30 September, 2009

HBO Films Directors Dialogues At NYFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The New York Film Festival provides extraordinary access to some of world cinema's most interesting film talents via the HBO Films Directors Dialogue Series. Among those who are participating (all of whom have films in the festival proper):

With a career that spans the heyday of 60s Italian art cinema (Fists in the Pocket, China is Near) to religion (My Mother’s Smile, NYFF 2002) to political drama (Good Morning, Night, NYFF 2003 and this year’s Vincere), Marco Bellocchio has been one of the most perceptive and provocative chroniclers of all things Italian, from the Church to family values. Mr. Bellocchio will discuss his development as a film artist, the important focus on “outsiders” that has proved a constant theme in his work, as well as his thoughts about the future of Italian cinema.

After working as a casting director, Lee Daniels crossed over into film producing, bringing to the screen such tough, edgy works as The Woodsman and the Academy Award-winning Monster’s Ball. Now with Precious—only his second film as a director—Daniels has leapt to the forefront of American cinema with what will sure be one of the most hotly–debated films of the year (which won the Grand Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Audience Prize at the Toronto Film Festival). Daniels will talk about Precious, his personal trajectory through the film industry, and the contemporary landscape for African American film production.

As he has shown with The Piano Teacher, Code Unknown, Funny Games (the German and English language versions)both versions) and Caché , Paris-based Austrian filmmaker Michael Haneke is a peerless artist-provocateur who has never met a situation of bourgeois stasis he didn’t want to explode—quietly, precisely, and with devastating effect. With this year’s NYFF selection (and Palme d’Or winner at Cannes) The White Ribbon, Haneke has made what many consider his most remarkable work yet. In a one-on-one, intimate conversation, Haneke will share his thoughts on filmmaking as well as his often chilling world view that has made him one of the most distinctive voices in contemporary cinema.

For over twenty years—in works such as Beau Travail (NYFF 1999), Friday Night (NYFF 2002) and this year’s White Material, Denis has created some of the most challenging, meaningful and unpredictable works of contemporary cinema. Denis will discuss her unique approach to cinematic storytelling and to working with actors.

For more information on the series, visit:

Portugese Cinema At New York FF

TO DIE LIKE A MAN (Joao Pedro Rodrigues)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Portugese cinema has had a bit of a low profile of late (overshadowed by its Iberian neighbor Spain) but this year's New York Film Festival has a surprising number of new films from Portugal that are among the highlights of this year's film gathering.

Reaching one's 100th birthday is an accomplishment for anyone anywhere, but while most in their centenary are content to sit on the back porch reminiscing about their lives, director Manoel De Oliveira is in the trenches doing the work he loves best, helming a new film. ECCENTRICITIES OF A BLOND HAIR GIRL is the director's 37th feature film, in a career that began in the 1940s. He may well be the Guinness World Record holder for oldest working director, a distinction that is both impressive and mind-boggling.

For his newest film, the director has adapted a complex love story by novelist Eca de Queiroz. The central plot is a wry, moving tale of a pure if frustrated love between a young Lisbon accountant (played by the director's grandson, Ricardo Trêpa) who falls deeply under the spell of the titular fair-haired lass (comely Catarina Wallenstein) he spies fanning herself across the office courtyard. A moving evocation of passion, mystery and even battle-of-the-sexes satire, the film had its world premiere at the 2009 Berlin Film Festival.

Pedro Costa, best known for his earlier films IN VANDA'S ROOM (2000) and COLOSSAL YOUTH (2006), moves seamlessly between feature dramas and documentaries. For his NYFF entry, Costa is presenting an expansion of his celebrated documentary short, NE CHANGE RIEN, a visual homage to the French actress and chanteuse Jeanne Balibar. Using expressive black-and-white cinematography, the film offers an unusual portrait of an intuitive artist, while also featuring the actress-turned-singer's growing maturity as a belter. The highlights of the film include three song segments, including an original composition, shot in what looks like a green room; a second song written by Jean-Luc Godard; and a third song, written by Kenneth Anger, called “Torture”. Costa brings a heightened theatricality to these renderings that is intimate, expressive and memorable.

Theatricality also flourishes in TO DIE LIKE A MAN, a tragicomic story about a veteran drag performer, written and directed by Joao Pedro Rodrigues. Fado-singing, pooch-pampering trannie grows old and tries to erase his/her background as a man. She must confront competition from younger performers with a more contemporary vibe and the demands of her boyfriend that she change her sex. The film, which had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, is a deep and fabulously sad fable, as well as an example of lyrical, playful and unpredictable filmmaking.

