International Film Festival Rotterdam 2004. All Rights Reserved.  Rotterdam Film Festival 2004

Jaap Mees

Talking Pictures alias






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The 33rd International Film Festival Rotterdam, one of the most important Dutch cultural events, took place from 21 January to 1 February. It attracted an audience of 355,000 people, plus 2436 professionals from the film industry and about 450 International film-journalists.  The three Tiger Awards were won by The Missing from the young Taiwanese director Lee Kang-sheng, Summer in the Golden Valley by the Bosnian filmmaker Srdjan Vuletic and the German film Unterwegs by Jan Kruger.

The important Audience Award went to the Italian film of six hours, La Meglio Gioventu, (The Best Youth) by Marco Tullio Giordana. (See later)

This 33rd edition of the Rotterdam festival, the main Independent festival now in Europe, marked the last year of the Englishman Simon Field, who was the director for the last eight years. He will be succeeded by Sandra den Hamer, co- director with Field for the last two years, she has worked for the festival since 1986, first as assistant of the legendary founder and true Film lover Huub Bals, who died sadly in 1988.

Looking back on eight years of Fieldís directorship itís time for a short balance. His great contributions are the collaborations he initiated with other Rotterdam cultural organisations like Museum Boymans van Beuningen, his introduction of The Filmmakers in Focus Programme, with fascinating diverse filmmakers like Alexander Sokurov, Catherine Breillat, Stan Brakhage, Alain Cavalier and this year the original Chilean filmmaker Raul Ruiz. And last but not least the enormous growth and status of the festival, with record breaking audience numbers.

I have also some criticism on Simon Fieldís programming: keyword for selection this year seems to be films with an unsettling character (ďverontrustendĒ in Dutch), controversial, cool and nihilistic films seem to have his preference over more vulnerable, valuable and constructive films. Examples of this choice are Fieldís opening film Zatochi by the trendy Japanese Kitano Takeshi and the scandal film Anatomy of Hell by the French filmmaker Catherine Breillat, an honest film-director, but with quite a limited sexual scope.  Do these films really need a festival like Rotterdam to find an audience? I donít think so.  I doubt it also whether a more subtle film like Stranger Than Paradise by Jim Jarmusch, would have been selected under Field, if this film was made now. The strength of typical Rotterdam films is that they are fiercely Independent, highly original, unconventional and self- willed. Particularly the small and maybe not yet perfectly realised Independent films need a platform like Rotterdam. It was the strength of Huub Bals to foresee potential genuine film talent, a quality none of his successors possesses (Marco Muller, Emile Fallaux, and Simon Field) in the same intuitive way as he.   In an interview with The Dutch Filmkrant, Field says, however: ďsome forms of cinema are comparable with poetry. These are marginal, but also very beautiful, clear and intense. Itís our task to keep these films on the agenda.Ē Another point of much heard criticism on Fields policy is the fact that he doesnít speak any Dutch and hardly knows anything of Dutch film, this after eight years directorship. To end on a positive note: his wide, eclectic taste and flexible character has done Rotterdam a lot of good and he will stay involved in the selection Committee of the Hubert Bals Fund, a Festival slot, which helps funding cinema in the developing countries.

The next step for Field will be collaboration with the respected cultural British producer Keith Griffith in production and distribution of Independent films on DVD.

Sandra den Hamer. International Film Festival Rotterdam 2004. All Rights Reserved.His successor Sandra den Hamer sees herself more as a chief editor who supervises a team of programmers with each their own specialism, not so different from now, but with more responsibility for those involved. Hopefully she will, from time to time refresh this team of programmers/editors, to give Rotterdam the necessary new ideas and perspectives.

Now to the films of 2004: 

Here follows a list of my selection of most interesting films, most of them will probably be seen in the UK.

FATHER AND SON by Alexander Sokurov, Russia /Germany.

This is the second part of a family trilogy, which started with the beautiful and profound Mother and Son in 1996.

Itís a classical Sokurov film mythical, lyrical and mysterious.  Father and son share an apartment, were they live in an intimate world of memories and everyday rituals. Sokurov is back in his poetic, unique style of filmmaking after the successful one- steady- cam -shot film Russian Ark in the Hermitage, which conquered the world, even America.

TWENTY ONE GRAMS by Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu, Mexico, VS.

Twenty One Grams. International Film Festival Rotterdam 2004. All Rights Reserved.After his brilliant debut AMORES PERROS, Inarritu makes his first American film with stars like Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro and Naomi Watts. Unusual characters are intertwined during a car crash, an University lecturer (Sean Penn) is suffering from a fatal heart disease and is on the waiting list for a transplant. Christina (Naomi Watts) is a former party girl and drug addict who leads now a calm family life. Jack, (Del Toro) is a former ex- president, who seeks redemption in religion. The title is derived from the idea that when a body dies, it loses 21 gram of weight, it is believed that this means the leaving of the soul.

