(28/12/06) – So what was 2006 about on cinematic terms? Mainstream cinema continued on its downhill artistic decline, Mel Gibson made another film and the ‘indie’ cinema tag became literally a joke as the success of Little Miss Sunshine evidenced – but luckily there are always exceptions to the rule, although these indicated no major innovations either, but rather a continuation of recent developments and stylistic trends. It could be that Francis Coppola’s proverbial ‘little fat girl in Ohio’ has finally made a masterpiece with her father’s camcorder in 2006, but we haven’t heard about that, sadly.

Non-European films continued to make stand-out apparitions on the screen – films such as the Chinese Jia Zhang-Ke’s Still Life and the Brazilian Karim Anouz’s Suely in the Sky. Eastern Europe continued to gain ground with films like the Romanian Cristi Puiu’s The Death of Mr Lazarescu (pictured) and Jasmila Zbanic’s Grbavica (Esma’s Secret), the winner of the Golden Bear in Berlin. Up in Sweden, Lukas Moodyson proved his diversity as a director with the experimental Container. In Western Europe, the Belgian duo, the Dardenne brothers, enjoyed a successful run with their gritty L’Enfant and increased their visibility as auteurs. Alongside The Death of Mr Lazarescu, these films, in their own way, present a picture of contemporary Europe and its anxieties, especially as far as the relationship between citizens and their governments go.

France contributed the May 1968 elegant nostalgia fest Les amants réguliers (Regular Lovers, by Louis Garrel) while newcomer Gela Babluani showed a strong vision with the terrifying Tzamete 13. Pedro Almodovar’s homecoming Volver is also a ubiquitous favourite across the film criticism landscape, although it is more the work of a veteran director indulging in his auteurial status than a truly brilliant piece of cinema.

The art world also made its contribution to theatrically-released cinema in 2006. Taking the advantage of the football fever sparked by the World Cup in Berlin, Douglas Gordon and Philippe Parreno’s study of the Algerian-born soccer star Zinedine Zidane, Zidane: A 21st-Century Portrait, made quite an impact on audiences that may not spend their Saturday afternoons in an art gallery. But cinema has for long been at the centre of Gordon’s work, who became famous for slowing down Hitchcock’s Psycho to one frame per second in 24-Hour Psycho (1993).

From the United States, John Cameron Mitchell’s Shortbus pushed the envelope in terms of breaking one of the last celluloid taboos – showing real sex on screen. Not necessarily a novelty – France has been leading the way for a while with Catherine Breillat’s Romance (1999) and the super confrontational Baise Moi (Dir: Virginie Despentes Coralie, 2000)- but since Michael Winterbottom bridged the Eros gap between Gallic and Anglo-Saxon cinema with his also sexually explicit 9 Songs (2004) – it was a matter of time until America would catch up. The collaborative art world erotic undertaking Destricted, including collaborations by Larry Clark, Matthew Barney and Marina Abramovic, treaded similar territory by focusing on the thin line between art and sexuality. It remains to be seen whether the trend will last.

The view from Kamera

Kamera’s regular contributor Edmund Hardy picked a French film as his favourite in 2006. Hardy chose Alain Resnais’s Couers as his top choice for the year. Based on Alan Ayckbourn’s Private Fears in Public (the English title for the film), this was, according to Hardy, "a fact which raised hopes because a previous ‘collaboration’ with the playwright’s work, for Smoking/No Smoking, produced a good result. Coeurs is not a competent work from a great director coasting through; it is a finely judged film, a chilly, lonely archaelogy of relations as they fragment and are reconstructed beneath a camera which is often raised up high to look down, as if to scan the territory, the rooms and their contents."

Another Kamera regular, Steven Yates, says his favourite films of the year show "the triumph of human compassion. A Lion in the House, Steven Bognar and Julia Reichart’s near four-hour heart-rending documentary about five children’s battle against cancer, shows how this affects their families and the doctors of the Cincinnati Children’s hospital who work tirelessly to try and save them. Refraining from any manipulation this is an emotionally exhaustive but compelling portrayal of the far reaching effects of seriously ill children and underlines the tireless compassion of its makers who shot this remarkable film over eight years," says Yates. Yates also picked the German film The Lives of Others as another highlight of 2006. "This excellent drama depicts how one person’s selfless bravery can make a difference to the lives of others." It is centred on a member of the Stasi, the East German secret police. In the East Berlin of 1984, five years before the fall of the wall, a fully supportive and trusted member of the GDR secretly listens in to people who are suspected of being anti-communist, particularly those considered dangerous. While assigned to listen to a playwright at his home, the Stasi man slowly becomes sympathetic to a way of life he is employed to expose.

Kamera’s horror specialists Colin Odell and Michelle Le Blanc notice, in a separate feature published alongside this one, the idea of dystopia explored in a bevy of sci-fi movies. "Continued political uncertainties and on-going military activity all over the world has created an environment of concern and tension that has trickled onto the big screen this year, in a number of films that tackle themes of societies on the brink of collapse. It is not that these films directly relate to world events but their tones are starting to reflect our concerns and fears", they write. Among the films analysed in their feature are Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, Richard Linklater’s A Scanner Darkly plus Right At Your Door, Aeon Flux, V for Vendetta and Children of Men.

Happy 2007!

Antonio Pasolini