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Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Alpe Adria (Trieste) Film Festival

Rather than taking a prolonged break while I am not watching nor reading about Russian and Soviet films, here is a short post about a festival that only has an indirect link to Russian film but is one of the most interesting showcases of cinema from the Eastern part of Europe. Occasionally Russian films are shown here including an excellent retrospective of Gherman films (both father and son) in 2006. This year few Russian films were represented although Todorovsky's 'Stilyagi' (Hipsters) was shown as a special event. A Georgian short was also shown (reportedly excellent although I could not make it to the cinema as planned). The protagonist of the film could not make it to her husbands funeral and so is present via mobile telephone wailing her grief through the telephone which is played at the funeral. The film is by Salome Aleksi and the Italian title is Felicità (Happiness).

Another film with a Russian context is Leslie Woodhead's 'How the Beatles Rocked the Kremlin'. Very much a BBC made documentary which gives the Beatles more credit for overthrowing the Soviet system than it does Gorbachev. The director finds his quotes and his Beatle fanatics and makes an enjoyable documentary but one which repeats too many motifs that have a real hackneyed feel to them. The Soviet Union is portrayed as a country ruled by geriatrics with no access to any music other than weird national folk ensembles. No mention whatsoever is made of Vladimir Vysotsky who probably 'rocked' the Kremlin far more than the Beatles and although the film does go on to give a minimal explanation of how reality developed after Stalin, the Soviet images and film clips are mainly indicative of the Soviet Union in the late fourties and early fifties or of a frail and mentally defective Brezhnev. There are some witty moments when someone explains how one day all telephone boxes in the Soviet Union were vandalised after word got around that a part of it could be used to make a guitar. However it is a pity that the film gave such a traditioal Cold War image of Russians hankering after anything Western and not giving due credit to Russia's own brand of rock and alternative music (a short clip of Viktor Tsoy was all there was). Regrettably I missed other Russian documentaries on the Soviet space programme by Pavel Medvedev (the title of the film was Ascension) as well as Aleksandr Gutman's 17th August (about a prisoner condemned to life imprisonment). Ukraine was represented by Sergij Bukovskij's documentary on the holodomor 'The Living'. Alas I can not report anything on these films.

The festival in general was dedicated to a number of themes with a special emphasis on Greek cinema as well as on Musical documentaries. Anghelopoulos's superb early film Voyage to Cythera was, for me, the highlight of the Greek films retrospective and I was sorry to miss his more recent film 'The Dust of Time'. Voyage to Cythera is about a Greek exile who returns home after spending 32 years in the Soviet Union. His return is a bitter one and he is finally sent by the Greek police on a raft to international waters given that he is neither allowed to remain in Greece nor will a ship transport him back to the Soviet Union. Anghelopoulos has a superb craft of narrating in an absolutely unique way and combines Tarkovsky's meditative sculpting of time with Fellini's melancholic nostalgia.

The films in the competition at Alpe Adria are, this year, often impressive. One of my favourites was a Roumanian film called 'The Happiest Girl in the World' by Radu Jude. A tale of a girl from a poor family who has won an expensive car. She comes to Bucharest to star in a commercial thanking the company but the advertising never gets shot correctly and her day is spoiled also by her parents who convince her through nagging and bullying to turn the car over to them so that they can set up in business. The photo shoot takes up most of the picture as we watch the tens of failed shoots with which there is always something that goes wrong. A film very much in the style of 'The Death of Mr Lazarescu' and perhaps not quite sharing that film's brilliance but well worth a viewing. Other films from the Balkans have reflected on the wars of succession. The better of the two was 'Ordinary People' which managed to highlight one person's journey from normality to war criminal and showing it as a process of utter banality. There is no hint of dramatic conflict in the individual just an emphasis that this was a process that could happen to any ordinary person. The film was hard to watch because of it's utter lack of drama and many spectators left the hall and yet on reflection Vladimir Perishich has made a very poignant film. Other films included a Hungarian film called I'm Not Your Friend in which a mosaic of relationships between the main protagonists end in a finale in which the women each exact terrible revenge for their betrayal by their male partners (the film is preceded by a long piece in which four year old children try to make friends with each other in a pre-school playgroup). The son of Goran Paskaljevic, Vladimir, had debuted here with a black comedy on modern Belgrade. One of the film's protagonists states his desire to make two films- the first of which will portray all Serbs as completely crazy and then after pandering to this Western stereotype (and achieving international success) a second more patriotic film will then be made. It seems here as though Paskeljavic Junior has suceeded in making a parody of the first film & overall this black comedy was an interesting debut.

As Trieste is a city very close to my heart (perhaps the city closest to my heart) it is great that it offers such a wonderful chance to watch some fascinating films (and this is only of four annual film festivals of note). Another film festival held in Trieste - Science plus Fiction - occasionally also has a significant Russian/Soviet component to it. More than once retrospectives of Soviet science fiction films have been part of the bill.

This time my return to Trieste has also been greeted by Trieste's famous bora wind. A wind that reaches well over 100 km/h and which is probably Trieste's most famous feature for most Italian's. A film documentary has also been made on this natural phenomenon- a symbol of this unique city with its very specific history.

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