The history of contemporary Ukrainian cinema can start with the sentence in the Biblical way: “In the beginning was the Molodist”. For many producers, directors, operators, critics, including the author of this text, this festival has become an unofficial cinema university, the point of initiation into the big cinematography.
For many years, The Molodist Film Festival has been associated with specific figurative row: the end of October, fallen leaves and the contrasting visual feast, prize “fresh meat” brought from the last Cannes, Berlin and Venice, meetings with Western film stars and directors. A modern young spectator can only imagine what an oasis it was on the background of the complete collapse of film distribution of the 1990s and “filmless” 2000s.
In 2010, unheralded decision to start taking prize films of the more famous cinema forums added additional impulse to the festival. The bonds found in Cannes also started working. Earlier, only out-of-competition programs attracted attention but then it was interesting to watch feature-length competition – there were presented the “tops” of the young filmmaking.
But the situation has been changing. In 2009 Molodist faced a dangerous contender: Odesa International Film Festival. Not immediately, but its organizers learned to use the advantages of place and time: the summertime, the seaside city; they also found necessary bonds.
Obviously, it was not the least reason due to which the Directorate of Molodist Festival decided to change the time of the conduct. Last year the festival was first held at the end of May – the beginning of June.
Thus, now we have the second “summer-spring” Molodist. Are there any differences?
Now The Cannes Festival ends exactly day to day with the beginning of Molodist. It means it’s just impossible to take something from there. Odesa is again in charge. It remains only Berlinale (February), Karlovy Vary and Locarno (both – in the summer of the previous year). Actually, films from these forums were shown this year in the competition and out of the competition.
Apparently, there was a problem with the audience. It’s no secret that a significant part of it consisted of students of art universities, mainly Karpenko-Kary University. And just at the end of May, they have the last session days: they don’t have time for movies. Besides, the festival coincides with other events – The International Book Arsenal Festival, Children Cinemafest, City Day. It largely influenced the occupancy rate of the halls.
Despite the fact that out of the competition, there was something to watch, especially with regard to cinematic classics. This is Molodist’s strong side. Finally, it has become possible to see City Slickers – super-successful comedy film directed by Ron Underwood (1991), for the role in which a Hollywood star of Ukrainian origin, Ukrainian patriot Jack Palance (Volodymyr Palagniuk) received his first and the last Oscar. Roman Polanski’s thriller Cul-de-sac, awarded Golden Bear in Berlin in 1966, the author himself considers his best work. Also, few can remember when was the last time they saw an early masterpiece of Federico Fellini, La Strada (1954) on the big screen.
Exquisite and decay picture A Zed & Two Noughts (1985) filmed by Peter Greenaway on the peak of his directing career. Greenaway himself came to Kyiv to receive honourable Scythian Deer award and to hold a master-class called “Cinema is dead, long live the cinema” – the name is his very style. During the last years, he often talks about the death of cinema but continues shooting it. His visit to Kyiv showed that legendary post-modernist is full of creative energy.
No less significant was the 40th anniversary of another famous British author Ridley Scott. It was his Alien in 1978 which forever changed science fiction and gave birth to a separate genre of “cosmic horror”. The Molodist Festival not only showed a restored copy of Sigourney Weaver’s and evil acid monster’s confrontation but also opened in the Dovzhenko Centre a sole exposition of Alien’s creator – Swiss Oscar winner H. R. Giger. The exhibition features both a full-length statue of a monster and a lot of Giger’s drawings and paintings and documentaries about it. And in the MonteRay Club there was a concert of the industrial-rock band The Young Gods, who at one time created the soundtrack for the movie Swiss Made 2069 – the first Giger’s test in the cinema, where, in fact, a character appeared in the likeness of Alien.
