to Michelangelo Antonioni
And what a tribute it is! Every single feature-length film the director has ever made (to my knowledge), excluding anthologies that were put together with segments from other filmmakers. If you only see sixteen films during the fest, these are the sixteen I recommend you catch – Antonioni´s films are visually sumptuous, and demand to be seen theatrically. And each film is either in English or presented with English subtitles. BLOW-UP is my personal favorite of his works, and also one of his most popular – it can be caught in Prague art houses occasionally throughout the year. The films in the ‘isolation´ trilogy (L´AVVENTURA, LA NOTTE, and L´ECCLISE) are also highly recommended, as is the Jack Nicholson-starrer, THE PASSENGER. But the one I´ll be looking forward to the most is one of his lesser films – ZABRISKIE POINT. Famously unavailable in the home-video market (I´ve only seen the wretched pan & scan version, which destroys the cinematography), it´s Antonioni´s only film shot in America, with an excellent soundtrack (Pink Floyd, The Grateful Dead, and others) and an amazing, ultra slow-motion ending.
Andy Warhol Presents: Films
Mostly a tribute to the Paul Morrisey films Warhol attached his name to, along with a handful of films that may have been directed by Warhol himself – that is, if you consider any of his films to contain ‘direction´. If you´re not a fan of Warhol or his art you can skip these showings, which are contained at the Ponrepo art cinema. If you are a Warhol fan then there you´ll definitely want to check some of these films out; they rarely play theatrically, and are mostly unavailable on DVD. Not screened are Empire, a 485-minute shot of the Empire State Building, or Sleep, 4+ hours of a guy sleeping, but you can check out BLOW JOB, a much more manageable 35-minute close-up of Tom Baker´s face while receiving the titular service, or perhaps Warhol´s most famous film, CHELSEA GIRLS, 210 minutes of split-screen, unedited, stream-of-consciousness filmmaking that does have some interesting elements and ends up being quite memorable even if you can´t make it through the whole film. Paul Morrisey´s films tend to be more conventional; at the very least, they´re more watchable then Warhol´s other films, mainly because the artistic pretensions are (for the most part) stripped away. FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN and BLOOD FOR DRACULA are two of his more expensive productions, worth checking out if you´re into blood & gore but offering little else besides unintentional laughs – especially Joe Dallesandro´s Bronx accent and naturalistic acting style, which contrast hilariously with the Transylvanian settings.
A tribute to Robert and Christopher Mitchum features a couple classics from father Robert: Charles Laughton´s NIGHT OF THE HUNTER and Joseph Losey´s SECRET CEREMONY. Nothing from Chris, though; I guess we´ll have to wait till next year for Commando Mengele. A tribute to Claudia Cardinale features two of the best films ever made: Herzog´s FITZCARRALDO, which unfortunately has no English subs, and Sergio Leone´s ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST, likely the greatest Western ever filmed. A couple of Czech director Ivan Passer´s Hollywood films are being screened: BORN TO WIN, with George Segal, and CUTTER´S WAY, with Jeff Bridges. Neither are masterpieces, but both are excellent B-Movies that you´re unlikely to find anywhere else. Other tributes include those to Polish director Juliusz Machulski, Czech actress Emília Vášáryová, French director Claude Leloch, and German actress Julia Jentsch, though few of the films from this bunch will have English subtitles. Four films from Japanese director Ryuichi Hiroki will, though.
Last but not least is the “Strange Videos” section, which features films from the Hollywood classic GRAND HOTEL to the Japanese monster movie GAPPA THE TRIPHIBIAN MONSTERS, along with two of the best Kung-Fu films ever made (though they couldn´t be more different from each other): ENTER THE DRAGON and THE 36TH CHAMBER OF SHOALIN. The real find here, however, is the Pamela Anderson starring, instant-classic BARB WIRE. If you missed it during its first theatrical run, now is prime chance to see it, in its tenth-year anniversary
It´s highly recommended to purchase your tickets in advance – some of the higher-profile films may already be sold out by the time you read this. Still, I was able to get into numerous films in previous years without advance tickets.
You can find a full schedule of films and times for the festival at www.febiofest.cz, but here are the times for my top ten picks; all films are at Village Cinemas Andel unless noted:
Hustle and Flow: 25/3 @ 20:00, 27/3 @ 22:30
Grizzly Man: 24/3 @ 20:00
The Constant Gardener: 25/3 @ 19:00, 27/3 @ 23:59
Ferpect Crime: 28/3 @ 15:30, 30/3 @ 23:00
Nobody Knows: 25/3 @ 20:45, 28/3 @ 18:15
Zabriskie Point: 29/3 @ 19:30, 31/3 @ 22:30
L´Avventura: 24/3 @ 22:30, 26/3 @ 22:00
Chelsea Girls: 26/3 @ 17:30 at Ponrepo
Once Upon a Time in the West: 31/3 @ 22:30
Cutter´s Way: 28/3 @ 22:00
Jason Pirodsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org