Fans of Eastern European films should head to Karlovy Vary this summer where the 52nd film festival has the best and latest in Eastern European cinema in its East of the West strand. This year’s main competition line-up includes an international premiere of Polish director Krzysztof Krauze’s swanson Birds are Singing in Kigali which was recently completed by his wife and explores the aftermath of the mass genocide in Rwanda.
Other features competing for the CRYSTAL GLOBE include Boris Khlebnikov’s new drama Arrhythmia, Václav Kadrnka’s Little Crusader, Peter Bebjak’s criminal thriller The Line and Giorgi Ovashvili’s Georgian historical drama Khibula. Ovashvili returns after winning the main prize in 2014 for his touching drama Corn Island nominated for an Oscar the following year.
KVIFF 2017 OFFICIAL COMPETITION LINE-UP
Director: Boris Khlebnikov Russia, Finland, Germany, 2017, 90 min, International premiere
Oleg is heading for his thirties. He works as a paramedic and, after a hard shift, he likes to take a few swigs. His wife Katya is also a doctor, working in the hospital’s emergency department. But her patience with Oleg is running thin, so she announces one day that she wants a divorce… One of the most intriguing filmmakers on the Russian scene today, Boris Khlebnikov returns to the big screen with a meticulous piece of direction. Along with precise performances from the cast, the film examines a relationship experiencing an arrhythmia similar to that affecting the hearts of the patients Oleg treats in his job as a paramedic.
Director: Iulia Rugină
Romania, 2017, 81 min, International premiere
A difficult assignment awaits TV reporter Alex. He must film a memorial portrait for a coworker who died in a tragic accident they both experienced but that only he survived. His colleague’s daughter becomes his guide, although her relationship to her father was more than complicated. Alex becomes an involuntary witness to the girl’s handling of her father’s death, and he also comes to believe that chronicling a person’s life involves more than just a short news report…
After the death of his lover, Thomas heads to Israel – the birthplace of the man he adored. Despite prejudice at his German origins he becomes the pastry chef at a local café owned by the widow of the deceased Oran. Yet she hardly suspects that the unnamed sorrow that connects her to the stranger is for one and the same man.
Adam Krajňák is head of the family and also boss of a gang of criminals smuggling cigarettes across the Slovak-Ukrainian border. The failure of one of the transports triggers an avalanche of consequences that compels him to question his own boundaries, none of which he had planned on crossing until now.
The life of an uncompromising HR manager named Emilie changes the instant she witnesses the suicide of one of the staff. The investigation of the case becomes a moral test for a woman whose actions, although motivated by her unlimited devotion to work, have caused grief for many an employee.
Fourteen-year-old Gaza lives with his father Ahad on the shores of the Aegean Sea. The intelligent kid would like to continue his studies, but Ahad sees his son’s future differently. He gets Gaza to help with his side business – smuggling refugees from the Mideast. A directing tour de force, this disturbing psychological study of an adolescent boy’s transformation under the influence of those around him bears dark tidings about the contemporary world.
Stylish but apathetic, David meets bundle of energy Sarah at a support group. While he’s just fulfilling a court-ordered obligation, she is thrilled to be there. But as they move past their initial conflicts, they become participants in an uncommon romance that won’t yield to convention. Keep the Change is a different kind of romantic comedy about people who are not the same – like most of us.
Shortly after the first democratically elected president of Georgia came to power he was ousted in a military coup. He sets out for the mountains with a group of loyalists to regroup with his supporters. Set against an imposing Caucasus backdrop, we witness a man fighting for power while waging an internal struggle as he heads to meet his fate. The winner of KVIFF 2014 returns with an archetypal story told with light melancholy and an unmistakable visual poetic.
Little Jan, the only descendant of the knight Bořek (Karel Roden), has run away from home. His anxious father sets out to find him but his despair at the fruitless search gradually starts to overpower him. Václav Kadrnka has turned out a stylistically well-contoured adaptation of the poem by Jaroslav Vrchlický, where he employs a taciturn film form in order to encourage our imagination to engage in a poetic, cinematic pilgrimage.
When a diverse group of veterans gathers at a remote mountain hotel to undergo days of therapy less than two decades since the war ended in Yugoslavia, it’s hard to expect absolute harmony. This brilliantly directed drama, about the ability to forgive others only after we have forgiven ourselves, presents the pinnacle of the Balkan male acting scene.
We meet ornithologist Anne in 1994 just as genocide is raging in Rwanda, perpetrated by the majority Hutus against the Tutsis. Anne manages to save the daughter of a colleague whose family has been murdered, and she takes her to Poland. But the woman returns to Rwanda to visit the graves of her loved ones. The director originally worked on the movie with her husband Krzysztof Krauze (My Nikifor – Crystal Globe, KVIFF 2004), but after his death in 2014 she eventually finished this challenging picture alone.
