|the international federation of film critics|
|| | |||||
Black Nights Film Festival – Young Tallinnts
István Szabó: Film History Is Written On The Faces. By Elena Jasiūnaitė
This year's Black Night Film Festival handed out an opportunity to meet one of the most renewed Hungarian filmmakers István Szabó. Yesterday at Baltic Film and Media School the director held a special master class for film students and festival's guests. Expecting a flood of people and even considering the possibility not to get inside due to limited seats was a little bit surprised when it turned out that the auditorium was half-empty (or half-full, if you're an optimist).
Internationally acclaimed director István Szabó is best known for his so-called "German trilogy", consisting of Academy Award for the best foreign language film winning Mephisto (1981), Colonel Redl (1985) and Hanussen (1988). Most of Szabó's films are deeply rooted into the complicated history of Middle and Eastern Europe: from the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire to the both totalitarian regimes of occupied Hungary. In case to reveal metahistorical constructs Szabó places his films characters into a background of social and political changes that determines their consciousness and influences their behaviour and morality.
At the master class Szabó decides not to speak about himself or his films. Instead of that he starts with something, that one could relate to the "golden" question by André Bazin — what is cinema? "I often ask myself, what is unique in filmmaking? What is that that you can only tell with motion picture? What we can not describe even if we are the best novelists in the world, and what we can not paint even if we are the best painters that ever lived? All I can think is only one thing that you can not write, can not paint, can not express with music and even can not to act on the stage. And to me this very unique thing is a living human face. It changes and reflects emotions. That's the most important thing." — says Szabó. "If you can accept the idea, that film history is based not only on style or technological changes but also on humans' faces, you can find a whole new approach of how to look at the history of film". Szabó conceptualizes the idea that through the course of the film history there were many different types of people faces. And every "favourite" face reflects the social, economical and political situation of the society: there is Marlene Dietrich — she represents the dangers of WWII, and there is Marilyn Monroe — the post-war joy and beauty. J.F. Kennedy is killed and instead of graduates of Harvard the audience needs Al Pacino as a grant of safety. And then starts the computer era, and suddenly appears a new immortal untraceable character played by Arnold Schwarznegger.
Most likely Tallinn is not the first city that is able to hear the same story, but Szabó's unpretentious manner of speaking engages and basically reminds of simple pleasure of thinking on film. And this is something about what some directors of the young generations seems have to forgotten. So Szabó goes through the medium of the film and says that the film director must communicate with the audience. "There are different cultures and mentalities, and there are basic human feelings like love and hate — they're everywhere the same. But if you want to do a film — you have to know people. You have to know how to reach them. Because to waste other people's time is a huge responsibility. If the audience is sleeping — your message is not coming through" — says the director. To do that you have to know people, you have to know your culture. And still film has to be personal — otherwise it just won't work. As an example he chooses film director Sergei Parajanov who was influenced and educated by Russian film professionals and still hasn't lost his connections with his multicultural roots.
"But what if the audience thinks, that the films of Sergei Parajanov or Jean Cocteau are boring?" — asks someone from the attendances. "If a film has something to say — it's not boring. It's not important to have a big audience. It's important to have the audience at all. But for that we have to educate the audience too" — answers Szabó. Among with the problem of the audience he reflects the struggle of understanding film as a part of your culture. And it doesn't matter who you are — film director or just a spectator — you have to know the film history. From the first screening of Lumière brothers to nowadays history, from Russian Kino-Pravda to Italian neo-realism and French Cinéma vérité. "What can you to say if the audience doesn't know who Dziga Vertov was? I feel sorry for them, that's it" says the director.
And yet here's another one topic — what's happening with the cinematic escapism? What has happened with the current apolitical Hungarian generation of filmmakers? "Every disease has its own history" — says Szabó — "They think that our generation that worked during soviet times is dirty, unclean. It's their defence. They are afraid to show their European roots. They think, that if they will touch political themes — they won't be clean too. It's a mistake, because even Shakespeare was very political". Basically that means, that all the important stories has its own background. And speaking of Shakespeare — the main idea was that, that if take you'll take "Romeo and Juliet" take and if you'll cast will cast for film blonde white skinned girl and gipsy boy for “— it will already be a story about contemporary Hungary and it will touch difficult problems of our society. But if the boy is English and the girl is Irish — it will touch the problems of the former British Empire. And so on whit all current national conflicts in Europe.
