This year, the Molodist festival (Molodist is youth in Ukrainian) took place under special conditions. Even the fact that it is the biggest film festival in the country did not change anything in this regard. It was caused by one but very significant reason: the team decided to arrange the forum not in the end of October – but in the end of May.
Advantages and disadvantages of such a decision are only to be analyzed; however, the point is that even in a new format Molodist has kept its status of the festival of first features and young cinema. It is the place where gifted amateurs can “try” their films for the first time, showing them to wide audience; it is the place where students from international film schools communicate and network; and it is the place where chosen films reflect issues which young directors are concerned on, a worldview they are trying to comprehend.
In general, Molodist has three basic sections: Student Competition, Shorts Competition and Full Length Competition. The Shorts Competition is kind of chaos of titles and names, a mixing of professional and semi-amateur sketches, first films of future geniuses alongside with somebody’s term thesis, which will be forgotten in a week.
The most important section is definitely the Full Length Competition. There used to be accidental films as well. It was caused by the limited possibilities of those who were choosing films. However, the year after the year, doing their best, the team of Andrii Halpahchi managed to win for Molodist the place in the festival sun. From the beginning of the 2010-s, the Full Length Competition is compelled from the best first features brought from the Cannes, Venice, Berlin and Locarno festivals. Without an exaggeration, the Kyiv Festival is significant enough.
Young artists can be lack of mastery or persuasion, however, they certainly have one thing: they can strongly feel the relevance of issues, moods of the society, tendencies.
At first, one can notice: there is a big amount of family drama films. Moreover, sometimes there is some parallelism in narrations: in Retablo (by Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, Peru – Germany – Norway), Ravens (Korparna by Jens Assur, Sweden) and Custody (Jusqu’à la garde by Xavier Legrand, France), the plot is driven by the heated conflict between sons and fathers. In Retablo and Scary Mother (Sashishi deda by Ana Urushadze, Georgia-Estonia), these are elder members of family who become isolated. Retablo and The Heiresses (Las herederas by Marcelo Martinessi, Paraguay- Uruguay-Germany-Brazil-Norway-France) raise LGBT topics. A polish Silent Night (Cicha noc by Piotr Domalewski) and Israeli Antenna (by Arik Rotstein) are about big disunited families headed by not adequate old men. In fact, the competition is infused with these topics, which bond absolutely different cultures.
It is interesting that the jury preferred not lyrical family sagas but social films. The Grand-Prix of the festival, “The Scythian Deer” statuette and 10 000 dollars went to The Saint (Šventasis by Andrius Blazevicius, Lithuania-Poland). The Best Full Length Film (2000 dollars) was given to the Winter Brothers (Vinterbrødre by Hlinur Pàlmason, Denmark-Iceland).
Although the material is common, these works are not similar to each other.
The landscape of The Saint is a provincial Lithuanian town, which faces the 2008 crisis. Vitas (Marius Repšys) is fired from the factory. He is looking for a new job but does not succeed. Having made a new haircut, he hopes for a love affair with a hairdresser Maria, but he fails as well. His marriage is bursting at the seams; his wife does not understand what is happening. Finally, he starts to look for again: together with his best friend Petras, they are looking for a guy from YouTube who claimed he had seen Jesus Christ in the town.
Well, the director shows us without any moralization how an economic crisis can become an existential one. How a grown-up, confident man loses all the orienteers, becomes weak and, consequently, aggressive. This impression is grounded mostly on a great work of Marius Repšys – a tall man with eyes of a child. Whether he received his faith, or the wall where a local weirdo saw Jesus Christ turned out to be just a bye corner – remained unknown as the film is beautifully open-ended.
The Winter Brothers is also the story about proletariat but told in another manner. The director, an Icelander, Hlinur Pàlmason avoids making his film a documentary although the storyline encourages him to do so.
It is kind of a static Odyssey of two brothers living in a worker’s neighborhood when there is a cold winter outside. We can see their routine, habits, rituals and hostility, which appears among them and their colleagues. A younger brother Emil needs love. He is a proper eccentric person: ginger, awkward. He likes inadequate genres and sells suspicious hand-made moonshine. He considers shooting classes a way to forget about his routine in the quarry. It becomes his bee in the bonnet. His eccentric actions look especially strange against snowed landscapes, filled with huge loud shop mechanisms, with an eternal darkness of quarries. No surprise that Emil becomes isolated, turns into a local weirdo. But it is not as simple. We are sure mostly of the time that we watch the story of a weirdo. However, when in the last scene, miners suddenly start to sing in choir, turning into twinkling lights, into ghosts of themselves under the ground, it becomes clear that it is a true brotherhood of the doomed, it is about those winter brothers, who are chained to eternal pits for forever, as dwarves. The social turns into the metaphysic, while a coarse workers’ texture gives birth to a poetry.
Social topics appear in the majority of the films at some point, but it is not they, which drive the idea. We can say that three films, taking into account all their differences, have romantics as their main heroes. Romantics are people who stand for their principles, for their choice till the end: Retablo, The Heiresses, and Scary Mother.