From veterans to newcomers, Portugese cinema seems to be having a long overdue renaissance worth paying attention to. For more information on this year's festival, visit:

28 September, 2009

Corneliu Porumboiu's Latest At NYFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The global film industry is a road map of national cinemas that are viewed in ascendancy or in decline, sometimes both. In the past few years, there has been a good amount of attention paid to the emerging auteurs from Romania. Corneliu Porumboiu has been of the "Romanian new wave" stars, with his debut feature 12:08 EAST OF BUCHAREST winning the Camera d'Or (for best first feature) at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, and a slew of prominent film festival awards and premieres.

Porumboiu is back with his sophomore effort POLICE, ADJECTIVE, which has its premiere this evening at the New York Film Festival, after winning the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival in May.

The film is another morality tale from the residue of darkness and bleakness that is post-revolutionary Romanian society. The film centers on what may be movie history’s most absurdly protracted police sting operation, designed to catch a lone high school student in the act of selling drugs. Cristi, the cop assigned to the case, realizes the futility of the mission, though his attempts to convince his bureaucratic superiors are met with contempt, derision, and the reminder that it is not his place to question the letter of the law. The long, nearly wordless scenes of the film’s first half give way to a final act of in which cop and police chief (unforgettably played by Vlad Ivanov) engage in an exhilarating verbal tennis match about conscience, personal morality and the true meaning of language.

The film, which will be released by IFC Films in North America later this year, also won the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize in Cannes and a special award at the Transylvania Film Festival. All that is certain is that Romanian cinema continues to intrigue the international film community and that Porumboiu is fast emerging as one of its most enduring and maddening masters.

27 September, 2009

The French Invasion of New York

BLUEBEARD (Catherine Breillat)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

With French film master Alain Resnais kicking off the 47th edition of the New York Film Festival last evening with his Cannes Film Festival winner WILD GRASS, this year's event is another example of the New York audience love affair with French cinema. With French filmmakers and actors in town for the Festival, the premiere this week of Cedric Klapisch's PARIS and the on-going retrospective of the films of Juliette Binoche at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, New York is experiencing a semi-invasion of French film and culture (and probably an uncontrollable urge for a giant croissant and a huge cafe au lait).

Other Gallic giants in this year's fest include: HADEWIJCH, directed by Bruno Dumont. The director has made more than 450 commercials, shorts and documentaries. He is the director of such celebrated features as La Vie de Jésus, L'Humanité, Twentynine Palms and Flandres. L'Humanité and Flandres were both awarded the Grand Prix at the Cannes Film Festival. HADEWIJCH tells the story of a young girl, Celine (Julie Sokolowski), who is expelled from a convent for her excessive devotion to Christ. Her passionate love of God, her rage and her encounter with two Muslim brothers, Yassine and Nassir, lead her, between grace and madness, off along dangerous paths.

WHITE MATERIAL, is directed by Claire Denis and stars iconic actress Isabelle Huppert. In an Africa torn by civil war and strife, a white French family struggles to retain their dilapidated plantation while powerless and surrounded by a band of rebel soldiers. Claire Denis was born in Paris and raised primarily in Africa. She graduated from L'Institut des Hautes Études Cinématographiques. Her films include Chocolat, Man No Run, S'en fout la mort, J'ai pas sommeil, Nénette et Boni, Beau travail, Trouble Every Day, Vendredi Soir, L'Intrus, and 35 Rhums, which is currently playing at New York's Film Forum.

BLUEBEARD/LA BARBE-BLEUE, directed by Catherine Breillat, is a wicked dismantling of a fairy tale that tells the stories of two pair of sisters from different eras fascinated by the legend of Bluebeard, an ugly ogre of a man, whose wives disappear under mysterious circumstances. As we know, fairy tales often contain values and moral lessons including attitudes toward sexuality, and, of course, sexual curiosity is often a theme in Briellat’s films. In BLUEBEARD, it is the virginal sisters who find out who curiosity kills. Breillat is known for her distinctively personal films on sexuality, gender trouble and sibling rivalry including 36 Fillette, Romance, Fat Girl, Sex Is Comedy, Anatomy of Hell and The Last Mistress.

HENRI-GEORGES CLOUZOT’S INFERNO, written, produced and directed by Serge Bromberg and co-directed by Ruxandra Medrea, is a fascinating documentary taking us into the vison of French director Henri-Georges Clouzot and his never finished L'Enfer. Reconstituted by Bromberg and Medrea from recently rediscovered rushes, test footage and new scenes of actors performing from the script, this attempt to imagine what Inferno might’ve been if Clouzot had not lost hold of the reins is a true marvel. Serge Bromberg was made a Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters in 2002, and is considered one of the leading figures working in film restoration and television production. L'Enfer de Henri-Georges Clouzot is his first feature documentary.

