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Friday, 20 July 2012

Odessa Film Festival 2012 First Impressions.



The Third Odessa International Film Festival is just about to close and no doubt the organisers will be drawing their conclusions as to the successes and failures of this years festival. In terms of viewers it seems to have been a success and the festival seems to be developing year on year. In terms of visibility it also has many reasons to be proud of itself - the arrival of Geraldine Chaplin and Claudia Cardinale and the excellent way it has used the Potyemkin Steps for a mass screening every year has meant that it has known how to exploit one of the most iconic scenes in cinema to the full. This year Russian critic noted a moment during the screening of Chaplin's City Lights which desrves iconic status itself. Among the massive crowd of 20,000 a woman with a pram was desparately trying to find a space in which she too could watch the film screening- what more iconic image could one find, it seems. to deny the central thesis of Peter Greenaway that cinema is dead. Greenaway's press conference and master class here in Odessa seemed a lesson in provocation to those thousands who massed to the Potemkin Steps screening and to all those who attended the tens of film at the festival. However, provocative and, at times, arrogant his words seemed to be, he nonetheless contributed a fascinating point of view as to where visual culture may go in the 21st century - and, although his concepts of multimedia and interactivity often seemed sketchy his denunciation of present-day cinema (and films as such) as merely illustrated text had at times a ring of truth to it. Yet Ukraine as the country of Dovzhenko and the country where Paradjanov spent a significant part of his life could, perhaps, offer something to break through this prism of literary culture imposing its own prism on visual culture.

Given that there are over 5,000 film festivals in Europe alone, the question arose again and again as to what the purpose of the Odessa Film Festival was. After Moscow one notes the smaller size of Odessa as both a threat and an opportunity. Moscow seems to be stuck in an eclectic inertia: so many minor programmes with a competition programme leaving much to be desired. Moscow may be an A-category festival because it doesn't quite feel like it when the competition films are considered. Odessa at least had the opportunity to include Loznitsa's brilliant В Тумане (In the Fog) which will surely find its place in cinematic history. Other films varied in their quality but at least it could still include films by Spanish director Alex de la Iglesia and Switzerland's Peter Luisi. It also had an excellent festival of festivals programme including Haneke's Love, Taviani's Caesar Must Die, Milos's Clip from Serbia and the revelationary Beasts of the Southern Wild by Benh Zeitlin.

Odessa also attempted to showcase Ukrainian cinema with a notable selection of films including shorts as well as feature length films. Its retrospective of the lost world of 1990s Ukrainian cinema showing five films of varied quality. Gala premieres of Wes Anderson, Woody Allen and Todd Solondz (who was the subject of another retrospective) and very strong opening and closing films by Matteo Garrone and Ken Loach added something to the festival. The programme of Russian films was a very small one this year but then the mere fact that it included Vasily Sigarev's Жить (Living) gave it some real weight. The other film of real quality was Голфьстрим под Айсбергом (the Golfstream under the Iceberg) - a film ten years in the making but of exceptional aesthetic quality - directed by the Russian- Latvian director Evgeny Pashkevich. If the programme as a whole seems rather thin compared to Moscow's festival, the addition of Master Classes (something that used to take place at the Museum of Cinema in Moscow but has since been rather absent in the Moscow Festival)  by Greenaway, Solondz, Heino Deckert, Geraldine Chaplin, Sergei Loznitsa and others seems to have an educational aspect to the festival which Moscow simply doesn't have. The fact that it is also a far more democratic festival than Moscow (the Moscow ticket prices are wildly exhorbitant) suggests that it does have some real link to the city in which it takes place. Yesterday's showing of Dovzhenko's Земля (Earth) with an Ukrainian ethno-folk group shows that in spite of the technical hitches with the film (and the fact that a newly restored copy was promised but the 1971 restoration was actually shown) the festival is still able to offer real quality spectacle to the whole city. While talk of Odessa as the Cannes of Eastern Europe is absurdly exaggerated there is nonetheless Odessa's Film Festival has attempted to carve out some unique space (however small) for itself in the constellation of East European film festivals.

Monday, 9 July 2012

Seance Journal Publishes Leading Cinema Figures' Top Ten Russian/Soviet Films.


