Fri, 02 Jan 2004


European Film Festival spans cultures, generations

Fabio Scarpello, Contributor, Jakarta

After an 8-day cinematographic, feast the European Film Festival drew to a close on Dec. 17, and no sooner had the final applause in the Goethe Haus and Erasmus Huis subsided than the time for a critical evaluation started.

Based on the artistic value of the films and the attendance registered at the three venues, the organizers can rightly be satisfied, but small hiccups always happen and this festival was not an exception.

However, a printing error in the pamphlet timetable (promptly amended) and problems with the English subtitles in a couple of the movies are minor blunders when set against the amount of work involved in having 25 movies and short features shipped over from Europe and shown twice in different venues on different dates.

A short-lived disappointment was the absence of Respiro, the eagerly awaited film by Crialese, "due to the film's delayed departure from Damascus where it closed another European Film Festival" as stated by Prof Ostelio Remi, director of the Italian Cultural Center who -- to make it up to the audience and supported by his colleagues -- will show it on Jan. 5 at the Goethe Haus and Jan. 8 at the Erasmus Huis.

But Respiro substitutes Cento passi (Hundred steps) by Marco Tullio Giordana (Best European Film and Best Screenplay at the Brussels International Film Festival 2001), which was shown at the Erasmus Huis, and La stanza del figlio (The son's room) by Nanni Moretti (winner of the Palm D'or at Cannes in 2001), which was shown at the Goethe Haus, turned out to be two memorable movies in their own right and appeased the audience.

In the midst of a critical evaluation, the writer cannot claim to be free of mistakes either: the protagonist of Il Mestiere delle armi is (of course) Giovanni De Medici and not Lorenzo as wrongly reported and kindly pointed out by Mr. Francesco Alzeni.

On a lighter note, on the whole the films lived up to expectations and proved that art and entertainment can go hand in hand.

Still, cinema remains a subjective medium open to various readings where no one can claim to hold the keys of absolute truth. But since I am paid for my opinion, among the last films Chopin-Desire for love and Samia walk away with the honors. I cannot fail to mention the eight short films presented by Germany, that with one each from Germany, Poland, Finland, England, Holland, France and two from Austria, represent a European Festival of Short Movies within a European Film Festival.

Chopin-Desire for Love by Jerzy Antczak (Poland, winner of the Gold Award for Best Cinematography and the Platinum Award for Best Drama at the Houston Film Festival 2003) is a film about love and misunderstandings, but is not only a love story.

It tells of the eight-year-long love affair between Frederick Chopin and George Sage, and in the process it underlines the need for love of Sage's dysfunctional family.

At the end no one feels really loved and no one is really understood. Not Chopin, forced to leave Nohant, Sage's country estate; nor Sage herself, who slowly withdraws, nor Sage's daughter and son Solange and Maurycy. Both feel neglected by their mother and react differently: Solange grows to love Chopin herself and enters into open competition with her mother, while Maurycy channels his artistic frustrations in open hostility for the composer and his genius.

Antczak spent 25 years writing the screenplay and six years raising the budget. With all this work behind him, it is not coincidence that nothing is rushed in this 134 minute movie. Frames are painstakingly created and juxtaposed to create a visual representation of the period and of the incomprehension of two volatile lovers and their close associates. Fifty four pieces of music by Chopin - personally selected by the director - complement the story and dictate the moods of what is a truly beautiful composition.

Samia by Philippe Faucon (France, winner of the Amiens International Film Festival 2000), is neither a cinematographic masterpiece nor an untold story, but just a story told with a realism that involves the viewer. It is a neutral, passive representation of the world where there is minimal interference by the director with the object-subject represented. The film's faithfulness to natural reality is the dominant aesthetic criterion, and it is in this authenticity that it has its strength and depth.

Following Samia and her family, the director talks about racism. Racism against this Algerian family in Marseille and the racism within the family against the French.

Still, it is all done (almost) in a documentary style, with a hand-held camera, without close ups, without dramatizations and without taking subjective positions. Faucon tells it the way it is without offering a solution, and then he leaves it to the audience to draw conclusions.

The enigmatic end is the last and most important "touch" of impartiality. Will Samia return from Algeria? Will her mother side with her against her abusive brother? Will everything just carry on the way it was?

The cultural differences, the drama of being caught within "a clash of civilizations", and the family conflict between an older and a younger generation that cannot understand each other any longer are very effectively portrayed by a cast of non- professional actors, themselves immigrants and (in the case of the brother) unemployed.