While the focus of critical discovery in international cinema continues in such far-flung arenas as Southeast Asia (especially South Korea), the Middle East (particularly Iran), and Africa, a new generation of important directors emerges still on the European continent. We take this opportunity to survey the cinematic landscape there by offering a number of new films that may help us to reassess what has been, in recent years, an oddly neglected slice of the world’s cinematic production.
The program for this year’s festival was assembled with the generous assistance of Claudia Hahn-Raabe and Christine Kodis of the Goethe Institut, Boston; Eric Jausseran at the Consulate of France in Boston; Dino Siotis from the office of the Consulate General of Greece; Piero De Masi, Consul General of Italy; Evelyne Laeger of the Consulate of Switzerland; Rita Ajileye from the General Consulate of Portugal; and Teresa M. Evans of the office of the British Consulate General.
December 7 (Friday) 7 pm
Directed by Danny Boyle
United Kingdom 2001, video, color, 72 min.
With Christopher Eccleston, Genna G, Stephen Walters
After a foray in Hollywood, Danny Boyle returns, with a script by British playwright Jim Cartwright (Little Voice), to the gritty, frenetic verve of his Shallow Grave and Trainspotting. Made for BBC films and lensed by acclaimed cinematographer Anthony Dod Mantle (The Celebration), the film recalls the punk ethos and grimy despair of the Thatcher epoch. Strayman (Eccleston), a street poet followed everywhere by a baying pack of dogs, interrupts the karaoke sessions at his local pub to deliver hard-edged, free-verse rants. After rescuing a shy, homeless girl (Manchester music celebrity Genna G), who soon provides musical accompaniment to his poetry, the pair hook up with a local entrepreneur and set off to London with the ambition of putting on an offbeat musical. Described as “the off-kilter progeny of A Hard Day’s Night, The Great Rock and Roll Swindle, and Naked,” Strumpet is a kinetic lampoon of the contemporary creative scene.
December 7 (Friday) 8:45 pm
December 14 (Friday) 9:30 pm
Directed by Sébastien Lifshitz
France 2001, 35mm, color, 85 min.
With Stéphane Bouquet
French with English subtitles
Stéphane Bouquet, a friend and
colleague of French director Sébastien Lifshitz, never knew his father:
an American soldier in the French-based NATO forces who left without
knowing he had sired a child. Thirty-three years later Bouquet and
Lifschitz embark on a journey to America in which the quest for the
imagined father becomes the basis for the son’s increasingly internal
reality. Along the way, Lifshitz’s film becomes a road movie—suspended
somewhere between documentary and fiction—where we encounter the mythic
America itself as a succession of deserted downtowns, abandoned houses,
and roadkill. The Crossing received its world premiere at the Director’s
Fortnight at the 2001 Cannes Film Festival; it’s director, Sébastien
Lifshitz, is a protégé of French filmmaker Claire Denis.
December 8 (Saturday) 7 pm
Directed by Knut Erik Jensen
Norway/Sweden 2001, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With members of the Berlevåg Male Choir
Norwegian with English subtitles
Winner of both best film and best documentary awards at the Norwegian International Film Festival, Knut Erik Jensen’s self-described “docu-musical” has become an international phenomenon on the festival scene. Known for his formally austere and challenging features Stella Polaris and Burnt by Frost, Jensen makes a 180-degree turn here by focusing on the members of the Berlevåg Male Choir, a group of older, working-class men from a depressed northern fishing village. Though their incomes have been hit by successive closures of fisheries, the rehearsals and occasional public performances they share provide a psychic balm and emotional shelter. Jensen shows the group on a tour to Murmansk, Russia, performing to wildly applauding Russians, and laces his depiction with humor and touching meditations on nature, human resilience, and the power of music.
December 8 (Saturday) 9 pm
Directed by Danny Boyle
United Kingdom 2001, video, color, 75 min.
With Timothy Spall, Michael Begley, Katy Cavanagh
Returning to digital video, again with a script by Jim Cartwright, Danny Boyle creates another tale of hilarious, chaotic characters living in a dystopic, English urban landscape. The film centers on the maniacal Tommy Rag (Spall), a crazed and sleazy vacuum salesman powered by the adrenaline rush of getting a housewife’s signature on a contract, and his unlikely mentorship to the shy apprentice salesman Pete (Begley), who is denied sex by his stripper girlfriend until he makes his first sale. The velocitized stylistic texture, extreme closeups, deviant angles, and forced perspectives work in concert to profile the actors’ bravura performances in this irreverently innovative blow to the status quo.