Timing itself in association with Nikita Mikhalokov's call for Russia schools to show 100 films from the history of cinema one of Russia's leading cinema journals has published Top Ten lists by a number of famous cinema figures associated with Russian cinema. It is a rather difficult task to summarise much from this varied view of the history of Russian/Soviet cinema even though certain films and directors pop up again and again in many lists.

At first glance what surprised me most was the proliferation of films from the Brezhnev era. Few may think of this as an inspirational era for Soviet culture and yet some lists,including that supplied by Aleksei German for example, are entirely or almost entirely composed of films made from 1965 to 1982. German's only exception is Sokurov's Дни затмения (Days of the Eclipse) made in 1988. There are also, of course, purists like film scholar Nikolai Izvolov who concentrate their choices on the twenties and early thirties when the building of a new cinematic language was the paramount consideration but Izvolov is one of the few to make these purely aesthetically motivated choices.

The directors and films which appear in list after list are often those which one would see in internationally inspired lists. Tarkovsky's Андрей Рублев (Andrei Rublev) seems more popular than his Сталкер (Stalker) would be but Tarkovsky is just as omnipresent a figure as he would be for international critics. Eisenstein, Vertov, Pudovkin, Dovzhenko are all justifiably there - the films chosen may differ but the names are quoted again and again. One name who is relatively absent and wholly unjustifiably it seems to me is sergei Paradjanov. If he is cited it is for his Тени забытых предков (Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors) rather than for his Sayat Nova.

Other favourites are Kalatozov's Летят Журавли (Cranes Are Flying) though his earlier documentary film Соль Сванетти (Salt for Svanetti) is also cited a few times as is his Неотправленное Письмо (The Unsent Letter) which a number of critics believe to show the real heights that the Urusevsky-Kalatozov collaboration reached. Я- Куба (I am Cuba) is also present here though much less so.

Barnet's Окраина (Outskirts) is often the one film from the first two decades of Soviet cinema to reach the lists of those who prefer more recent decades. Many add Petr Lutsik's excellent film of the same name (and this most Soviet of Post-Soviet cinema's classics) to their lists. German's films justifiably crop up again and again but so do Danelia's and Mikhalkov's. (A number choose Danelia's great portrait of the willless male Осенный Марафон (Autumn Marathon) while some others prefer his science-fiction description of Soviet reality Кин-Дза-Дза (Kin-Dza-Dza). Klimov, Shepitko and Khutsiev are other major representatives of the thaw and stagnation period - and different films of theirs find their way into different top ten lists. Khutsiev, however, is the most present of these two auteurs (and Klimov's Иди и смотри Come and See is rarely mentioned). Sokurov is mentioned often but not quite as often, it seems, as Kira Muratova - in one list three of her films make the top ten. Ioseliani is also quite present - his Жил Певчий Дрождь (There lived a song thrush) seems to be the most popular entry.

Many popular films which have had no real success out of Russia are cited. Other rather popular choices are Konchalovsky's fascinating film about kolchoz life using manly non-professional actors История Аси Клячиной, которая любила, да не вышла замуж (The history of Asia Klyachina who loved but didn't get married) as well as two Abram Room films Строгий Юноша (A Strict Young Man) and his powerful film obliquely telling the story of a political dissident as war hero made during World War Two Нашествие (Invasion). His only film widely known outside Russia Третья Мещанская (known in the West as Bed and Sofa) didn't appear nearly as much amongst Russian critics.

This is a rather poor summary of the hundreds of choices made by figures in Russian cinema but I'll try to add more information of Top Tens by the most relevant figures interviewed by Seance shortly. The full list of choices can be seen in Russian here: http://seance.ru/blog/100

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Svetlana Baskova's За Маркса (For Marx) - a landmark in New Russian Film.

The discussion of Svetlana Baskova's new film 'For Marx' at Fitil's cinema in Moscow, mid June 2012.