The other French film showing over the next two weeks is 36 VIEWS OF SAINT-LOUP PEAK by Jacques Rivette, another French New Wave veteran with a long history of films at this seminal New York film event.

For more information on these and other fiilms at this year's Festival, visit:

25 September, 2009

A Film Master Walks Among Us

By Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

There are not too many film masters whose works have influenced the length and the breadth of the "seventh art" who are still walking among us. However, today in New York, a true living legend not only is in our midst, but is presenting his latest film, which opens the prestigious New York Film Festival later this evening.

Alain Resnais, 87 years young, is the iconic French film director who began his vaulted career in the 1950s and has continued ever since, is in New York for the premiere of WILD GRASS, an examination of love that arises from a chance encounter. One of the masters of the French "nouvelle vague" is not only back but is functioning at his prime, with a film that wowed critics and audiences at this year's Cannes Film Festival.

WILD GRASS begins with a purse snatching that opens the door to romantic adventure for Georges and Marguerite. In the simple story frame of someone losing a thing of value and someone retrieving it, Resnais comments not only on the social contracts between strangers (a common theme in his oeuvre) but the protocols of a society that must continue to learn the lessons of forgiveness and gratitude.

After training at the IDHEC in the 1940s, Resnais cut his teeth as a director with several short films, the most memorable of which, NIGHT AND FOG (1955), has become a classic of the interpretation of the Holocaust. Resnais chose to approach the subject indirectly because he felt an excess of gruesome imagery might make the events seem unreal and incomprehensible to his viewers. Instead he chose to film the empty concentration camps as they appeared in the fifties and avoided using stock footage of the actual terrors until the very end of the film. The form of the film was revolutionary at the time and has been imitated many times since.

By the late 1950s, Resnais produced a series of films that are still his most famous experiments in film form. Using innovative techniques to explore the subjectivity of memory in dealing with past violence and horror, he completed his first full-length film, HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR (1959), with a script by novelist Marguerite Duras. Emmanuelle Riva stars as a young French actress who begins a brief and unstable affair with a Japanese architect in the atmospheric rubble and reconstruction of the city of Hiroshima (site of the atomic bomb blast that effectively ended World War II). The film uses a heightened sense of existential reality and the unconscious-inflected use of flashbacks to explore her repressed memories of a German lover killed in World War II and the subsequent humiliation and captivity imposed on her by her family. This movie was a great success for Resnais, garnering him international fame and an Oscar nomination, while cementing his place in contemporary world cinema history.

While considered a charter member of the French New Wave, he never quite fit in with the more populists likes of Francois Truffaut, Claude Chabrol and Jacques Demy. His contemporary Jean-Luc Godard, whose films were as elliptical although more popular, was his true cinema confrere. While most of the French New Wavers were ardent admirers of American cinema, Resnais did not share this passion and sought a more distinctive European sensibility for the films that came next. His follow up film in 1960, the enigmatic LAST YEAR IN MARIENBAD, had him collaborating with writer/filmmaker Alain Robbe-Grillet, one of the stars of the "new novel". The film concerns a man known only as X who meets a woman named A at an old-fashioned European resort and attempts to convince her that they met there once before as lovers. Using atmospheric camerawork, dizzying editing technique and a subdued almost chilly atmosphere to tell his story, the film was considered the height of "modern" sensibility and was much admired, debated and revered in its time.

He worked regularly during the 1960s and '70s. Although not especially prolific, he has nonetheless achieved great critical success with such films as MURIEL (1963), THE WAR IS OVER (1966), STAVISKY (1974), PROVIDENCE (1977) and MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE (1979). In the 1980s, he experienced a disappointment after the critical and box office failure of several films. With SMOKING/NO SMOKING in 1993, he once again achieved international critical and commercial success. His last film COEURS (Private Fears In Public Places) was however little seen beyond the festival circuit.

Many of his films were produced by Anatole Dauman and Argos Films, who also produced films for other Left Bank film makers such as Chris Marker. He has always been quite a literate filmmaker and has had easy and fruitful collaborations with such important literary lions as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Marguerite Duras and the English playwright Alan Ayckbourn.

