Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

A Place Where the West Meets the East

by Valery Stepanov Volume 3, Issue 4 / April 1999 4 minutes (932 words)

At the last year’s 33rd edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, the main prize, the “Crystal Cube”, went to the Canadian filmmaker Charles Binamé for his film Streetheart . The special jury award and the FIPRESCI prize were won by the Russian director Karen Shakhnazarov for his film The Day of the Full Moon . For comment on the juries’ decisions and about the festival in general, we turned to Andrey Plakhov, eminent Russian film critic and vice-president of FIPRESCI.

Q.: How could you explain the success of the Canadian film?

A.: Streetheart conquered the hearts of the Karlovy Vary audiences, and most likely of the jurors as well, by being true to the emotionally charged promise contained in its title: a young woman escapes loneliness risking acquaintances with strangers and offering herself to them unconditionally for an hour.

Q.: Does it mean that the other films from the program lacked emotionality?

A.: In a way, yes. For most of the films, included in the program, were recycling a similar plot about individuals who become either reluctant avengers or killers against their own will. And I have in mind not only [the Russian director] Roman Balajan’s Two Moons, Three Sons , but also the Czech film Sekap Must Be Killed and the Kazakh film Killer .

Q.: And what was the effect of [the prize-winning] The Day of The Full Moon on this violent backdrop?

A.: The director leads the viewer from one situation to another without following a strict scenario and delivers his unequivocal message without being intrusively didactic. Each character is allowed two-three minutes screen time but [Shakhnazarov] nevertheless succeeds to saturate their presence with meaning. Shakhnazarov has made his name as master of film comedies. In his latest film, however, he has shown his melancholic and irresistible passion for recreating the life and times of national historical celebrities. A passion we came to know from his earlier films like Zero City and The King’s Assassin . On the other hand, The Day of The Full Moon represents a truly post-modern collage, where Pushkin and his period environment, and the inhabitants of the infamous post-war hotel “Sovetskaya” find themselves in a perfectly peaceful aesthetic co-existence with episodes from contemporary Russian life.

Q.: Last year’s festival in Karlovy Vary featured many Russian films…

A.: Also made in diverse genres and styles: from the classical period picture Prince Alexey to the contemporary Ulirya ; from The Snake Spring to The Orphan from Kazan . The uncontested star of the festival was [the Russian actor] Vladimir Mashkov, who enjoyed a much greater popularity than his Hollywood counter-part, Michael Douglas. Especially popular he was with the female viewers and guests, hanging out at the festival lounges. It is difficult to even imagine that only a few years ago, Karlovy Vary was considered a ‘dead city’ as far as its festival reputation went. Now it is literally besieged by film buffs from universities all across the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and also by tourists from all over Europe, especially from Russia.

Q.: The renewed fame of the festival is understandable. After all, its last year’s 33rd edition marked the 30th anniversary of those unforgettable and triumphant festival days in July of 1968, immediately followed by the tragic events [of the Soviet invasion] in August. What is the place of the festival on the contemporary international film festival map?

A.: The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is one of the three oldest film festivals in the world, along with the festivals in Venice and Cannes. Its first edition was in 1946, immediately after the war and from 1950 through 1958, it took place annually. As of 1959, it became biannual as it alternated with the Moscow International Film Festival. During the period of relative political relaxation, known as the Prague Spring [1963-1968], it broke free from the ideological control, only to suffer a much stricter constraints after the crushing of the Prague Spring in August of 1968. In one word, it has had its share of good and bad times. Nowadays, at the expense of the receding reputation of its most serious competitor, the Moscow International Film Festival, Karlovy Vary is becoming the principal meeting place where Western filmmakers can meet with the cinemas from Central and Eastern Europe. That is why films from Central and Eastern Europe enjoy such a high profile representation in the competition program; in the permanent panorama section East of the West, as well as at the film market, organised for the first time last year.

Prague, April 1999

By Valery Stepanov

Special correspondent of the bilingual weekly (Russian/English) newspaper Economics and Life International

Translation: Christina Stojanova

Addendum

The 34th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival will be held from July 2-10 1999 in Karlovy Vary. Below are some of this year’s highlights taken from their press release of Arpil 1, 1999.

In the section Another View: the German films 23 (Hans-Christian Schmidt) and Dealer (Thomas Arslan), the Japanese film Ikinai (Hiroshi Shimizuo), and the Brazilian film The Call of the Oboe (Claudio MacDowell)

The East of the West section features films made in the countries of the former Socialist bloc in Central and Eastern Europe. This year the featured nation is Kazakhstan (14 films). Other films include the Hungarian Gangster Film (G. Szómjás) and Chinese Defence (Gábor Tompa) and the Russian films Outskirts (Peter Lutsyk) and Totalitarian Romance (Vyacheslav).

Special retrospectives include “Belgian Surrealism and Film”, which will be accompanied by an exhibit of photographs commemorating René Magritte. On the historical front, The National Film Archive will be presenting Georg W. Pabst’s The Treasure (1923).

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