Just before the Moscow International Film Festival began, Fitil cinema in Moscow decided to show Svetlana Baskova's film За Маркса (For Marx) - a film which provoked some discussion at the Kinotavr Film Festival in Sochi in early June and which represents a new departure for the director who was famed for her Extreme Underground works like Зеленый Слоник (The Green Elephant) and Коккибегущий доктор (Kokki- the Running Doctor). Well, not an entirely new departure as her documentary on provincial independent trade unionist activists Одно решение — сопротивление (One solution - Resistance) was an initial treatment of the subject which Baskova explores in her new film. The transformation of Baskova's style of film-making will have to be left to later blogs (as I'm still yet to watch her films made in the Noughties) but her latest film certainly (along with the documentary) certainly fills one with a certain amount of optimism about a new voice in Russian cinema who has dug out a new niche. Baskova has dynamited through a road in Russian film which has been hidden for decades. If the working class hasn't got to heaven yet (and the film suggests that it's still in purgatory in so far as its attempt to liberate itself from the contemporary inferno that is contemporary provincial Russia) Baskova has finally given voice to a theme that was entirely absent in post Soviet cinema with the debateable exception of Abdrashitov's Магнитные Бури (Magnetic Storms). One could even argue that the theme wasn't that popular in late Soviet times - Ryazanov's favoured comedies  of the 1970s and 1980s feature office workers and administrative personnel (and the 'social relations of production' could be said to be as absent a theme in late Soviet cinema as it was elsewhere). One would have to go back to Sergei Mikaelian's 1974 film Пре́мия (Bonus) based on a play by Aleksandr Gelman and starring Evgeniy Leonov to find some kind of Soviet antecedent.

What was particularly interesting for me about the film was what many inattentive critics will criticise (and have it seems criticised) most harshly. It is a film about the imperfection of resistance but resistance nonetheless. The scenes where the trade union activists discuss Godard, Gogol, Belinsky's Salzburg letter and set up a film club at work showing Godard's Vent d'Est is only partially Brechtian. Yes, these allusions carry definite references to what the film is about but I'd agree with the producer Osmolovsky that these don't contradict reality. In fact the day after the showing of the film I realised how right the film got these scenes. In terms of personal recollections I'd never had a good discussion whenever I'd worked in an office environment or as an English teacher with colleagues but the more proletarian my work was (fruit picker, post office sorter or factory worker) the more intellectual my discussions would be. While working night shifts packing food for airport flights with horrendous pay and conditions, conversations with my fellow worker (a Pole involved in Solidarnosc and who left Poland to come to Germany and the UK) would be about little else than Czeslaw Milosz and contemporary Polish literature, post office work in Brighton would involve long discussions about Daniil Kharms and picking apples in France and Italy would dissolve into long discussions about Yugoslav literature and Dino Buzzati's novel Un Amore. Something inconceivable in an office job.

This is, arguably, one of the ways in which the film has dynamited a new path through Russian cinema. For two decades there have been a number of myths holding back certain themes and certain ways of looking at class (or looking at class at all). Take, for example, the appalling film Мусорщик (The Garbage Collector) by Georgi Shengelia in 2001. It is not just the faux glamour ideology that has warped Russian cinema but a systematic distortion of the vision of reality. Whether Baskova's  film can signify something of a birth of a nouvelle vague (more Godardian in spirit than a la Truffaut) remains to be seen. However, it seems that this film is a start - what one critic is said to have called 'The Left Year Zero' - an attempt to forge a political and Brechtian cinema which doesn't fall into agitational myths (in fact dutring the discussion after the film at Fitil socialist activist Ilya Budraitskis was the most critical voice to be heard about the film precisely for the films absence of directive didacticism). 

One question remains about the final scene- Anatoly Osmolovsky was said to have wished for the scene to be shot mute in black and white to signify the return to pre-Soviet industrial conditions. For me this may indeed have been a stronger finale than the film actually had and would probably have been the right decision. Another fact that came out in the discussion is the fact that many of the more 'mystical' parts of the film (and the most difficult and costly scenes to shoot) were excised from the film and this may have much to do with the transformation of Baskova's style of filmmaking. 


Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Russian and Former Soviet Republic Films at the Moscow Film Festival

Renata Litvinova with her group of actors at the press conference for Rita's Last Tale.