In his legendary career that spans more than 50 years, he has won many prestigious awards, including two Jean Vigo Awards for his early shorts, four Cesar Awards (for PROVIDENCE, MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE, SMOKING/NO SMOKING and SAME OLD SONG), a Berlin FF Silver Bear for SMOKING/NO SMOKING, a BAFTA Award for HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, Venice Film Festival prizes for HIROSHIMA, MON AMOUR, I WANT TO GO HOME and PRIVATE FEARS IN PUBLIC PLACES, and top prizes at the Cannes Film Festival for such films as MON ONCLE D'AMERIQUE and WILD GRASS. Resnais has received career achievement awards at the Cannes Film Festival and Venice Film Festival. Truly a cinema giant walks among us in New York today......

21 September, 2009

Women Directors Rule At TIFF

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Female directors have been the toast of town at the Toronto International Film Festival this past week, with films that have been embraced by the industry, film critics and audiences. Although women directors still make up an anemically small percentage of the ranks of film directors everywhere around the world, their special spins on a number of high profile films here are worth noting.

No film premiere generated as much excitement as the red carpet gala of JENNIFER'S BODY, a feminist revenge comedy scribed by Oscar-winning scenarist Diablo Cody, whose JUNO was an instant classic, and directed by Karyn Kusama, whose boxing film GIRLFIGHT was an American indie sensation. The film, which is being released by 20th Century Fox this weekend in the United States, is a tale of female vengeance, as an impossibly attractive high school cheerleader literally chews up her male victims. This unusual take on postpunk feminism deftly mixes horror and comedy in unexpected ways that should make the film quite the sensation at the box office.

Two women better known for their acting chops have made their directorial debuts here this week. Drew Barrymore offers a uniquely feminist view of the roller-derby genre in WHIP IT. The film stars Ellen Page, the lead in JUNO, among the film's quirkier assets. An Oscar nominee for her role as the deaf mute in Woody Allen's jazz-inflected SWEET AND LOWDOWN (1999), English actress Samantha Morton takes on the director reins for THE UNLOVED, a tough film about the survival of a teenage girl in the UK's state-run orphanage system. The film, which was produced by Channel Four for television broadcast, stars Robert Carlyle and newcomer Molly Windsor.

Lone Scherfig, the Danish director whose debut film ITALIAN FOR BEGINNERS was an international arthouse smash, has directed a fetching film in the period piece AN EDUCATION, which won the Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival. The film, which is to be released in the United States by Sony Pictures Classics, tells the tale of a young woman in stuffy early 1960s England who becomes involved with a sophisticate (played by Peter Saarsgaard) and his artsy, envelope-pushing social set. The film, which features exquisite period detail and a wonderful set of performances from such players as Alfred Molina, Dominic Cooper and Emma Thompson, could well be a sleeper hit and an Oscar contender by year's end.

Another possible Oscar film making its premiere in Toronto is BRIGHT STAR, the latest film from director Jane Campion. The film is a period romantic epic about the love story of English poet John Keats and his muse Fanny Brawne. The film teams the dashing Ben Whishaw and the beautiful Abbie Cornish in a torrid tale that opens in theaters in the US and Canada this weekend. The film is also distinguished as the first release from a new US distribution company, Apparition.

Other films from female directors that have made a strong impression here include THE VITNER'S LUCK by New Zealand director Niki Caro, THE PRIVATE LIVES OF PIPPA LEE by American director Rebecca Miller, THE ANGEL by Norwegian director Margaret Olin, THE WAITING CITY by Australian auteur Claire McCarthy and VISION by legendary German director Margarethe Von Trotta.

For more information on these and other films, visit

11 Masters Screening At TIFF

THE WHITE RIBBON (Michael Haneke)

by Sandy Mandelberger, TIFF Dailies Editor

The 34th Toronto International Film Festival presented 11 works as part of the Masters programme, which brings audiences new works from the world’s greatest filmmakers. The program is dominated by European auteurs.


Lars von Trier, Denmark/Sweden/France/Italy
This is a groundbreaking, deeply disturbing and graphic nightmare vision about gender relations from one of the most important and influential directors of the last 30 years. The film is a break from von Trier’s previous work in terms of aesthetics, resembling a Japanese horror movie re-imagined by Andrei Tarkovsky. Antichrist features unforgettable and courageous performances by Charlotte Gainsbourg and Willem Dafoe.

Amos Gitai, (Israel/France/Italy)
History in the Middle East is a complex mix of the present and the past. Then, there is also the personal and Gitaï is uniquely placed to reflect on his own past as a soldier and as the father of a young man caught up in the present conflicts that engulf the region.

(Goran Paskaljevic, Serbia/Albania/Italy)

Two young married couples take off and travel abroad to the promised lands of better opportunities, but hope collapses when their expectations disappear into thin air and their dreams turn into nightmares.

