Written by Jason Pirodsky
One of the oldest and largest film festivals in Europe, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival kicks off on Friday, June 30th. If you´ve got nothing to do over the next two weekends – and the two day holiday in between – take a small trip to Karlovy Vary. It´s a two hour bus ride away, and the most you´ll pay to see a film is 65 CZK. Some 250 films are showcased over the next week, and there´s not nearly enough time to catch them all. Listed below are my picks for the fest – there´s not going be enough time to watch all of these either, but I´ll be sure to see as many as I can.
I´ve ignored the films in competition, but this shouldn´t be taken as a comment on their quality – most of them are having either world or European premieres at the fest, and I simply know nothing about them other than what´s listed in the festival guide. However, selection by festival officials should guarantee at least some level of quality (though I should bite my tongue – I´ve seen plenty of garbage at prior years´ fests including the only film I´ve ever walked out on.) The risky may want to walk into a film they know nothing about – nothing can match the experience of discovering an excellent film, and Karlovy Vary is the perfect place to do it.
For the non-risky, here are my quick & dirty picks by festival section:
Three of the greatest living filmmakers present new films at this year´s fest: Robert Altman´s A PRARIE HOME COMPANION opened in the U.S. to enthusiastic, if somewhat muted, reviews. Based on Garrison Keillor´s famous radio show, the cast of the film includes Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Meryl Streep, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, and many other notable names. Werner Herzog, whose brilliant GRIZZLY MAN was named by a number of critics as the best film of 2005, brings THE WILD BLUE YONDER to Karlovy Vary; the hybrid sci-fi documentary starring Brad Dourif blurs lines as only Herzog can. Pedro Almodovar has had an amazing streak of excellent films in the past ten years – VOLVER appears to be no exception, picking up awards for screenplay and actress (Penelope Cruz and others) at Cannes this year.
Thom Fitzgerald´s 3 NEEDLES has received excellent word of mouth; the story of the global HIV epidemic is presented here in a special ‘director´s cut´. Aric Avelino´s AMERICAN GUN, dealing with gun control in America, features Donald Sutherland, Forest Whitaker, and Marcia Gay Harden, among others. Luc Besson (LEON) returns to directing after a six year absence with ANGEL-A; the film has received enthusiastic reviews, but is unfortunately only screening once during the festival. Steven Soderbergh´s ultra low budget BUBBLE was fairly well-received in the U.S.; at the very least it should provide a nice contrast to the director´s OCEAN´S 11-13. Nanni Moretti, who won the top prize at Cannes five years ago with THE SON´S ROOM, brings IL CAIMANO, a skewering of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. Michael Winterbottom brings TRISTAM SHANDY: A COCK AND BULL STORY, based on Laurence Sterne´s supposedly unfilmable novel, starring Steve Coogan. John Irvin´s THE FINE ART OF LOVE: MINE HA-HA hasn´t been well received, but merits interest with Jacqueline Bisset starring as a boarding school mistress. Matthias Glasner´s DER FREIE WILLE (The Free Will) has received some excellent reviews despite some controversial subject matter and potentially oppressive length; the always excellent Jürgen Vogel stars as a recently paroled sexual offender.
Jasmila Žbanić´s debut feature GRBAVICA took home the top prize at this year´s Berlin International Film Festival; the pic explores the aftermath of the Balkan war. THE HAWK IS DYING, from director Julian Goldberger, stars Paul Giamatti as a man whose life changes when he begins to train a hawk. Mark Hammond´s JOHNNY WAS deserves mention just for the cast alone: the British crime drama features Vinnie Jones, Patrick Bergen, Samantha Mumba, Roger Daltrey, and Lennox Lewis (!), among others; it may not be Shakespeare Aki Kaurismaki´s deadpan style always provides for interesting films – here he brings LAITAKAUPUNGIN VALOT (Lights in the Dusk). Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur´s English-language debut A LITTLE TRIP TO HEAVEN has received mixed reviews despite Coen bros. comparisons. There always seems to be a Hollywood blockbuster playing at the festival; this year it´s Wolfgang Peterson´s megabomb remake POSEIDON. Maria Maggenti´s bisexual love triangle comedy PUCCINI FOR BEGINNERS had some great word of mouth at Sundance, complete with comparisons to Woody Allen. Hans-Christian Schmid´s REQUIEM examines the same case that was featured in THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE, hopefully without the same Hollywood melodramatics. The part drama, part documentary THE ROAD TO GUANTANAMO, from directors Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, details the experiences of a trio of British Muslims who were held in Guantanamo for two years without being charged with a crime. John Hurt stars in Michael Caton-Jones´ Rwanda drama SHOOTING DOGS. Terry Gilliam brings his latest film TIDELAND to Karlovy Vary; the anticipation for the filmmaker´s newest would be greater if it weren´t for the slew of negative reviews from other fests. Jason Reitman´s THANK YOU FOR SMOKING has received plenty of positive word of mouth; the satirical comedy features Aaron Eckhart as a PR man for a tobacco company.