BALLO A TRE PASSI, (Three Steps dancing), Salvatore Mereu, Italy.

A fine debut film by Salvatore Mereu, who studied at the National School of Cinema in Rome. He is inspired by neo-realistic filmmakers like Roberto Rosselini and Vittorio and Paolo Taviani.

Set in Sardinia, the film is divided into four episodes that match the four seasons. In Spring four young boys see the sea for the first time in their life. In Summer a shepherd falls in love with a sexy French pilot, played by Caroline Dulcey from Romance. In Autumn a young nun returns to her village for a wedding. And in Winter an old man wanders around the city looking for a prostitute, takes her home, but dies happily before going to bed with her. The film is poetic and has the same authentic regional colour as last yearís Italian festival hit Respiro.

DEPUIS QUE OTAR EST PARTI (Since Otar left); France/ Belgium.

Julie Bertucelli makes a beautiful and moving first feature after assistantships with Kieslowski and Iosseliani. She made shorts and documentaries before and studied philosophy and documentary. Itís about three generation of women who are left behind in Tblisi, Georgia, with their ambitions and illusions. Among them a lovely old Granny in her nineties.  One day they get a call from Paris, her son Otar (named after Iosseliani!) has died in an accident. Her daughters donít want to tell her the bad news, because they think she canít cope with it. One of the purest and most wonderfully acted debut films of the year.  Highly recommended.

LA MEGLIO GIOVENTU (THE BEST YOUTH), by Marco Tullio Giordana, Italy.

A very interesting and ambitious project of six hours about the last forty years of recent Italian history told through the eyes of two very different brothers, Nicola and Matteo.  First produced as a mini series for RAI TV. We see the brothers developing from left wing idealistic students in the Sixties, to respectively becoming a psychiater and a policeman. Important Italian political and social  facts like the killing of Maffia opponent Giovanni Falcone, the economic recession, the Italian world-championship football in 1982 etc. are seen through their eyes, so the brotherís development run parallel with important happenings in the Italian society. 

Director Giordana emphasises the psychological and personal side of his characters and his film has a certain mildness and wisdom. The title comes from both an anthology of poems by Pasolini and also an old Italian Alpine song. This film will go far.

ARSENY TARKOVSKY, ETERNAL PRESENCE, Viacheslav Amirkhanian, Russia.

This is a special documentary made by Amirkhanian who looked after Arseny Tarkovski in this poetsís last years. He is  the father of the renowned filmmaker Andrei Tarkovski. Viacheslav  shot many hours of film and took photographs during this time, later on he added other material to make this film. Tarkovsky Sr was never published during the Stalin years, his first book, Before The Snow,  appeared in 1962 under Chrushev.

For Viacheslav Amirkhanian the film is about how to be yourself, he thinks the life of Tarkovsky  is a lesson in loyalty and determination.
CE JOUR LA (That Day) by Raul Ruiz, France/ Switzerland.

Black comedy from the highly original and very productive Chilean Filmmaker in Focus Raul Ruiz, who lives in Paris. A true surrealist, whose  very fascinating La Temps Perdu based on Marcel Proustís famous novel was shown in Rotterdam last year. Two contrasting characters meet, the gorgeous Elsa Zylberstein plays a society bitch who meets up with an serial killer, played by Bernard Girardeau,  just escaped from prison, who is hired to make an end to  her life. An unpredictable romance develops.  Typical Ruiz territory. 

DAME LA MANCO, Heddy Honigman, The Netherlands.

After her vibrant, humane  and moving music film The Underground Orchestra about 
street-musicians in Paris,  Heddy Honigman returns to the theme of music. This time she portrays authentic Cuban exile music in a tiny restaurant in New York. This sparkling documentary sketches a profound portrait  of the Cuban community, for them the Rumba is a way to survive. Honigman comes from Peru, she studied filmmaking in Amsterdam and made several Award winning documentaries, shorts and features. She would have been a much better candidate, in my view, for the recently awarded Bert Haanstra Dutch Film Culture Price, than Paul Verhoeven. 

In his last film festival in 1988 founder Huub Bals made a list of Twenty Filmmakers Of The Future: Wim Wenders, Jim Jarmusch, Chen Kaige, Hou Hsiao Hsien, Cisse, Greenaway, Carax, Frears, Paradjanov, Yanagimachi, Lynch, Iosselliani,Scorsese, Akerman, Demme, Ruiz, Kieslowski, Moretti, Immamura and Eric Rohmer.  Interesting to see how many filmmakers of this list are still going strong after 16 

My tips for the Rotterdam Filmmakers in Focus for 2005 are: Edward Yang, Taiwan (A One and A Two); Cedrick Klapisch, France (When the Cat is Away) and Pavel Pavlikowski, Poland /UK (Last Resort).

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