So it was a master class headed by István Szabó. And suddenly that one-hour-talk wasn't about István Szabó at all. It was about the art itself. About film director's place and awareness of his responsibility towards the audience. And most importantly it reminded about the necessity to constantly rethink the film within its own historical frame. (Elena Jasiūnaitė)
Estonian animator Mait Laas has pulled off something quite remarkable — the world's first full-length puppet opera and Estonia's first full-length 3D film Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange, a Rapid Love Story (Lisa Limone ja Maroc Orange: Tormakas armulugu). Production of this spectacular piece took seven years and the film is a definite landmark in Estonian film history. Despite the promising introduction, the feedback has been somewhat controversial.
As the title of the film suggests, it's a hasty love story between a refugee orange boy Maroc and lemon girl Lisa. Seemingly the film has everything — a quirky set-up, story with a moral, great music, humorous irony, allegory, social criticism, peculiar moments particular Estonian animation and great visuals thanks to a tremendous amount of work. Still it lacks of structure, comprehensibility and struggles with narrating.
In addition to immigration and relationships, Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange raises the question of defining and keeping one's identity in this multicultural world. All of the three subjects are significant, but the message of the film is weak. Some motifs are over-simplified and explained too much and others tend to be too complicated and not explained enough. Even though it is meant as a family film, Mait Laas doesn't restrain himself from using grotesque and expressiveness particular Estonian animation, but it often tends to stay complex and hard to understand.
Most Estonian films are accused of having a weak scenario and lacking skills in storytelling. In Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange's case it might be true. It could be due to the fact that at the beginning of production the film was supposed to be 30 minutes long but it the process it was stretched to 72 minutes. Even though the running time was extended, the film still contains 30 minutes worth of storyline. Rest of the film is rather excellent yet idle animation.
Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange has excellent sound design in addition to great music. Many renowned Estonian actors and musicians gave their voice to the fruit puppets and sang Ülo Krigul's beautiful songs. And yet it seems as if the music is trying to compensate for the weak plot and fill the remaining 42 minutes and therefor becomes a bit repetitive and tiring. For credibility the songs are in French and Italian, Estonian language is used only for one or two sentences.
The greatest strength of the animation is its visuals. 70 puppets, 250 tomato plants, 1300 tomatoes, 8 houses and 3 cars were made for the film. It takes a month to make one puppet and not to mention the thoroughness and detailed work. For example, the sizes of the tomatoes varied from one to three millimeters. It took two years to develop the story, one year to make the puppets, three years to animate and one year for after effects — and all that with a budget of only 1,1 million euros. It means that the animators worked from eight to five for three years, making 5-10 seconds of animation every day. As for one frame consists of 24 shots, it makes 109 500 single shots altogether and that's an intimidatingly big number.
Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange gloriously justifies using 3D, because with its help the details, materials and structures come to life and offer a wonderful visual experience. It has this unique and sweet homemade taste and is perfect with its imperfections. Director Mait Laas says that it was a very creative three years because a lot of materials were experimented. It's worth mentioning that after a lot of experimenting for example manna, cotton batting and light gravel was used and only the stormy sea and some steam was made with special effects.
Lisa Limone and Maroc Orange is without a doubt a significant film in Estonian film history and fascinating in technical and effects-wise, but it grows short in consistency and ability to comprehensibly make a statement. The “must-see” animation of the year earns points for hard work and being a great visual experience. (Maarja Hindoalla)
One of the many perks of attending a film festival is that you have the possibility to get acquainted with different cultures and their take on filmmaking. That's especially the case here at the Black Nights Film Festival, which tries to present a lot of different movie cultures to its Estonian audience. The documentary Silent Messengers is one of these peculiar films, which you won't get to see outside a film festival.
In this documentary director William D. MacGillivray accompanies ethnogeographer and photographer Norman Hallendy and the actor Natar Ungalaq (Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner) on their journey through Cape Dorset. That's where, in a freezing cold climate, the Inuit have settled for thousands of years. And for thousands of years, they left the Inuksuit, stone figures whose meaning couldn't be deciphered. With every old Inuit that dies, a treasure of stories and knowledge about their culture simply gets lost, especially in our fast moving times. Ungalaq and Hallendy set out to preserve the Inuit culture and tell the young Inuit kids about their own history.
