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Sunday, 25 March 2012

Vilnius, Day 1 & 2

I arrived late on Friday night to the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius for the KINO PAVASIRIS film festival, where I am serving on the CICAE (International Federation of Arthouse Cinemas) Jury. We've go tot judge 11 competition films, but I am also using this as an opportunity to catch up on some other festival films.

Yesterday I watched EVEN THE RAIN, the Paul Laverty-scripted, Iciar Bollain (the Spanish actress turned director who made TAKE MY EYES) film starring Gael Garcia Bernal as an obsessive director making a film about Christopher Columbus in Bolivia at the height of the 'water wars' of 2000. His producer (Luis Tosar) is a cynical and tough businessman whose perspective on the world is transformed by events. I have great sympathy for Laverty, who wrote the Nicaragua-based CARLA'S SONG for Ken Loach and has written all of Loach's films since - and full disclaimer, Laverty is also a patron of the SAVE CINE ESTELI campaign I lead - and his concerns in this film are genuine and heartfelt. The film is beautifully shot, wonderfully acted (particularly Karra Elejade as a drunken actor playing Columbus), but the final act is highly implausible and lets the rest of the film down.

A new Werner Herzog film is, for many people, an event. So it's strange that HAPPY PEOPLE: A YEAR IN THE TAIGA is not getting more attention. It has all the hallmarks of classic Herzog: animals behaving in incomprehensible ways, man battling nature, the cruelty of the elements, a heavily opinionated voice over, and eccentric characters. Perhaps because its a co-directorial effort with Russian filmmaker Dimitri Vasyukov, or because its been touring festival for a couple of years now and in the meantime we've had two other Herzog projects through the pipeline. Either way, it's a fascinating, beautifully made tale of life in one of the planet's most extreme environments. Unfortunately the DVD presentation was of a poor quality, but the sheer power of the images overcame this technical problem. HAPPY PEOPLE is essential viewing for Herzog fanatics who crave his brand of narrated man versus nature films.

Finally, the opening film of the competition programme (and the first we've all watched as a Jury) was MONTEVIDEO, GOD BLESS YOU, a Serbian film which has broken box office records in its native country - and you can see why. A nationalistic hymn to Serbian character and football skills, this is a cliche-ridden, high in fructose confection of a movie - and the audience loved every minute of it. The story of how the first Serbian football team came together in the 1930s, I can't see how this film can travel beyond the Balkans, with its constant references to Balkan history and cultural jokes about the former Yugoslavian republics. It also has one of the most grating violin scores ever placed on film. Apparently there is a sequel in production right now.

Today we have two more competition films to watch plus a short made by my friend Ieva - so I'll be back tomorrow to report on those.

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