Hotel Atlântico
(Suzana Amaral, Brazil)
Enigmatic and perturbing, Suzana Amaral’s Hotel Atlântico takes us on a mysterious journey through Brazil’s southern landscapes. The film follows an unnamed actor as he wanders into new experiences, living life in the moment.

Melody for a Street Organ
(Kira Muratova, Ukraine)

Two young orphan siblings travel to Moscow in search of their missing father. Scared of being separated and sent to orphanages, they hope to reunite with the last link of their shattered family.

Le Refuge
(François Ozon, France)
The French master returns with this unsettling tale of a rich, beautiful young woman who finds herself pregnant after her boyfriend dies of an overdose. Retreating to a seaside home, she is joined by his brother.

(Marco Bellocchio, Italy)
This fictionalized portrait of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini concentrates on his youthful years before he rose to power in Italy. It uncovers the details of his first marriage and the child he had with a passionate woman whom he later totally disowned and abandoned.

Margarethe von Trotta, Germany

One of the major auteurs to emerge from the New German Cinema, Margarethe von Trotta returns to the Festival with Vision, a study of the remarkable Hildegard von Bingen, the Benedictine nun who emerged as a Renaissance woman before there was a Renaissance.

White Material
Claire Denis, France

A family of French expatriates living in an African country where they own a coffee plantation find that their livelihood is threatened by the outbreak of civil war. They struggle to keep their lives together in the face of rival factions fighting for power and gun-toting child soldiers who have no sympathy for their plight.

The White Ribbon
Michael Haneke, Germany/Austria/France/Italy

In Protestant Northern Germany on the eve of World War I, strange incidents begin to occur in a village community and increasingly take the form of a ritual of punishment. This latest work from Michael Haneke won the Palme d’Or for best film at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

The Window
Buddhadeb Dasgupta, India

When Bimal decides to give something back to his alma mater, he chooses to replace the broken window of his favourite classroom. Plans to pay for this gesture go awry and he cannot bear to tell his fiancée.

15 September, 2009

FESTROIA 2009 Winners Announced

The World Is Big And Salvation Lurks Right Around The Corner (Bulgaria)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

FORBIDDEN FRUIT, a comedic-drama about two religious girls who flaut their strict Christian fundamentalist community rules forbidding the pleasures of television, music, drinking and dancing, won the Gold Dolphin Award as Best Film at this year’s FESTROIA Official Competition. The Finnish film, written by Aleksei Bardy and directed by Dome Karukoski, was both a critical and audience hit here, winning a Silver Dolphin Best Actress prize for its young lead Amanda Pilke and a special CICAE Award. The same director’s gritty drama THE HOME OF THE DARK BUTTERFLIES also received a Honorable Mention nod in the Man And His Environment category. FORBIDDEN FRUIT, which is represented internationally by Non Stop Sales, had its world premiere earlier this summer at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Winning the Special Jury Prize Silver Dolphin was THE RAINBOW TROOPS, a memory film of growing up on a remote island village by Idonesian director Riri Riza. His earler film? WHAT’S UP WITH LOVE (2002) was a major Indonesian box office sensation. For THE RAINBOW TROOPS, the theme is much more nostalgic and wistful. The RAINBOW TROOPS, which premiered at the Jakarta Film Festival, won the SIGNIS Award at the recent Hong Kong International Film Festival.

The night’s major winner in terms of number of prizes was easily THE WORLD IS BIG AND SALVATION LURKS AROUND THE CORNER, by Bulgarian director Stephan Komandarev. The film, based on a famous novel, tells the unusual tale of a Bulgarian boy who grows up to be a German man, who must relearn his roots when a car accident forces his to lose his memory. The film won multiple awards at FESTROIA, including the Audience Prize, a Silver Dolphin Best Director award for Stephan Komandarev, and the SIGNIS Prize. In addition, the film has won major prizes at the Sofia, Tallinn, Warsaw, Zurich and Bergen film festivals.

Other awards in the FESTROIA Official Competition include a Best Actor Silver Dolphin to young Slovak actor Samuel Spisak for his powerful performance as a young man trying to save himself and his family in the dark days of the Holocaust in BROKEN PROMISE by director Jiri Chlumsky; a Best Script Silver Dolphin to the Danish team of the policier thriller TERRIBLY HAPPY; and a Best Cinematography Silver Dolphin to Karel Fairaisi, for his expressionistic work in the film GUARD NUMBER 47, a historical tale of seduction and murder in post-World War I Czechoslovakia, directed by Filip Renc.

FESTROIA also hosts a number of key competition sections and also organizes specific juries for special prizes. In the Man And His Environment competition, which mixes documentaries and feature films all linked with the theme of man’s inescapable ties to his surroundings, the Top Prize was awarded to Gerardo Olivares of Spain, for 14 KILOMETRES, his compelling story of the divide between North Africans struggling to cross the narrow straights of Gibraltar for a new life in Europe.