TSOTSI, from director Gavin Hood, took home the Best Foreign-language Film Oscar this year. It´s a brutal, sometimes touching story – although I found it a bit too Hollywood-esque, especially when compared to the similar CITY OF GOD.
Géla Babluani´s 13 (TZAMETI) looks to be a solid thriller, winner awards at last year´s Venice at this year´s Sundance film festivals – a Hollywood remake is also in the works, before the film has even been released in the U.S. Jens Lien´s DEN BRYSOMME MANNE (Bothersome Man) received high praise in Cannes, with Variety´s Leslie Felperin drawing parallels to the work of David Lynch and Jacques Tati. BROTHERS OF THE HEAD seems to be similarly ‘out there´; the story of rock ‘n´ roll Siamese twins was directed by Louis Pepe and Keith Fulton, who were also behind the Terry Gilliam doc LOST IN LA MANCHA. DAVE CHAPELLE´S BLOCK PARTY may seem like a standard concert film, but anything from Michel Gondry shouldn´t be taken lightly; Lauryn Hill, Wyclef Jean, and Erykah Badu are among the performers. Mary Harron´s THE NOTORIOUS BETTIE PAGE has received mixed word of mouth, but I´ll be sure to catch the take on the 50´s pin-up queen from the director of AMERICAN PSYCHO. Sarah Watts´ LOOK BOTH WAYS has received excellent reviews and numerous awards both in Australia and abroad. Sophie Fiennes´ (sister of Ralph and Joseph) THE PERVERT´S GUIDE TO CINEMA mixes classic films clips with commentary by Slovene philosopher and psychologist Slavoj Žižek. Christian Volckman´s highly stylized sci-fi thriller RENAISSANCE, featuring unique black and white animation, looks to be a must-see; Daniel Craig, Ian Holm, and Jonathan Pryce are among the cast. Another that shouldn´t be missed is György Pálfi´s TAXIDERMIA: it´s being called a milestone in Hungarian cinema, drawing comparisons to early Buñuel.
Films by George Romero and Kenneth Anger are showcased in the Midnight Screenings section. From Romero are the classic zombie masterpiece NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD; the excellent cult favorite MARTIN (possibly the best vampire flick ever made), and the Steven King-written, comic book CREEPSHOW. Four short films from Anger, sometimes called the father of independent cinema, are featured: SCORPIO RISING, INVOCATION OF MY DEMON BROTHER, FIREWORKS, and EAUX D´ARTIFICE. Just don´t go in expecting coherency. Also showing are John Waters´ A DIRTY SHAME, Nicolas Roeg´s creepy masterpiece DON´T LOOK NOW, and Joaquim Pedro de Andrade´s surrealist obscurity MACUNAIMA.
Tribute to John Huston
A special tribute to one of the greatest directors in the history of cinema features his out-and-out masterpiece TREASURE OF THE SIERRA MADRE (“Badges? We don´t need no stinking badges!”) along with some potentially lesser-known films from later in his career. Playing are REFLECTIONS IN A GOLDEN EYE, Huston´s bizarre military outpost tale with Marlon Brando and Elizabeth Taylor; the modern western THE MISFITS with an eclectic cast including Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe, and Montgomery Clift; the excellent hitman and hitwoman dark comedy PRIZZI´S HONOR with Jack Nicholson and Angelica Huston; the little-seen boxing masterpiece FAT CITY with Stacy Keach and a young Jeff Bridges; and the classic Rudyard Kipling colonial drama THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING, featuring Michael Caine and Sean Connery.