Not such a qualitative position was held by the out-of-competition selection of modern festival hits (“Festival of Festivals” in the first place). All in all, it is worth admitting last year’s triumphant Karlovy Vary’s I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (a joint production of Romania, Germany, Bulgaria, France, Czech Republic). His director, 42-year-old Radu Jude, became famous when he won the Silver Bear in Berlin in 2015 for the black-and-white historical drama Bravo!. Actually, Jude shows off in a new Romanian cinema by his interest in controversies of the past.
Meanwhile, I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians is rather a drama about the relationship with history, which is wanted to be figured out by a brave provocateur, feminist, director of large-scale street performance Mariana Marin. For this, she directs the performance-reconstruction of ethnic cleansing carried out by the Romanian army in 1941 on the orders of dictator Ion Victor Antonescu.
It was repeatedly mentioned that France had been involved in the success of the “new Romanians”. Here it is especially sensed: obviously Jude was influenced by the genius of the “new wave” Jean-Luc Godard. But this is an influence, not monkeying. Radu uses a lot of methods of aloofness: in front of us there is an actress, a significant part of the screen time is occupied by the chronicle, archival photographs, excerpts of old films, theatrical-conditional scenes, and also heated ideological controversies. Actually, this is film-discussion which is so engrossing that it is hard to stop watching it. This is what makes this film unique.
Actually, the quality of the festival is measured by the main – feature-length competition. There was a controversial situation two days before handing out awards.
The competition was opened by Journey To A Mother’s Room by Celia Rico Clavellino, a 36-year-old Spanish. Back in the homeland, her picture won Goya Awards (Iberian analogue of Oscar) for Best New Director and Best New Actress (Anna Castillo). The plot unwinds the conflict between mother Estrella and daughter Leonor. The last, as it suits a yesterday’s teen, plans to leave boring home though, at first, she lacks courage. The first wants to keep her dear rebel but she is formally adult.
Clavellino unfolds the plot untypically: with the story development, she rests the focus on Estrella. What happens to parents when children leave them? It turns out to be a good melodrama. This melodrama in the second half of the film becomes somewhat intrusive; on the other hand, two great actors balance it: Anna Castillo – Leonor, Lola Dueñas – mother. Lola Dueñas snagged her glory performing in Alejandro Amenábar’s The Sea Inside and Pedro Almodóvar’s Volver. Pedro Almodóvar’s influence both on directing and the script is absolute – nevertheless, this is not the worst feature for a beginner.
Nina (director – Maria Winther Olsen) is the first cinema product from The Faroe Islands shown in Ukraine. The Faroe Islands, as far as we know, are the part of Denmark with a high degree of autonomy, they have their own language, economics and film production. Nina is a chamber drama with a plot in the spirit of classical theatrical realism. Pregnant writer Nina moves to a remote island with her fiancée William. William is a doctor, and he has to work around the clock. Nina feels lonely and stuck in her writing. Diversity is brought by an occasional meeting with a village priest and a local legend about a woman-seal, who was imprisoned by a tyrant-fisherman to marry her.
First, the film is about women’s strength, about the price of independence, which young intellectual pays. But somewhere closer to the middle, who knows why, the director falls into the intolerable banality of marital betrayal, love triangle, and so on. Apparently disoriented by such a turn, the actors play terribly – in the spirit of soap opera.
The same disaster touched a single Ukrainian participant of the program. The director of Julia Blue, Roxy Rostropovich, by this time worked in a scenery department for Hollywood projects such as I Am Legend (2007), Captain America: The First Avenger (2014) or a series The Punisher (2017-2019). This experience is immediately noticed, in particular, in fact that “the picture”, visual saturation in Julia Blue are rather professional. Difficulties occur in plot development and actors’ work. The protagonist is a student photo-journalist. Once, she meets a young veteran of ATO (Dmytro Yaroshenko) who recently returned from the front line and is being treated in the hospital. Further, Rostopovich tries to find the spark of tension, colliding the line of sentiments and the girl’s will to independence. But again, it turns out to be a typical melodrama with glycerine tears, overlay music, vibrantly reacting actors. A separate story – their language in the frame which is unnatural, not cinematic, namely theatrical intonations, that is why the dialogues don’t have a real emotional depth.