With its reputation of breaking new talents, the First Works section is one of the Festival’s most competitive and most closely watched. This year, the top prize was won by THE FRIEND, an unusual non-love story with a quirky script and direction by Swiss debut filmmaker Micha Lewinsky. The Jury also awarded a Special Mention to Norwegian director Eva Sorhaug for the ensemble comedy-drama COLD LUNCH.

The City Hall of Setubal Prize for the North American Independents section was won by Paoloa Mendoza and Gloria La Morte for the immigration-themed drama ENTRE NOS. A special Mention was awarded to directors Myriam Verreault and Henri Bernadet for the semi-documentary WEST OF PLUTO, that examined 24 hours in the lives of typical Quebec teenagers.

Remaining awards announced at the Closing Night Gala this past Saturday evening include: the FIPRESCI International Critics Prize to KATIA’S SISTER, a sharp family tale told from the perspective of a young girl trying to hold her family together, from Dutch director Mijke de Jong; and the newly-launched Mario Ventura Award for Best Short Film Script, awarded to the French team of Cyril Paris and Frederic Hazen for A KISS FOR THE WORLD.

American actor Michael Madsen was honored with a Career Achievement Gold Dolphin for his contribution to American and international cinema in more than 75 films, and for his philanthropic contributions to charities overseas and his literary career as a poet of renown.

For more information on the full program of the 25th edition of FESTROIA: The Troia International Film Festival, visit:


09 September, 2009

FESTROIA Debut Directors

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

One of the three prestigious film competitions at FESTROIA, the Portugese festival which is nearing its mid-point, is the Primerias Obras/First Works section. This has always been a program that has attracted interested from the attending industry and public, because it points to stellar talents at the beginning of their careers.

Of the eleven films in competition, ten are from Europe and one is from Israel. Films from Eastern Europe and the Baltics are especially strongly represented. In THE OTHER BANK by Georgian director George Ovashvili, the story focuses on a mother and son who are refugees who cannot adapt to their new surroundings and reality. Polish director Maclej Pieprzyca is presenting the tragicomedy SPLINTERS about the boring lives of three young people in a sleepy and polluted town in the Silesian industrial belt. For the Polish/Czech co-production OPERATION DANUBE, director Jacek Glomb turns the clock back to 1968, when the Warsaw Pact countries were enlisted to crush the Prague spring, to tell the tale of a Polish army unit that gets stuck in a small Czech border town and realizes that their similarities are greater than their differences.

For the Romanian film SILENT WEDDING, debut director Horatiu Malele also delves into small town values as a community defies a ban on celebrations imposed after the death of Stalin in the early 1950s. In DEVIL’S TOWN, Serbian director Vladimir Paskalijevic (the son of director Goran Paskalijevic), a portrait of modern Belgrade emerges in the lives of various characters whose paths cross during an important tennis match.

Scandinavia is represented by two films in the competition. In THE ESCAPE by Danish director Kathrine Windfield, a Danish journalist is taken hostage in Afghanistan, with her captors demanding that the Danish army withdraw from the country. In this tale of intrigue, a young Afghan man successfully frees her and eventually ends up in Denmark himself, an outcast among his own people. Will the journalist jeopardize her career to help the refugee who secured her release? In the Norwegian ensemble drama COLD LUNCH, director Eva Sorhaug presents the daily lives of five strangers who unexpectedly touch each others’ realities in the same Oslo neighborhood.

The other European films in competition include: A SIMPLE HEART, an adaptation of a Gustave Flaubert novel starring Sandrine Bonnaire and directed by newcomer Marion Laine; STRENGTH AND HONOUR, a hard-hitting tale of redemption as a washed up boxer is forced back into the ring to raise money for his son’s operation, starring Festival honoree Michael Madsen and written and directed by Ireland's own Mark Mahon; and THE FRIEND, the story of a young man who fakes a relationship with a woman who has just died as a way of forging a bond with the woman’s family and, ultimately, her sister, written and directed by Micha Lewinsky.

Rounding out the competition is A MATTER OF SIZE, an Israeli/German/French co-production co-directed by Erez Tadmor and Sharon Maymon. The film tells the uplifting tale of overweight Israelis who rebels against the “thinness dictatorship” of the culture and find an unlikely expression in the art of sumo wrestling.