The stories of four individuals intertwine in a maze of Himalayan countryside, village buildings, and the local social microcosm. With a captivating internal rhythm and the stylistic elements taken firmly in hand, the film presents a narratively courageous look at the region’s social web and the influence of cultural immigration on local life.
EAST OF THE WEST – COMPETITION | HIGHLIGHTS
The East of the West strand will open with Ilgar Najaf’s Azerbaijani drama Pomegranate Orchard. Marina Stepanska’s Ukraine-set love story Falling and Mariam Khatchvani’s Dede are amongst the the outings from female film directors. Juraj Lehotský returns to the festival after his debut Miracle with Slovak-Czech drama Nina.
After another failed relationship Hedvika takes her three-month-old daughter Adélka and her dog to stay with her mother and her mum’s boyfriend. Hedvika doesn’t get on all that well with her mother, nor are her feelings towards Adélka as maternal as they could be. One day she finds some diaries that her late father left behind… This small-scale psychological drama by debutant Josef Tuka is shored up by its realistic characters, an understated performance from Jana Plodková, and perceptive, discreet lensing.
After his release from the military hospital where he was receiving treatment for a past trauma, Hakan tries to resume a normal life and form a proper relationship with his daughter. Excelling for its mature performances and its stylisation of image and sound, the film foregrounds Hakan’s wounded soul and underlines his vehement efforts to break free from his own private prison.
Director: Mariam Khatchvani
Georgia, United Kingdom, 2017, 97 min, World premiere
It’s 1992. Young Dina lives in a remote mountain village where life is strictly governed by centuries of tradition. Is it possible to defy the firmly established order? And, if it is, what price must a person pay for doing so? Debut director Mariam Khatchvani set her first film in Svaneti, the stark mountainous region in northwestern Georgia where she herself was born, and she presents us with an authentic portrayal of a number of customs and traditions associated with this province.
This inventive road movie about a son and father finding their way to one another has none of the sentiment normally associated with this kind of subject matter. The film introduces an ensemble of wild characters from the lowest social strata, viewed through a lens that finds a balance between the work’s profoundly human dimension and its stylishly ironic commentary on contemporary society.
Have you ever had a bad day? Well, it would be difficult to top the catastrophe facing a waitress at a fast-food outlet, where people come not for a quick meal but simply to have a good cry. This high-spirited comedy, about the worst that can happen when you’re slaving from dawn to dusk, also examines existential dilemmas, unconcealed selfishness, and the essential desire for compassion.
Director: Cristi Iftime
Romania, 2017, 100 min, World premiere
Thirty-year-old Costi decides to spend a few days with his family. His parents have long since divorced, but Costi thinks it would be a great idea to arrange a surprise reunion, and he persuades his father to travel with him to meet up with his mother and siblings. Taking the old family car, affectionately known as Mariţa, they head out on a journey that will ultimately help to heal past wounds and allow Costi to finally understand not only his parents, but also himself.
Music critic Hugo is going through a post-divorce crisis and just wants some peace to finish writing his book. When his bohemian father suddenly appears on his doorstep, it becomes clear that the new life he has chosen for himself is about to go in quite a different direction. A tragicomic tale about parents and children and their shared mistakes and complexes.
Gabil returns home to the humble family farmstead, surrounded by an orchard of venerable pomegranate trees; since his sudden departure twelve years ago he was never once in contact. However, the deep emotional scars he left behind cannot be erased from one day to the next. A private drama set in a picturesque landscape which tells of wrongdoings simmering below the surface of seeming innocence.
Nina is twelve years old and her world has just been shattered to smithereens: Her parents’ marriage has broken down and they are getting a divorce. After his internationally successful debut Miracle Juraj Lehotský now brings us an intimate drama in which the viewer looks upon the world and the selfish, visionless behaviour of adults through the eyes of a 12-year-old girl. A girl who is resilient and belligerent, but also vulnerable and just as fragile as the miniature world she creates for herself in the garden shed.
Anton and Katia happen upon one another in night-time Kiev. Both are trying to find their bearings in life, and their encounter changes everything… This psychological drama by debuting Marina Stepanska offers up both a fragile love story and a strong statement on the current young generation as it searches for its place in post-revolutionary Ukraine.
Teenager Alban lives in Amsterdam with his mother Zana, who left Kosovo during the war in the Balkans. When he starts going out with the sensitive Ana, neither of them has any idea that unresolved injustices and shadows from the past will make their way to the surface. This insightful, mature debut by a Kosovan director reminds us how difficult forgiveness and reconciliation can be.