Each film is multi-awarded at different festivals: the Retablo and The Heiresses are awarded at the last Berlinale; The Scary Mother is awarded as The Best First Feature in Locarno. Finally, the former has won the Ecumenical Jury Prize, and the latter was awarded with the Sunny Bunny Prize in the LGBT-competition at the Molodist.
Retablo is literally the brightest participant. Its protagonist, a 14-year-old Segundo Paukar, works with his father – a master of a traditional retablo craft. It is a detailed painting of religious and routine scenes. These works look like a Peruvian variant of the Ukrainian vertep (portable puppet theatre and drama) – boxes with puppets made of a potato dough – figures of the saints and of customers as well. Once Segundo sees by chance that his father is gay, and it destroys his world. In a while, the conservative community learns about it and starts bullying the family. Alvaro Delgado Aparicio, a director, despite the tragic plot, craftily shows the beauty of Peruvian culture – costumes and dances, songs and retablo in particular, music and mountainous landscapes. This film is variegated and bright like a huge retablo, within this beauty, it has many parallels with a modern Peruvian classics – The Milk of Sorrow by Claudia Llosa (The Golden Bear in Berlinale 2009).
The Heiresses raises the LGBT topic as well, but the aesthetics is the opposite. It is closer to a steady play as psychological drama of Chekhov. Marcelo Martinessi tells a story of a 60-year-old lesbian who is experiencing tough times – she has problems with her partner. Moreover, the house she has inherited from her father became a real burden for her. The film is quiet and reserved in all regards: from dialogues to actors’ play, the latter is perfect in these half-tones. A brilliant artistic ensemble consists of only actresses, but the best among them is Ana Brun, who was awarded in Berlin with “The Bear” for The Best Actress.
Scary Mother has also a strong female character. Ana Urushadze is a 28-year-ols daughter of a famous Georgian director Zaza Urushadze, who was firstly in the history of Georgia nominated for Oscar with his drama film Tangerines (2013) about the war in Abkhazia. Ana does not imitate her father, she is developing in her own direction, let us say, in a feministic one. Tangerines is a proper male cinema, while the main heroine of Scary Mother is Manana, a writer, who creates provocative and gifted prose. She is involved in the war with her family, becomes a marginal, but she does not give up and uses all the situations as material for her work. Nato Murvanidze is perfect in this role of a rebel who becomes a real monster for her environment, although she just wants to fulfil her potential as an artist. When, finally, although not straight-forwardly but quite persuasively, we are shown that the novel and life have turned into the whole thing, we are totally impressed.
From the other side, the works concentrated only on a family issues, were less interesting. Although Ravens, Silent Night, and Antenna had nice actors, they were too melodramatic. As for Custody, although it is a professional work in a directing regard, and it was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize in Kyiv, it tells the story too straight-forwardly: it is clear from the very beginning who is a bad guy (a stubborn father-whip-cracker), and who are victims (the family who is trying to flee away from him).
The Load by Ohnen Hlavonych has received Jury’s special mention. This film is educative at some point for Ukrainians, as it shows how we can speak about our tragic recent past in artistic terms. Vlada, a protagonist, is a truck driver during the war in Kosovo and NATO bombarding of Milosevic’s Yugoslavia in 1999. Vlada is driving across the devastated country. He is forbidden to know about the load. However, during unloading he learnt what there was – the main cargo of the war. The cargo 200. So he has to live somehow knowing it, has to make his choice. Hlavonych does not show horrors of the war straight-forwardly, he shows it through killing details – for example, through a glass ball which is rolling across the road and knocks in the truck wall. It triggers irrecoverable changes inside the driver when he finds the ball. Such acute and bright details make you remember this film.
Of course, frames of one festival are quite a significant limitation. However, taking into account a general quality of the films compilation – there were no fail films – we can make some conclusions.
Young directors do not tend to risk with a form today. They prefer a lineal narration, traditional methods of shooting and montage. The disadvantage of such reserve is that young directors sometimes forget that cinema is a visual art, not a narrative one. That’s why we see just novels on screens. Intimacy and involving few people in a plot do not, however, guarantee success. It is rather an author’s passion, which matters. Pulse of art can be seen the best when characters are in a conflict with society, and it does not matter whether it is a family, a factory, a small village or the whole country which is fighting. Among social conflicts, young people now also raise the gender issue that we call a sexual orientation – it is one of the revolutionary topics of modern cinema.
One more thing – more emotional one – almost each film leaves a hope to its characters. Sometimes it is quite vague, but still. No of them has a black-end neither a happy-end. In fact, a modern first feature cinema is cinema of quiet hopes.
As for Ukraine, conclusions, as everything other, are controversial. On one hand, Molodist copes with its task, it fills the festival with strong works, introduces dignified first feature films from all over the world, which we wouldn’t see under any other circumstances. On the other hand, even though there were many Ukrainian films last and this years, none of them could compete with overseas works. However, it is a material for another, long conversation.
By Kostiantyn Levin