08 September, 2009

A Showcase For Czech Cinema at FESTROIA

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Each year, FESTROIA shines its spotlight on a different film producing country. This year, it is the turn of the Czech Republic, which has been at the forefront of international filmmaking since its celebrated heyday in the 1960s. One of its best known films of that era, CLOSELY WATCHED TRAINS by Jiri Menzel was screened here on Sunday evening, with the 76-year-old director in attendance. A gentle satire on Czech life during the Nazi occupation, the film won the Oscar in 1967 as Best Foreign Film.

A more recent classic that also won the Oscar is KOLYA, by director Jan Sverak. The film is the second in a trilogy that explores the subtleties of modern Czech life, focusing on the relationship between a concert cellist and the five-year-old son of his Russian lover. Sverak’s third film in the trilogy EMPTIES won the Gold Dolphin award for best film last year at FESTROIA.

There are innumerable stories to be told of the harsh life under Nazi occupation for Czech film artists. Among the best of the lot is DIVIDED WE FALL, a powerful drama by Jan Hrebejk that was released to great acclaim in 2000. The film is set in a small town with a childless couple who offers refuge to the Jewish son of their former employer. What everyone involved is called to do for simple survival gives the film its power and its anti-war sentiment.

Two more recent films round out the Czech tribute. In VACLAV by Jiri Vejdelek, a story of post-Communist Czechoslovakia emerges that echoes the films of the 1960s by such masters as Milos Forman, Ivan Passer and Jiri Menzel. Based on true events that took place when President Vaclav Havel offered a vast amnesty, the film focuses on another man named Vaclav who lives in a small village and whose autism makes him the town’s local fool, much despised and degraded by the townspeople. When he is forced into a mental institution, his enterprising mother and scheming brother must convince the locals to sign a petition to get him included in the amnesty list….a task that tests the mettle of everyone involved. The film was chosen as the Opening Night Gala here.

The theme is more grotesque in the historical drama BATHORY, based on the real-life story of Countess Elizabeth Bathory whose infamous cruelty is the stuff of legend. Indulging her privilege with the torture and draining of blood of young women as a way of keeping herself youthful, this 16th century “vampire” is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the great murderess in the history of mankind. Director Juraj Jakubisko looks beyond the myth to uncover the realities of the court where Bathory is vilified as being richer than the king and that the legend of her cruelty was conspired to vilify her and contain her influence. With a lush attention to period detail, the film is the most expensive production to date in Central European history and has been a considerable box office hit in Czech and Slovak theaters.

Czech films are also prominent in the other Festival sections. In the Official Competition, the lone Czech entry is GUARD NUMBER 47 by Filip Renc. Based on a celebrated novel of the 1930s, the film tells the tale of Josef Dousa, a railway guard who returns to his native village after World War I, hoping to forget the horrors of war in his job as a railway guard and in the secure relationship of his young wife. When he saves a man from suicide and invites him into his home, he becomes witness to the growing attraction between his wife and the stranger. The film illustrates all the great themes of the novel….love, passion, death and ultimate punishment.

Competing in the First Works section, OPERATION DANUBE by Jacek Glomb brings us back to the days of the summer of 1968, when Warsaw Pact armies were ordered by the Soviet Union to crush the “Prague spring”. When one Polish battalion gets stuck in a small Czech village, unexpected relationships arise that make it clear that both the Poles and Czechs suffer under the same great master. The film is based on a stage play the director mounted in Poland in 2006, which he adapted for the big screen.

Festival goers here at FESTROIA have an opportunity to sample an interesting mix of films from the Czech Republic, which continues to mine its specific history to produce films of universal appeal and interest.

07 September, 2009

North American Independents Competition at FESTROIA

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

While the focus of this blog is certainly on European cinema, it is (hopefully) of interest to our readers what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic. Independents filmmakers in the US and Canada are the spiritual cousins of European auteurs and their presence at a European film festival this week only solidifies the bond.

Eight celebrated American and Canadian feature films by emerging filmmakers that were first showcased at such prestigious film events as Sundance, Tribeca, Rotterdam and Toronto, will compete in the North American Independents Competition of the 25th edition of FESTROIA: The Troia International Film Festival. The Festival, the oldest and largest in Portugal, runs from September 4 to 13 in the coastal resort of Setubal, giving it the reputation as the “Portuguese Cannes”.

In alphabetical order, the films include: ADAM’S WALL by Canadian writer/director Michael MacKenzie sets the classic story of Romeo and Juliet in Montreal, where the star-crossed lovers are from different religious backgrounds (specifically a religious Jew and a Lebanese Christian). ENTRE NOS, written and directed by the American team of Paola Mendoza and Gloria La Morte tells the poignant story of Mariana, a Colombian immigrant, who comes to New York with her two children to join her husband, who abandons her to fend for herself on the mean streets of the big city.