The main programmes of the Moscow Film Festival this year were marked, in general, by a relative dearth of Russian and former Soviet republic films. It is true that one or two programmes were completely devoted to this: the Cine Fantom three programmes in one meant that alternative Russian cinema was a major presence and another small programme devoted to Estonian animation should also be mentioned but, apart from the large selection of films curated by Irina Pavlova shown at Dom Kino, the festival proper which took place at the Oktyabr cinema was rather lacking in a truly significant presence of films from the area of the former Soviet Union. One of the great absences this year was Evgenii Margolit's excellently curated series on the Socialist Avant-Garde- for four years running one of Russia's greatest film scholars chose a series of films from the Soviet Union and other Soviet-bloc countries to demonstrate that the imposition of the doctrine of 'Socialist Realism' didn't quite manage to strangle all aesthtetic experiments and that throughout the Soviet period there was a wide experimentation in style and aesthetic that has still gone unreported and even unstudied. The difficulties of classifying and untangling considerations of the political and the aesthetic in pinpointing these films was explored in an article by Julie Draskoczy in KinoKultura last year www.kinokultura.com/2011/34-draskoczy.shtml but the absence of this programme from the Moscow film festival (however understandable this may be given that four editions had already been shown) was the first great disappointment. The retrospectives this year were nearly all to be devoted to foreign cinemas and directors (German cinema, Lubitsch, Babenco, and Universal Pictures as well as to mainly foreign made biopics about famous artists) and the chance to showcase more from the history of Soviet cinema was neglected. With the closure of Musei Kino in 2005 public showings of Soviet films seem to be relegated to the rather safe and conservative as well as repetitive programme of Ilusion cinema.

There were three Russian-language films in the main competition (along with the opening film of the festival Dukhless- which was shown out of competition) whereas the Perspective competition films had a spattering of Armenian and Georgian films alongside Alexei Fedorchenko's contribution to an almanac film entitled Fourth Dimension. The Russian Trace programme seeks to choose films that have as subject matter some Russian theme (or that have some connection to Russia) but are not Russian made. The documentary competition included Andrei Gryazev's film on the Voina art group which was made on a shoestring budget of $2,000 but was quite a revelation. A curious addition was the screening of a number of Soviet and Post-Soviet 3D films made with the use of Stereoscope. The curator in his short introduction noted how in the Soviet Union 3D was never a fashion and never enjoyed boom periods like in the US but has a rather long and steady production history. For me the highlight of this programme were the films made in the early 1950s on Gorky Park and another based on short stories by Chekhov (Налим - Burbot) the latter directed by Aleksei Zolotnitskiy in 1954. The large Cine Fantom programme included a retrospective of Igor Aleinikov including the now near-classic Трактористы 2 which was scripted by Renata Litvinova. The main event of its 'Alternative' programme of contemporary films was the film by Oleg Khaibullin and scripted by writer Yuri Mamleev Мечта Олигарха (The Dream of an Oligarch) based on Mamleev's book Wandering Time starring a whole field of Russian counter-cultural artists and writers including Gleb Aleinikov, Mamleev himself, and German Vinogradov. More of a perforamnce than a film (or arguably a performance film the film irritated and inspired in somewhat equal measure. Shown twice it gathered at the first performance (at least) a full hall.

As far as the main feature and documentary films went they won a certain amount of attention. The Renata Litvinova film «Последняя сказка Риты» (Rita's Last Tale) managed to grab the largest public and also critical attention. Winning nothing but the minor Kommersant award this enigmatic film still has me wanting to watch it a second time rather than give a more immediate detailed opinion of it. Litvinova is certainly one of the most unique figures in contrmporary Russian culture today - as actress, scriptwriter, director and star who has moved from alternative cultural circles into the mainstream while not entirely losing her alternative status. Yet as Sergei Loban has stated in an interview (and Loban shares something of Litvinova's position in Russia's cultural constellation after the rather spectacular success of his two low budget, alternative but widely acclaimed films «Пыль» (Dust, 2005) and «Шапито́-шо́у» (Shapiteau Show, 2011)) Litvinova's film was simply not understood by the foreign members of the Jury. Litvinova herself in her press conference noted her inability to be received abroad when she notedwhat a contrast her reception in Moscow was to a showing of her film at an Italian film festival where not a single viewer turned up to watch her film. Litvinova's fairy tale like exploration of death most definitely has been strongly influenced by her work with Kira Muratova and shown in the perspective of this influence her film still seems rather lacking and secondary. It doesn't pack as powerful a punch as Muratova's Мелодия для шарманки (Melody for a Barrel Organ, 2009) but then, to be fair, it couldn't be expected to. Litvinova has, moreover, not chosen Muratova's anti-skazka and relied on a more positive and optimistic ending. Death may be the common denominator but Litvinova still finds consolation whereas Muratova doesn't. Nevertheless, in spite of Litvinova's troubles in finding suitable cameramen and in spite of all the troubles in finding funding (it was wholly self-financed until the final stages) she seems to have shot one of the more original films of the competition and watching the film gave an immense aesthetic joy whatever the other shortcomings of the film. If in a few decades time Margolit's successor comes to look back on the "Orthodox Avant-Garde" (if Orthodox totalitarianism is where Russia is headed) he or she will surely choose this film in the retrospective as a sign that not all films succumbed to the deadening hand of Orthodox Realism (proclaimed as state doctrine of the arts in the 2014Congress of Orthodox Cultural Warriors presided over by Nikita Mikhalkov and Elena Yampolskaya under the watchful of Culture Minister Mendinsky).