Celluloid Dreams Presents Matthew Barney
Festival audiences have a rare chance to see the films of eclectic artist (and husband to Bjork) Matthew Barney: his Cremaster Cycle (CREMASTER 1, CREMASTER 2, CREMASTER 3, CREMASTER 4, and CREMASTER 5) and DRAWING RESTRAINT 9. Barney treats his films as pieces of art, and only sells them in limited copies to collectors – the only way to see them are at festival screenings or in awful bootleg VHS transfers. It should be noted that these films aren´t for everyone, and possibly not for anyone; they´re works of ‘art´ that ignore most cinematic conventions. Still, Barney is likely the highest profile artist since Andy Warhol.
Sundance at Karlovy Vary
Featured at the Karlovy Vary fest this year are a number of Sundance favorites, including QUINCEANERA, which took home the top prize at this year´s Sundance fest. Also playing: Terry Zwigoff´s debut feature CRUMB, a terrific doc about comic artist and writer Robert Crumb; THE KID STAYS IN THE PICTURE, the well-received but extremely self-indulgent Robert Evans doc; Julie Dash´s DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST; and Todd Solondz´ terrific, if difficult to watch, debut WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE. Matt Damon and Casey Affleck wander aimlessly in the desert in Gus Van Sant´s GERRY. Tom McCarthy´s wonderful THE STATION AGENT made a star out of Peter Dinklage. Jonathan Caouette´s TARNATION became famous for its budget – $218.00 – but it´s a compelling doc that chronicles the director´s life through home movies, photographs, and other media. Jeff Feuerzeig´s THE DEVIL AND DANIEL JOHNSTON, a doc chronicling the difficult life of an extremely talented musician, has received a number of rave reviews.
Forum of Independents
Top pick for me in this section is EDMOND, a New York underworld tale based on the play by David Mamet and featuring Mamet standbys William H. Macy, Joe Mantegna, and Rebecca Pidgeon (Mamet´s wife). Directing is a most unusual choice: Stuart Gordon, the horror filmmaker behind the brilliant RE-ANIMATOR. Also playing are Steve Buscemi´s excellent if extremely depressing LONESOME JIM, Pen-Ek Ratanaruang´s INVISIBLE WAVES, shot by superstar cinematographer Christopher Doyle, and the compelling website following doc STARTUP.COM from directors Chris Hegedus and Jehane Noujaim. Hidden among the films in this section are three classic feature documentaries from one of the fathers of modern day docs, D.A. Pennebaker: the classic Bob Dylan rockumentary DON´T LOOK BACK, the Bill Clinton campaign doc THE WAR ROOM, and the David Bowie concert film, ZIGGY STARDUST AND THE SPIDERS FROM MARS. Goran Dukic´s WRISTCUTTERS – A LOVE STORY, a favorite at Sundance this year, scores points with me for starring musician Tom Waits and Patrick Fugit (of ALMOST FAMOUS fame), as well as having a title that recalls the eclectic DTV Andrew Dice Clay vehicle, BRAINSMASHER A LOVE STORY.
Czech Films 2005-2006
It seems as though every major Czech film from the past year is playing in this category, regardless of quality. Still, Tomáš Vorel´s SKRITEK and Bohdan Sláma´s STESTI are both very good, and Jan Švankmajer´s SILENI is, in my opinion, a masterpiece (see my review of that film here.)
Two special tributes feature only a single film each: a tribute to Czech director Jan Němec showcases his most recent film TOYEN, while a tribute to Slovak director Martin Hollý features his 1980 film SIGNUM LAUDIS (The Medal).
Actor Andy Garcia´s directorial debut THE LOST CITY holds it´s European premiere at the festival. Garcia, Bill Murray, and Dustin Hoffman star in the story of a Cuban family´s experiences during the late 1950´s as Fidel Castro and the Marxist regime take control of the country.
Kim Ki-Duk has been a favorite in the Czech Republic, and always seems to have a film playing at Karlovy Vary; this year the director of 3-IRON and SAMARITAN GIRL personally brings his latest, TIME, to the festival for it´s world premiere.
The Visions of Seven category features youth-oriented films from seven French filmmakers, including classics from directors Francois Truffaut (SMALL CHANGE), Claude Miller (THE BEST WAY TO WALK), and Claude Leloch (THE COUSINS).
Focus on British Film presents some recent British flicks, including Ken Loach´s THE NAVIGATORS, Paul McGuigan´s GANGSTER NO. 1 (with an excellent lead performance from Malcolm McDowell), Sandra Goldbacher´s ME WITHOUT YOU, and much more.
For a full lineup of films, ticket info, and more see the KVIFF website at www.kviff.com
Jason Pirodsky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org