Emete would swear that the young man seeking refuge in her home is the son she lost long ago. But in her isolated, wasteland village it’s almost impossible to differentiate real hope from self-delusion. Especially since the only way to survive is to throw in with the collective myths and seek comfort in cold stone.
DOCUMENTARY FILMS – COMPETITION
The 11-strong documentary strand features three world premieres: The White World According To Daliborekby Vít Klusák, Lots Of Kids, A Monkey And A Castle by Gustavo Salmerón and Another News Story by Orban Wallace.
In today’s chaotic era, what is the “who, how, and why” of news spewed forth on world conflicts and crises? A young British director turns his camera lens on the journalists sent by their employers to the Mediterranean to cover the unfolding humanitarian tragedy. When faced with immeasurable suffering, do they maintain a fundamental sensitivity or do they fall back on sensationalized treatments of human misfortune?
Atelier de conversation
Director: Bernhard Braunstein
Austria, France, Lichtenstein, 2017, 72 min, International premiere
One room, twelve red chairs, and a common language. Foreigners from all corners of the world meet each week for free lessons to hone their French. This formally minimalist documentary captures the fleeting moments in which grammatical fumblings or the painstaking search for the right word inadvertently open a window into the human soul.
Even after studying in France for five years, Arash hasn’t completely gotten used to the place, so he decides to return home to Iran. But friends Hossein and Ashkan are determined not to accept the loss of their closest pal. This documentary comedy, about a goodbye road trip across France, boasts beer chugging and French girls, but it’s also about cultural differences and the natural need to find and hold onto kindred spirits when living in a foreign land.
Partaking of the Direct Cinema documentary style, A Campaign of Their Own tells the story of the loyal supporters of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders, who lost to Clinton in the Democratic primaries. Subtly engagé and skillfully incorporated into a stylistic frame, the film lifts the lid on a newly-inflamed radical skepticism towards political representation in the United States and the general frustration at the breakdown of representative democracy itself.
In the economically depressed neighborhoods of South Central Los Angeles it’s far too easy to get on the wrong side of the law. One fateful day 42-year-old Brian, who has just been released from serving a long prison sentence, experiences it firsthand. The vicious cycle of social determination, however, also begins to effect the lives of teenager Juan and seven-year-old Gianni. The debuting director immerses herself in the depths of human vulnerability in order to draw out fragments of hope.
A Memory in Khaki (Vzpomínky v barvě khaki)
Director: Alfoz Tanjour
Qatar, 2016, 108 min, European premiere
A Syrian director dusts off memories of the past, when people were persecuted for their political beliefs. A poetic portrait of people whose homes have been turned to rubble, and a story that tells us that a free life can never be monochromatic, let alone khaki.
The most important moments in the life of Goran, a Croatian free diving record-holder, take place exclusively underwater. This portrait of an extreme athlete features intentional dramatic minimalism in order to guide the viewer toward a shared physical experience of performances that push the boundaries of what is humanly possible. Between each inhalation and exhalation we experience an endless emotional fall into the depths of the deep blue sea.
Julita always wanted lots of kids, a monkey, and a castle. After finally realizing these wishes, however, her family loses their property in the economic crisis. But they have not lost the disarming ease and kindheartedness that mark their domestic squabbling. A film chronicle with elements of absurd humor that serves as a madcap allegory for the contemporary situation in Spain.
A research center in Sukhumi, the capital of today’s Abkhazia. Legend has it that it was built at the end of the 1920s to create a hybrid between man and monkey. The hypothetical creature never saw the light of day, but people and primates, like sad relics of the past, live together in the derelict wings of the medical institute to this very day.
Richard Müller: Unknown (Richard Müller: Nespoznaný)
Director: Miro Remo
Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, 2016, 90 min, International premiere
This uncompromising, sometimes painfully revealing but always deeply insightful portrait presents the life of Richard Müller from a fresh perspective. We get to know the famous Slovak singer as a still uncommonly charismatic man who has become exhausted by his struggles with addiction, mental illness, and the demands of show business.
The White World According to Daliborek (Svět podle Daliborka)
Director: Vít Klusák
Czech Republic, Poland, Slovak Republic, United Kingdom, 2017, 105 min, World premiere
A stylized portrait of an authentic Czech neo-Nazi, who hates his life but doesn’t know what to change. Corrosively absurd and starkly chilling in equal measure, this tragicomedy investigates the radical worldview of “decent, ordinary people.” And just when it seems that its message can’t get any more urgent, the film culminates in a totally uncompromising way.