Every well-organized festival has to have its thematic structure, which links the selected films. The organizers picked the right trend that is dominant today: social cinema as an analogue for art, festival films, or even radical expression. Postmodernist play on language and genres is now gone, currently, more straightforward discourse, more open characters, a clear motivation for their actions are dominating.
That’s why the visit of Ulrich Seidl to the Molodist Film Festival is so important. It is an unprecedented visit. For the first time in the world a complete retrospective of films by renowned Austrian film director was screened. Besides, he spent a great deal of time communicating with the public, critics, press, and young filmmakers. Normally short-spoken Seidl willingly spoke about the peculiarities of his artistic method, stories of creating this or that film, even about the present situation in the European Union and his – very warm – attitude to Ukraine.
While his feature films are more or less known, the documentaries by Seidl became a real discovery for the Ukrainian audience. These films, in fact, can hardly be called documentaries in paradigmatic sense – by filming real people and their real stories, Seidl reached the level of artistic generalization, when any division into genres loses its sense and, thus, presents a vivid example of how one can be a social cinematographer without bias and ideological layers.
The decent level of work with social material made the best films of the competition stand out. We will now tell more about them.
As you might know, for the first time in 16 years of the Molodist Film Festival Grand Prix was awarded to a student film. The Mass of Men (director – Gabriel Gauchet, Great Britain) has a plot of a newspaper essay. In the prelude we see an event from criminal chronicles not very clearly recorded by a surveillance camera: some person with an unknown instrument (later we will find out that it is a building gun loaded with nails) breaks into an office full of people, uses the instrument as a weapon, grabs a woman by her hair, drags her from her desk, the visitors are running in panic, security rushes to rescue, one of the petitioners after hesitation rushes to the desk, where the victim just sat and makes strange manipulations there after which he also runs away – all of this is happening with the aria “When I am Laid in Earth” from opera Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell in the background.
Then, the director changes the angle abruptly and shows what actually happened from the point of view of the visitor who risked his life for some reason.
It turns out that it’s the office of public employment service, the woman is a nasty and strict manager, and the petitioner is an elderly (55-years-old) unemployed man named Richard, who was late for three minutes not for his fault, but because of that he will be moved in line for a later time. All the events in the second part unfold in real time, like a live report with seemingly unambiguous division of roles. We see the oppressed man in the person of worried, sweaty Mr. Richard, holding his documents folded in a pitiful plastic bag and the state-oppressor, embodied in the implacable lady on the other side of the desk. She does not agree either to compensate Richard the cost of bus tickets (even though it has been promised) or to forgive his being late. Moreover, she puts pressure on him until he agrees to sign a punitive document. The conflict seems to be clear, predictable, and the first nail that pierced the chest of the heartless official would be an act of revenge.
However, it is not that simple, and that’s what the director’s skill is all about. Gauchet again switches semantic perspectives, channels the conflict into an unexpected direction using just a few scenes and gestures, he shows that, in fact, there are two entirely different tragedies, closes the social conflict in a personal matter, and, what seemed to be a revenge and rendering justice ends ambiguously, instead of an exclamation mark there is an ellipsis. Perfectly acted, filmed, and composed The Mass of Men received a well-deserved award.
Of course, the main part of the festival was the feature films competition. This category was completed in accordance with the strategy of Molodist used in the previous years – Kyiv selectors picked debut films from different programs of Cannes Film Festival. Films from Cannes Festival were predictably the leaders in the competition, but the best feature film (which has been confirmed by conferring an appropriate prize) was, of course, Ilo Ilo from Singapore, which has been screened in the day before the closing of the festival.
Ilo is a name of a province in the Philippines, which was the homeland of the maid in the house of the film director Anthony Chen. Ilo Ilo actually tells us the story of a Filipino maid hired by a married couple of moderate income to take care of their rebellious son.
Chen managed to show a portrait of the modern Singaporean society with its crises, customs, and rituals through a story of an average family. The thorough motif here is hope. Every person cherishes his own little mirage, except for the maid, who has an ample supply of love to stand and rescue everyone – after all, she also gets love from these people, tired from their troubles. In general, Ilo Ilo is a very accurate sketch of beauty and horror of daily life, no matter what country it may be.