But it was Camille Vidal-Naquet who pictured real personal independence. His Sauvage garnered Rising Star Award at the Critics’ Week in Cannes. The protagonist is Leo, he’s 22, he’s a gay, he virtually lives on the street, earns living through prostitution, has tuberculosis. The clients are various – people with disabilities, tax inspectors, conceited stingy men and dangerous sadists. Meanwhile, he is able to love and enjoy sex. Félix Maritaud is reserved, accurately depicting the sense of constantly compressed spring that can straighten up unexpectedly. Basically, this unexpectedness takes place. Vidal-Naquet skillfully misleads a spectator, imposing an obvious happy-end but then, makes a sharp turn – and here we realize what this story is about – not about the sufferings of a young homosexual man but about freedom since Sauvage is also translated as “free”.
Another share of independence is garnered by a strangled 37-year-old housewife Panayiota (Marisha Triantafyllidou) in Her Job of Greek author Nikos Labôt. She lives with two children, who take her for a free maid and a husband who isn’t in a hurry to find a job but who loves lecturing everybody. And suddenly, absolutely in the spirit of neo-realism, Panayiota finds a job as a cleaner in a shopping mall that becomes a life-changing point. She gets her first earned money, drives for the first time a car, uses a bank card for the first time, finds new friends – Labôt explicitly believes in workers’ and women’s solidarity. Marisha Triantafyllidou is charmingly convincing in this role and her Hellenic Film Academy Award for Best Actress is absolutely deserved. I would like to add that the Ukrainian cinema obviously lacks such films – about the little poor people in the struggle against the daily routine, but we still choose between the war and historical drama.
Yet it seems that the most interesting films of the competition are so-called Bildungsroman – the stories about maturing.
House of Hummingbird (Grand Prix of the Berlinale parallel program Generation 14plus) is a film adaptation of the autobiographical novel by Kim Bora, performed by the author. Time – mid-90s, place – Korea in times of building fever outbreak, the lead character – 14-year-old Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu). She is a real hummingbird, she flies through life, trying to catch more pleasure. Her home – a mixture of prison and madhouse: her parents always argue, sister and brother are no less rude and scandalous. Eun-hee has only her city which brings her forbidden pleasures, first love and the sense of freedom which seems unusual after the long-lasting dictatorship. A girl, who becomes adult too early and a traumatic city – nothing good can happen from this merge but it is difficult to come off from this piercing story.
Former documentary director, 36-year-old Nora Fingscheidt is currently considered one of the main hopes of the German cinema. In Berlinale, it was proved by Silver Bear Alfred Bauer Prize for a film which opens new perspectives in the cinema art. The film matches the title: System Crasher. Its little protagonist – 9-year-old Benni – makes not little troubles (Helena Zengel conducts a titanic work). She is scandalous. Screeching. Endlessly aggressive. Schools and children’s homes boot her out as an embodiment of nightmare. Her mother, soft and compliant, doesn’t know what to do. Nobody knows. Nora Fingscheidt learned in-depth the topic of uncontrolled children. She tests the system of German pedagogy not without humour and stress, worthy of the best thrillers. And – her biggest mastery – love always wins.
The Molodist Festival has not yet finished but one anxious tendency is noticed, that should be spoken out already now. It is tiredness. After all, talking about The Molodist Festival, we, first of all, mean Andriy Khalpakhchi, its constant leader for the past 29 years. It is he who is tired. The whole festival machine lies on his shoulders, his bonds, his charisma. One person can’t make the right decisions all the time. Partial loss of audience is only one of the causes. Possible change of the leadership seems not so remote prospect. Will Molodist overcome it? Will it bring back its spectators? Its charm of cinematographic sensation, the atmosphere of the holiday of youngsters?
Questions are increasing. But they remain unanswered.
Dmytro Desyateryk, The Day – specially for opinionua.com