December 9 (Sunday) 8 pm
Directed by Esther Gronenborn
Germany 2000, 35mm, color, 86 min.
With Jana Pallaske, Frank Droese, Toni Blume
German with English subtitles
Alaska.de is an acute portrayal of
German teenagers struggling with contemporary suburban life in the former
East Berlin. The project grew out of an influential music video Esther
Gronenborn made that dealt with violence in the schools, and out of the
contact established with two youth gangs who were filmed for it. To create
the oppressive atmosphere of the setting, Gronenborn avoids showing the
green areas of the city; a heavy yellow suitcase is the only colorful
thing in this dreary world, dominated by an endless variety of gray,
uninviting concrete skyscrapers and streets. Amateur actors and a
documentary style of searing intensity lend an immediacy to the story of
love and violence that erupts among a group of three teenagers. Gronenborn
received the German Film Award for Outstanding Individual Achievement and
the Bavarian Film Award for this first feature film.
December 13 (Thursday) 7 pm
Directed by Joaquim Leitão
Portugal 1999, 35mm, color, 120 min.
With Joaquim de Almeida, Nicolau Breyner, Ana Burstorff
Portuguese with English subtitles
Ten middle-aged men who fought together in Angola in the 1970s, during the most violent phase of the Portuguese colonial war, get together each year at a restaurant in the country to dine, drink too much, and reassert their camaraderie. This year, however, the reunion turns dark and violent, and the men face a last mission that brings back old traumas and forgotten instincts. This narratively complex thriller from Portugal’s leading director employs a fine ensemble cast to provide nerve-shredding suspense and psychological depth.
December 13 (Thursday) 9:30 pm
Directed by Riccardo Signorell
Switzerland 2001, 35mm, color, 85 min.
With Antonia Beamish, Siegfried Terpoorten, Zoé Mikuleczky
German and English with English subtitles
Young Swiss director Riccardo Signorell worked in animation, documentary, and short films before moving into feature work. Scheherazade, his second effort, is a taut psychological drama of family intrigue set aboard the luxury yacht of a family patriarch, a successful commodities trader. Into the celebration of his daughter’s eighteenth birthday enters her brother, with his English gallerist girlfriend and a German banker in tow. As a conflict between father and son emerges, a champagne-induced game of truth or dare ensues, with suggestions of dark family secrets. The film was nominated for a Golden Leopard award at the 2001 Locarno Film Festival.
December 14 (Friday) 7 pm
Somewhere between the cinematic purists and studio-based technophiles, there is a flock of low-budget independent filmmakers who are experimenting with an eclectic arsenal of devices with which to render their personal visions. Athina Tsangari, a native of Athens, is one such maker, who works with superimposed images, numbers and words, video, looped soundtracks, and animation to create a new language of cinema. Her film revolves around the young and attractive Petra (Martinez), whom we follow as she travels the world—with a rocking chair strapped to her back—in search of experiences to record for the mysterious “Global Nomad Project.” A film about personal identity, the dissolution of borders, and the place of the individual in the modern world, Tsangari’s first feature is an ambitious salute to genres as varied as the spy-thriller and slapstick comedy.
December 15 (Saturday) 7 pm
Director in Person
Directed by Fred Kelemen
Germany 1997–98, 16mm, color, 203 min.
With Paul Blumberg, Anna Schmidt, Mario Gericke
German with English subtitles
The second feature by innovative young German filmmaker Fred Kelemen, Frost focuses on the plight of a woman who flees an abusive relationship with her lover and takes their seven-year-old son on a journey back to her childhood home in the countryside in the former East Germany. Leaving their basement apartment on Holy Night, the pair seek refuge in the east only to encounter a frozen landscape filled with abandoned homes, a church in ruins, and people who refuse them shelter. Incorporating highly realistic acting, the film seems to unfold in real time as Kelemen tracks his exiles through both the psychic and physical landscape of contemporary Germany. Frost premiered at the Berlin Film Festival and received the Fipresci Prize at the Rotterdam Film Festival.