The other major Russian offering for the Moscow Film Festival was Aleksei Proshkin's Орда (The Horde). Produced by Orthodox Encyclopedia one may have thought that this film would have the Orthodox critics in ecstasy. This was apparently not the case. During the press conference up popped the usual suspects to denounce this film as spreading naturalism and Orthophobia and blasphemy. It has also been attacked for the very opposite as being a state-financed propaganda film demonstrating the supremacy of Orthodoxy over other religions. Suffice it to say that it had a powerful team and a film scripted by Yuri Arabov rarely turns out to be one that Russian film buffs can completely ignore. It was technically very well made but didn't succumb to faux Hollywood imitations. The acting was accomplished especially the roles played by Maksim Sukhanov and Rosa Khairullina (she went on to win the best actress prize for the film and Proshkin won the best director prize of the festival). The film itself was, at least in the intentions of scriptwriter and director, not really about Orthodoxy per se (and this is what most of the more partisan views missed) but more about contemporary concerns. Nonetheless, whether it really distanced itself from those films of recent years - such as Lungin's Царь (Tsar) and Остров (The Island) and Khotinenko's Поп (Priest) etc- in becoming part of an overwhelming trend of well-made but ultimately ideologically correct films - is debateable. Opposing but interesting views of this film regarding this question have been given by Yuri Gladilshikov in the Russian Journal http://www.russ.ru/Mirovaya-povestka/Hozhdenie-mitropolita-po-mukam and Aleksei Gusev in Seance http://seance.ru/blog/mmkf-diary-christ-rules/ . Gusev's view seems to me the more convincing. 

The other Russian film of note was Andrei Gryazev's film on the Voina art group Завтра (Tomorrow) entered in the Documentary competition. Almost impossible to watch in Russia for its filmic merits alone and already shown at the Berlin Film Festival gaining a great deal of interest there, its press screening was greeted by strong applause and whistles. It was hard to separate the aesthetic and political or ideological merits of the film and yet it was definitely a fascinating portrait from the inside of an art group which has made history and so its documentary value in years to come will remain. The central protagonist of the film seems to be the son, Kasper, of the two major art activists- and this seems the reason for the title of the film. The intention of the two activists to rear their child in freedom (whatever the realities of external reality) appears to be the central ideological motif of the film. He showed the group at everyday moments as well as during two of their more famous actions (overturning the police car and during the painting of the phallus on St Petersburg's famous drawbridge) as well as at other more intimate moments (he is said to spent two years with the group). This is a stunning film for the fact that it was filmed almost without money (it is said to have cost about $2,000 to film which mainly went on the directors train tickets between St Petersburg and Moscow) and for the fact that the director avoided all the traps that a film like this could have fallen into - it was certainly no mouthpiece for the group even though they had given the filmmaker near absolute freedom to shoot what he liked.

Other films at the Festival which I missed but hope to catch up at the Odess Film Festival starting in just over a weeks time including Sigarev's Жить (Living) which has earned very different views but for some is said to be the best film of the last decade (an opinion held by Daria Tasbulatova in her interview with Irina Pavlova for Chastny Korrespondent http://www.chaskor.ru/article/kurator_rossijskih_kinoprogramm_irina_pavlova_menya_ne_tak_legko_ogoroshit_28645 . A great shame that the film has been released in so few copies although latest reports have suggested that there may have been some interest in its international distribution. Another film of interest which is also to be shown at Odessa's Film Festival is Evgeny Pashkevitch's Latvian Russian-language film «Гольфстрим под айсбергом» (Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg).

