18 April, 2008

European Films Hit The Beach

By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Palm Beach is a jewel on Florida’s glittering Atlantic Coast. For over 75 years, it has been synonymous with the excesses of the rich and famous who have made it a resort playground on the same level as Monte Carlo or the French Riviera. However, in the past 13 years, Palm Beach has been noted for another reason…..for presenting one of the most interesting film festivals on the international film circuit. This year, the Palm Beach International Film Festival (10-17 April) presented over 100 films from around the world, as well as in-depth seminars, gala tributes and some of the most fun parties on the festival circuit. After a frenzied week, the Festival calls it a wrap tonight.

Among the highlights of the Festival’s program were several European films making their U.S. Premieres at the event. Hotel Very Welcome, by German director Sonja Heiss, is the intriguing dramatic story of western travelers who wander through India and Thailand in search of inner peace and, ultimately, themselves. Struggling with themselves or being incapable of escaping from the problems they thought they had left behind, the film makes a provocative statement about the beauty of travel and the fact that no matter where you go, you always end up finding yourself. The film was produced by Komplizen Film and premiered at the 2007 Berlin Film Festival, where it won a Dialogue Award, before traveling to such other festivals, including Karlovy Vary, Copenhagen and Bird’s Eye View (UK).

Irish actor Colin Meaney heads a delicious cast of actors in the Irish film Kings, directed by Tom Collins. In the mid 1970s, a group of six young men left their homes in West Ireland, took the boat out of Dublin Bay and sailed across the sea to England in the hope of making their fortunes and returning home. Thirty years later, only one makes it home, but does so in a coffin. His five friends reunite at his wake where they are forced to face up to the reality of their alienation as long term emigrants who no longer have any real place to call home. The film, a co-production between Newgrange Pictures, Green Park Films De Facto Films, was a big winner at this year’s Irish Film and Television Awards, winning five awards, as well as receiving nominations for Best Film and Best Director.

Film veteran Claude Lelouch directs the legendary Fanny Ardant in his latest film, Roman de Gare, which premiered at the Festival. In the still of the night, three lives are about to cross: a woman abandoned, a stranger awaiting his chance, and a best-selling author who imagines the thriller of the year.

Deceptively layered and intriguingly misleading, this celebrated film from Oscar-winning director Claude Lelouch features an unlikely pair caught up in a game with high stakes - and deadly consequences. The film, which was produced by Les Films 13 with support from Canal Plus, premiered at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Its young actress Audrey Dana was nominated for a Cesar Award as Best Female Newcomer. The film is being released this month in the U.S. by Samuel Goldwyn Films.

One of the Festival’s audience favorites was the coming-of-age film Red Like The Sky by Italian director Cristiano Bartone. The film is inspired by the true story of Mirco Mencacci, one of the most gifted Italian sound editors working today, who happens to be blind. The film chronicles the young boy’s fascination with cinema at an early age. Following an accident, he loses his sight. Because Italian law at the time did not allow blind children to attend public schools, his parents are forced to put him into a special institution. When Mirco finds an old tape recorder, he discovers that he is able to create little fairy tales made only of sounds. The conservative institution tries to stop him, but he continues his hobby, slowly involving all of the other blind children, helping them re-discover their potential and their dreams. The film, produced by Orisa Produzioni with funding support from the Ministero per i Beni e le Attività Culturali, has won Best Film honors at the Durban, Flanders, Hamburg, Montreal and Sao Paulo film festivals, as well as a special David di Donatello prize (the Italian Oscar) for director Cristiano Bartone.

UK production company ZZ Productions was represented at the Festival by the dramatic thriller The Run, by writer/director Tania Meneguzzi. The film tells the harrowing tale of two drug “mules” who risk their lives and their futures on smuggling illegal drugs inside their bodies. The film has become an indie cult hit in its native England and is currently being sold around the world by the film’s sales agent, Transmedia International. Another UK film, the audience pleasing documentary Young@Heart, by director Stephen Walker, closes the Festival tonight. Audiences around the world have been wowed by the inspiring senior citizens chorus that has delighted audiences worldwide with their covers of songs by everyone from The Clash to Coldplay. As the film begins, Stephen Walker's the retirees, led by their demanding musical director, are rehearsing their new show, struggling with Sonic Youth’s dissonant rock anthem “Schizophrenia” and giving new meaning to James Brown's "I Feel Good." What ultimately emerges is a funny and unexpectedly moving testament to friendship, creative inspiration, and defying expectations. The film is being released in the United States this coming week by Fox Searchlight Pictures (the specialty arm of Twentieth Century Fox), the company behind this year’s indie sensation Juno.

With its intriguing programming, beautiful resort venue and great weather (I was definitely sun-kissed this past week), the Palm Beach International Film Festival is one of the most interesting pit stops on the film festival circuit, with a local audience that both appreciates and celebrates new European cinema.

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