The Trieste Film Festival in Italy showcases films from Central and Eastern Europe. If you’ve ever got time at the end of January check out www.alpeadriacinema.it for their programme. For fifteen euros you can see as many films as you like, go to the daily meets in a café where the directors are interviewed and attend the nightly cocktail hour.
With cinema tickets in the West End costing around £10 a throw I can never understand why more cinephiles don’t hop on a plane to Trieste. Where else is it possible not only to meet so many directors in one place, but also to chat to them? Trieste is so small you’ll never even have to use public transport and unlike other bigger festivals, you don’t have to pack roller blades or several pairs of walking shoes to get from venue to venue.
This year saw the introduction of a documentary competition section with a total of 16 entries. The increasing popularity of this genre is a sign of our voyeuristic times and a thirst for the new or weird. Developments now often veer away from ‘objectivity’, as directors accept that making choices about what to shoot is in itself subjective. This direction is where some of the more original material is springing from. Thus Allemagne, Allemagne Terrain Vague by Boris Breckoff, (France, 2003), is a collage of German history pre- and post- World War Two, narrated through a series of talking-heads. What makes it appealing is the director’s personal input in the guise of a poetic autobiographical voice-over.
Die Mitte by Stanislaw Mucha (Germany, 2004), tackles the quirky topic of where the centre of the earth is. You get the impression that wars can and have been fought over who lives at the centre. Mucha has stepped into his documentary and acts as a guide to his subjects, which sometimes has the effect that he is laughing at them rather than with them.
At the opposite end of the scale Új Eldorádó (New Eldorado) by Tibor Kocsis, (Hungary, 2004), which focuses on an environmental issue in Rosia Montana, Romania, the location for the largest proposed gold mining operation in Europe. A Canadian company is planning to knock down entire villages, relocate all the inhabitants and build an 800 hectare pond containing cyanide that is necessary for extracting the gold. This scheme has a mere seventeen-year life span. The situation is explained using conventional interview techniques but despite an attempt at showing the pros and cons of relocation and a short interview with a representative of the Canadian company, here too it’s clear whose side the director is on.
The ‘special event’ was a screening of Werner Herzog’s new film White Diamond (Germany, 2004). He has turned his hand to the documentary as well, finding a real live Fitzcarraldo in the guise of Dr Graham Dorrington, who sets out to test his flying device in the rainforest of Guyana. Herzog makes an appearance in front of the camera and sacrifices himself to a trial flight that could have ended in disaster.
In the past the festival has featured the work of a film school which created a platform for students’ work to be seen. This year, however, films created under the umbrella of the Hungarian Inforg Studio were screened. The range and standard was impressive. What struck me the most was the focus on telling a story, which often seems secondary these days. Furthermore, most of these tales had a moral point. They left me with the feeling that I had either learned something or had been reminded of some long forgotten truth.
A Pofon (Smack in the Face) by András György Dési and Gábor Móray was an intelligent mix of a well written script, great acting and a plot with a twist so abrupt it took my breath away. Aranymadár (The Golden Bird), by István Szaladják, was an unusual journey into the realms of death using a philosophical voice-over to accompany the last journey of a knight. A balance of poetry, moving images, choral music and silence left space in the mind to contemplate sentences such as: "Foolish desire has weakened that which life has put in me." and "To die and love means the same thing: to awake from dreams." Other stand-outs included Csendország (The Kingdom of Silence) by Róbert Lakatos and Gránátok (Granades) by Péter Politzer.
Countries represented in the Feature Films in Competition section were: Turkey, Hungary, Bulgaria, Slovenia, Germany, Croatia, Poland, Russia, Serbia and Montenegro, as well as a few co-productions with other countries. The section featured the Italian premiere of Zivot Je Cudo (Life is a Miracle) by Emir Kusturica, set in Bosnia in 1992 at the start of the war. Zivot Je Cudo is a roller-coaster ride of humour, pathos, explosions, biblical and cinematic allusions and romance.
König der Diebe (King of Thieves) by Ivan Fila was received well in Trieste, though I suspect this was more to do with a female fascination for the lead actor Lazar Ristovski than the story of a modern day Fagin selling children into prostitution and training them to be thieves. My personal favourites in this section were two movies that were very different from each other: Muxmäuschenstill (Quiet as a Mouse) by Marcus Mittermeier, (Germany, 2004) and Másnap (After the Day Before) by Attila Janisch (Hungary, 2004).
Másnap employs slow pacing, barren countryside, solitary people and a disrespect for sequential time to weave a story of intrigue and murder. The heat, the mistrust, the suspense and the loneliness ooze out of the screen and leave your senses straining with anticipation. Almost as if he is the lead character in his own nightmare, the murderer in Másnap does not seem to realise that he himself is the villain. It serves as an allusion to the notion that evil sits in all of us although we prefer to find a scapegoat.
Muxmäuschenstill is an entirely different genre of film. A tongue in cheek tour de force of real life hero (anti-hero) taking on the world’s evil. Evil people in this case are fare dodgers, fly tippers, speed freaks and un-neighbourly neighbours. Mux takes on all these criminals and makes them truly remorseful for all their crimes, whilst archiving each case on video. Soon the media is applauding his efforts and his workload increases to the extent that he must employ others to help.
This is vigilante glorification taken to its logical conclusion. As a directorial debut Muxmäuschenstill is admirable and highly original, but more astounding still is that the lead role is taken by the director himself. Marcus Mittermeier walks a tightrope between the mundane realism of a holier-than-thou, know-it-all character named Mux, and a satire of this same character. Sometimes you’ll find yourself sympathising with Mux, sometimes you’ll hate him, sometimes you’ll laugh at him, and sometimes you’ll laugh with him. This is without a doubt the best German film I have seen in years; its unique sense of irony, its finely tuned and sometimes slapstick humour, and its intelligent story should appeal to an international audience.