A lot is said and written about labor migrants, both legal and illegal. However, Mexican director Diego Quemada-Diez in his film The Golden Cage (joint production of Mexico and Spain) found a way to tell about it in an interesting manner. He uses the energy inherent to the genre of travel-film to the point. Three young Guatemalans – two boys and a girl – at their own risk decide to go to the US, which for them seem to be sort of a promised land. The director chose the method of remaining as close as possible to the document, recording the events that unfold in canon of fatal accident established in the Italian neorealism. Long shots of masses of people on the roofs of freight cars, dozens of faces of real poor men, with a truth of their own behind each of them – this silent human choir that accompanies the main story, gives the film some special value. In the end three dramas merge into one, when the only young man, who survived wanders in the United States on the cherished snow. A thorough scene with snowfall, which is initially something like a dream of a traveler, by the end becomes a symbol not only of a reached goal, but also of atomization, fragmentation of immigrants’ lives, stranded in an alien wasteland of reality between heaven and earth.
Argentine film The Owners (directed by Agustin Toscano and Ezequiel Radusky, received special prize of the Molodist jury) is interesting primarily for the storyline references to famous films by Luis Bunuel Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and Viridiana, where the servants try to take the place of their masters in one way or the other, while the masters again and again find themselves in comical or absurd situations. In the film The Owners servants move to the estate every time their masters go to the city. Both servants and masters lead a double life, but for the peasants it is limited to borrowing a bit of somebody else’s comfort, while the lives of the masters get totally destroyed. This potentially satirical film still lacks Bunuel’s irony.
Sarah Prefers to Run (Chloe Robichaud, Canada, “Don Quixote” Prize from the film society jury) is more focused on existential moments, the problem of making a choice, which literally turns out to be a matter of life or death. The devotion of the main character to athletics at first looks like inspired careerism, but gradually it turns into a real challenge of destiny. There is a social component here as well: the main characters arrange a fake marriage to receive financial aid from the government – it will allow them to pay for renting a place to live.
As for the Ukrainian film Such Beautiful People (by Dmytro Moiseiev), which also participated in a feature films competition, our old problem was obvious here – the lack of good screenwriting. The dialogues sounded artificial, characters, despite the attempts to give them some individual characteristics, were not developing. The story of a lonely woman and a missing loved one is no worse than others, but the lack of linguistic and psychological coordination between the main characters deprive the entire story of vitality.
Weak script, again, traditionally, is compensated by great camera work. If there was a prize for best camerawork from Molodist Film Festival, it definitely should have been awarded to Serhii Tartyshnikov. The sense of space, composition of frame, work with colors are gorgeous, especially in shots taken at sea, and that’s why it is sad that with such visual imagery the director lacks social sense, in the broadest sense of the word: it is needed to fill the characters with blood and flesh of their daily habits, specific gestures, disappointments, and pleasures. Of course, Moiseiev should keep trying: he should try to leave the matrix of poetic cinema and master a somewhat different language.
The fact that a fascinating story, semantic depth, original metaphors, and nice “image” can coexist in a single work has been proved by the listed foreign film featured at the competition and some of the non-competition films. Therefore, the premiere of A Touch of Sin – new film (awarded at the Cannes Film Festival for the best screenplay) by famous Chinese director Jia Zhangke became a big event of the “Festival of Festivals” program.
The film consists of several parallel storylines, each of which tracks the fate of one character. Enraged self-taught lawyer rebels against corruption in the mining town. Wandering marginal earns his living by killing. A nice-looking young lady, who works in sauna, suffers from an attack of a rich client and administrates her own justice. A young proletarian changes one job after another, trying in vain to put his life in order. Zhangke gets a sneak peek behind the facade of the present Chinese prosperity, or even more than that: experimenting with different styles and genres, he creates a unique cinematic world in which – it must be repeated once again – artistic and social elements are in perfect balance.
There is an acute need for such film that would become a kind of panorama of Ukrainian life and, at the same time, the manifesto of new cinematography.
43rd Molodist definitely was a success, but it also stressed our lasting problems: the gap between form and content, “short breathing” of young scriptwriters, who are not yet capable of creating a convincing feature story, and also unwillingness of Ukrainian cinematography to face present-day challenges – both in art and in life.
However, treatment begins with making a diagnosis.