MacGillivray's documentary really succeeds in capturing the beauty of Cape Dorset and the Hudson Strait. This barren land hasn't changed that much for centuries, that's why many Inuksuit can still be found. He tries not to interfere with the two men he accompanies and provides as little off-commentary as possible. He leaves his material untouched, just like the harsh beaches of the Hudson Strait are still untouched. On their journey, Ungalaq and Hallendy try to decode the riddle of the Inuksuit, but get sidetracked constantly. It's quite interesting to see, of which rituals the Inuit society consists. We watch the Inuit hunting, drinking and telling each other stories of their rich past. Those distractions account for the biggest part of MacGillivray's documentary.
It's quite common for documentaries to embrace those distractions, simply because the filmmaker wants to capture real events as they happened. Films like Catfish wouldn't be that fascinating, if the story the director followed didn't take an unexpected turn. Unfortunately in the case of Silent Messengers those unforeseen events irritate. It's not MacGillivray who's leading the viewer and constructing the story, it's Ungalaq and Hallendy. They are the gatekeepers for the viewer, the director simply follows their lead and has to work with what they believe is the right way to tell the story.
There's one scene in particular, which illustrates this fundamental directing decision rather well. Both men accompany Inuit fishers hunting. They shoot a walrus and slaughter it for several minutes. On the one hand, this scene illustrates the special connection between the Inuit and nature. On the other hand, the brutal killing of an animal contributes nothing to solving the riddle of the Inuksuit. Such scenes, which add nothing to the premise of the film, can be found throughout it. So after watching Silent Messengers, you will know a little bit more about Inuit culture, but the huge Inuksuit stones remain an enigma. (Christian Alt)
It's often interesting to see how differently the same story is adapted by different film directors.. British film director (and also actor and writer) Richard Ayoade's latest film The Double is based in the novel by Fyodor Dostoevsky. But it has been adapted before as Partner (1968) by Bernardo Bertolucci.
The novel is about a Simon (Jesse Eisenberg, perhaps best known for The Social Network) “invisible” man, who is very private and insecure worker in a surreal office. One day a new colleague enters the office, and he is looking exactly the same as our protagonist. However, the character of the double is brave and more dynamic than the original, and these traits help him become a star amongst his colleagues – except for our protagonist. Soon things will come to a head. Are these two twins or between two sides of one personality?
Dostoevsky's novel was impregnated desperation and trepidation and Ayoade's film has exactly the same impact – the heavy psychological atmosphere of the film allows for no escape. Dark and dull colors, oppressive music all contribute to this feeling. Simon comes across as more insecure and shy than Jacob Petrovich from the original novel (insecure to such an extent that Eisenberg is perhaps not convincing enough in the role of his own impudent double). Not only the main mood of the original story maintained in Ayoade's film − the director also shows the key episodes like the ball and keeps the ambiguity of Dostoevsky's story. What he changes is a romantic line. They say, “Every film is about boy meeting girl”, and maybe Ayoade thought the same when he transforms the book's brief mention of a love interest of Simon's into a love story that becomes the main focus of the film. Also, in the feature Simon talks about his feelings and fears (“I am like Pinocchio – a wooden boy”), while in the novel he does not see the problem in himself.
Bertolucci's Partner leaves an impression that is very different from that of the novel. This film has bright colors and neutral music. The main problem − the “invisibility” of the protagonist - is absent there. The mental disease of main character Giacobbe (Pierre Clémenti) is obvious and could be caused by anything, and the relationships between “the doubles” could be characterized more as a cooperation (the title already points at this aspect). However, in spite of very different perceptions of the novel, there are echoes of Bertolucci's piece in Ayoade's work. These include the same meals that the main characters chose in both films and directors using symbol of the window as a source of danger. What could also describe either British or Italian film is an absolutely special and diverse realities constructed it them. You will not see a lot of realistic details in these films, and this is what creates the personal style of the director.
Many film directors, many minds – this proverb matches the case. The Doubles by Richard Ayoade is not only a holistic film with a strong atmosphere whatthat perfectly reveals the fear that everyone has deep in his soul, but also proof of the power of good art that touches people's minds and hearts. Just every one of them in a different way. (Olga Konkova)