THE GOOD GUY, written and directed by American filmmaker Julio DePietro, is another New York City tale, this one focusing on the high-flying corporate culture of Wall Street that came crashing down in the past year. Scott Porter (Speed Racer) plays a cocky rising star at a financial firm, who takes under his wing an inexperienced guy who actually has a moral code, played by Bryan Greenberg (Bride Wars). LYMELIFE, the directorial debut of American filmmaker Derick Martini, uses lyme disease, a particularly nasty invasion of the neurological system, as a metaphor for human dysfunction in this poignant film about two families in the New York suburbs of the 1970s. Rory Culkin stars as a gentle boy who tries to find his way in the world, while avoiding the emotional and psychological traps that he sees in his elders, played by Alec Baldwin and Cynthia Nixon.

THE MISSING PERSON, written and directed by American filmmaker Noah Buschel, is a film noir set right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. A private detective (Michael Shannon, Oscar nominee, Revolutionary Road) is hired to follow a man who is presumed dead in the 9/11 attacks, on a train from Chicago to Los Angeles. THE NARROWS, directed by Francois Velle, a French-born filmmaker who now works in Los Angeles, is set in Scorsese territory in the Italian section of Brooklyn, New York. Rising star Kevin Zegers (The Jane Austen Book Club) stars as a teenager who must choose between the Mafia and a photography career.

In WEST OF PLUTO, the Canadian writer/director team of Myriam Verreault and Henry Bernadet take a look at what is on the brain of suburban Quebecois teenagers. This revealing semi-documentary film follows a group of 15 and 16 year olds through a whirlwind 24 hours, as it showcases the tension and casual cruelty of these young “innocents”. In the celebrated American indie film YOU WON’T MISS ME, written and co-directed by Ry Russo-Young, debut actress Stella Schnabel, the daughter of famous American painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell And The Butterfly), is a standout as the troubled young daughter of an emotionally distant mother. Setting her sights on an acting career, her volatile temper, moody intensity and taste for casual sexual encounters bring her to a crisis of overwhelming pain and anger.

Another noteworthy Canadian film is screening in the Man And His Environment competition. THE NECESSITIES OF LIFE by documentarian-turned-feature director Benoit Pilon, won the Jutra Award as Best Canadian Film earlier this year. This intimate historic tale takes place in the 1950s, when an Inuit hunter who is suffering from tuberculosis is taken to a Quebec sanatorium for treatment. Natar Ungalaaq, a non-professional actor, won the Genie Award, the Canadian Oscar, as Best Actor for his subtle but highly emotional portrayal of a man whose circumstances force him to balance his traditional ways with a foreign culture that he resists and finds lacking in human dimension. The film, which also won Canadian Oscars for Best Director and Best Screenplay, was the winner of the Grand Prix des Ameriques at last year’s Montreal World Film Festival.

For more information on the full program of the 25th edition of FESTROIA: The Troia International Film Festival, visit:

06 September, 2009


MAMMOTH (Lukas Moodysoon)

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

The Golden Dolphin Competition at the 25th edition of FESTROIA, the oldest and most prestigious film event in Portugal, is reserved for films from countries whose yearly output does not exceed 30 films. That gives worthy films from somewhat smaller film industries a chance to shine and not be overshadowed by films from larger film-producing countries. Smaller is definitely more beautiful in Setubal, the beautiful sun-bathed resort town where the Festival is held.

European films dominate the Official Section competition:

BROKEN PROMISE (Jiri Chlumsky, Czech Republic)
FORBIDDEN FRUIT (Dome Karuskoki, Finlând)
KATIA’S SISTER (Mijke de Jong, The Netherlands)
MAMMOTH (Lukas Moodysson, Sweden/Denmark)
OUT OF THE BLUE (Igal Bursztyn, Israel)
GUARD NUMBER 47 (Filip Renc, Checnya)
TERRIBLY HAPPY (Henrik R. Genz, Denmark)
THE EXCHANGE (N. Margineanu, Romania)
THE RAINBOW TROOPS (Riri Riza, Indonesia)
THE REASON WHY (Harald Sicheritz, Áustria)
THE WORLD IS BIG AND SALVATION LURKS AROUND THE CORNER (Stefan Komandarev, Bulgaria/Hungary/Slovenia)
WHITE NIGHT WEDDING (Baltasar Kormakur, Iceland)
THE STORM IN MY HEART (Pal Jackman, Norway)

More information on this diverting and diverse group of films in later postings as FESTROIA 2009 lifts off at a Gala Opening Night this evening and continues for the next 10 days.