Finally the Perespectives Competition had some offerings from Armenia and Georgia. Failing to go to Natalia Belyauskene's 'If Only Everyone' but hearing a few positive remarks about the film, a cursory look at Oganesyan's 'Ana-Bana' convinced me that Georgian cinema while yearning for the heyday of the 1970s comedy has fallen into nostalgic imitation. On the other hand, one of my main regrets of the festival was having to leave Georgy Paradjanov's Все Ушли (Everybody's Gone) which at least during the first fourty minutes of the film proved an ability to rediscover anew some of the magic of Georgian without falling into the traps that Oganesyan had.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The Moscow International Film Festival : a short history and some notes on its 34th edition.


Trying to compare the Moscow International Film Festival (Russia's biggest and, so far, most significant festival) to other international film festivals is a rather hopeless task. It is not a Class A festival of the likes of Cannes or Venezia or even Berlin and yet it is Russia's major international film festival which, nevertheless, does attract international names to its orbit. It has a chequered history in its choice of main prizes but got things spectacularly right in 1963 when it chose Fellini's 81/2 much to the chagrin of the Soviet Union's cultural bureaucrats. Other significant films to be awarded main prizes that have stood the test of history were Kaneto Shindo's The Naked Island (1961), Kurosawa's Dersu Uzala (1975) and Klimov's Come and See (1985). Humberto Solas's first feature film Lucia was also awarded main prize at the festival in 1969. Otherwise awards have often gone to less outstanding films by a mix of already well-established directors who either entered films far from their best (for example, Juan Antonio Bardem) or good but not great directors (Krzysztof Zanussi or Zoltan Fabri) or, like this year, to completely novice directors (Tinge Krishnan). The choice of Russian or Soviet winners has veered towards the conservative - Bondarchuk and Gerasimov - or to those who have not become known internationally (in recent years Uchitel, Dostal, Storozheva and Meskiev). Italian directors have won a number of times- as well as Fellini already mentioned (he won twice), Ettore Scola, Maurizio Nicchetti, Pietro Germi, Damiano Damiani and Francesco Rosi have all been recipients of the main award in the history of the festival. The Taviani brothers were to even win it for a TV film adaptation of Tolstoy's 'Resurrection' in 2002- a clamorous mistake given that Kira Muratova's «Че́ховские моти́вы» (Chekhov Motifs) was also in competiton in the same year. Muratova's «Мелодия для шарманки» (Melody for a Barrel Organ) also failed to win the main award three years back beaten by Nikolai Dostal's much less impressive Петя по дороге в Царствие Небесное (Pete on the way to heaven).  The string of Russian victors in the mid noughties (from 2004-2009 four out of six of the victors of the main award were Russians) has, it seems, come to an end even though this does not necessarily signify any necessary break from a growing autarky of the Russian cinematic world.

Culture has been one of the major battle grounds in recent schisms in Russian society and few events have had more national and international resonance than the Pussy Riot affair. The undoubtedly courageous step by director and actress Olga Darfi to turn up to the opening ceremony of the Moscow International Film Festival dressed in, as she put it, a summer Pussy Riot costume was one of the small scandals that surrounded the festival (see photo above). Another scandal surrounded the anonymous 'open letter' of 61 young cinematographers who in almost Stalinist-era cliches called for an end to catering to the tastes of European 'necrofagists' and for more positive films. This was, of course, music to the ears of those around Mikhalkov and Govorukhin and the groups of those who want to claim film for the promotion of their conservative, monarchist and Orthodox worldviews and a threat to others determined to preserve the autonomy of art and its ability to shock. One of the apparent targets of this open letter was the head of the Perspectives Jury Marina Razbezhkina who has headed the School of Documentary Film and Documentary Theatre for the past seven years and founded alongside Mikhail Ugarov. Her most outstanding film Время жатвы (Harvest Time) won the prestigious FIPRESCI prize in 2004 at the Moscow festival and went on to win other international awards. Other minor mishaps with a clumsy Minister of Culture and spectacularly uninformed  master of ceremonies at the closing of the festival were to somewhat mar the moment of awarding Catherine Deneuve the Stanislavski Award.

While the actual competition programmes this year were never going to bear any comparison with major festivals - Ferzan Ozpetek and Istvan Szabo were the only two major internationally recognised filmmakers to enter their films into the competition- the saving grace of Moscow's film festival is, perhaps, the extreme eclecticism of what it offers as a whole. Its saving grace but for someone who doesn't plan well in advance carefully studying what is on offer its greatest frustration. While other major festivals may concentrate on contemporary offerings Moscow has a whole host of retrospectives which can only delight the more historically-minded film buff. This year there were major retrospectives of Ernst Lubitsch, German cinema as well as of films by the Brazilian President of the Jury, Hector Babenco. Another retrospective covered the films of Yonfan. Besides this there was a wide offering of documentary films, and other eclectic categories such as a programme of films on sex, food,culture and death as well as another entitled 'Good,Bad,Evil', there was also a small programme of Latin American films including the almanac film on Havana called 'Seven Days in Havana' and other programmes including the 81/2 films programme which included offerings by Ken Loach, Leos Carax, Wes Anderson and Matthew Akers' film on Marina Abramovic. The Gala premiere's included Barnaby Southcombe's film I,Anna starring his mother Charlotte Rampling as well as a new film by Vitaly Melnikov starring Oleg Tabakov, Kirill Pirogov and Oksana Mysina focusing on Chekhov's relationship with Lydia Avilova. Other programmes included a small selection of Soviet 3D films shot with Stereoscope from the 1940s, a programme of Estonian animated films as well as a major Cine Fantom presence of three programmes - one of them dedicated to a retrospective of  Igor Aleinikov films. Another fascinating programme named Moving Pictures was dedicated to films about artists- it included Shengelaya's 'Pirosmani', Tarkovsky's 'Andrei Rublyev', Konrad Wolf's film about Goya. A programme retrospective of Universal Pictures movies included Karel Reisz's messy but far too underrated Isadora.

As far as the various Russian films in the festival go I will leave a more detailed comment to a future post. The major competition entrances were Litvinova's original fairytale 'Rita's Last Tale', Andrei Proshkin's  'The 'Horde' and Evgeny Pashkevich's 'Gulf Stream Under the Iceberg'. Proshkin won the major director prize and Litvinova the Kommersant award and even though it attracted by far the greatest public interest failed to win the prize for viewers sympathy. However, its originality suggests that it merits much more attention and may outlive the reputation of the technically superlative film by Proshkin penned by one of Russia's greatest contemporary scriptwriters Yuri Arabov. However, I'll come back to the Russian films of the Festival in a follow up blog soon. The major award to Junkheads surely won't go without some astounded comments in the Russian press. Sollimi's more solid film A.C.A.B perhaps justly won the historically more accurated FIPRESCI award (along with a number of other awards) and it is, perhaps, of some surprise that Szabo failed to pick up any of the awards with his film 'The Door' if not at least for the oustanding performance by Helen Mirren. Although his The Door can not be said to represent the height of Szabo's work. The showing of the half-documentary Diaz based on events in Genova in July 2001 was, for me, one of the more significant films and the strange and shocked eerie silence that greeted the film at the end of the showing was one of the reminders of the uncomfortable context of the world outside within which this film festival has taken place.

Main Festival Prizes:

Best Film : Junkhearts Directed by Tinge Krishnan (United Kingdom)
FIPRESCI Prize: A.C.A.B. Directed by Stefano Sollima (Italy)
Special Jury Prize : Fecha de caducidad (Expiration date) Directed by Kenya Marquez (Mexico)
Best Film of the Perspectives Competition: the Wreckers Directed by D.R.Hood (United Kingdom)
Best Director: Andrei Proshkin for The Horde.
Best Male Role: Eddie Marson in Junkhearts.
Best Female Role: Rosa Khairullina in The Horde.
Documentary Prize: Searching for Sugarman. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul. (Sweden).
Prize for Viewers Sympathy: Magnificent Presence. Directed by Ferzan Ozpetek.