here (scroll down to read about the content of each film), and reservations are needed only for the opening night program -- Czech Peace (above), after which will come a Q&A with co-director Filip Remunda. (As of now opening night is at capacity, but you might want to check in around performance time to see if any seats open up.)
Czech Center New York and the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York, this third annual series is the brain child of one, Irena Kovarova, independent film programmer and Czech Film Center representative in North America, who is back this year with what might be her best series yet (well, every year's been pretty extraordinary).
TrustMovies has already seen at least half of the 19 films (click the link of each film mentioned, and if I've seen it, my review will open up; if not, you'll get its IMDB page.) That's why I'm so excited about the festival in general: I know how good it is. In the short time I had to prepare this piece, I've managed to watch three films I had not seen and will talk about them briefly below.
THE BLACKS, a 75-minute movie from Croatia, co-directed and co-written by Goran Devic and Zvonimir Juric, is about as dark as the festival will get, I suspect. It deals with a wartime para-military unit that does the dirtiest deeds, and it takes place just after the complete cease-fire has been declared. Beginning in what looks a black-and-white that only gradually and never completely morphs to color, the filmmakers toss us into the middle of things and take us to climax quickly. But then we go back to shortly before what we have just seen. Characters are alive again, and we slowly learn more about each of them. This is an odd tactic that pays off well by forcing us to consider once again how all actions have their consequences. The performances are top-notch, the photography (above) expert, and Devic and Juric excel at their spare dialog, letting just enough of it drop so that we understand and recoil sufficiently. I hope this film will at the very least find its way to DVD. It deserves to be seen, if only for its grave view of the difficulty of decent men being able to live with themselves after having done some very indecent things.
MOTHER TERESA OF CATS (above), written and directed by Pawel Sala, also offers an unusual organizing premise. Each scene takes place before the one that preceded it (the opening moments are something else!) so that we keep moving back in time until several years are accounted for. This is a dysfunctional family movie like no other, because the dysfunction seems so very enormous. And yet, as we travel backwards, the movie begins to seem less and less so, and we come to understand how the piling up of small mistakes can lead to craziness like this. Societal responsibility, parental responsibility and individual responsibility are all given a workout here, and by the end of the movie -- which brings us back to that initial scene -- we have the grim feeling that, while we may now understand, we are yet no wiser than before.
THE HAPPIEST GIRL IN THE WORLD (above and below), directed and co-written (with Augustina Stanciu) by Radu Jude, is from Romania. Which means, most likely, that you already know that its title must be taken as the bleakest of ironies. Surprise: While its title is ironic, the film is also a lot of fun – albeit in a relatively dark way. A family from the country is on its way to the big city to shoot a commercial for an orange drink firm that is giving away a new automobile to the prize winners in its contest. While the daughter has dreams of driving that car to college, mom and dad have other plans for it. Meanwhile, the filmmakers of the commercial and their client demand professional work for our little non-professional heroine, and things go from bad to worse. Jude’s spot-on depiction of the family’s petite bourgeoisie mentality spans three generations (granny remains unseen), and he captures its innate greed and stupidity with a light touch that in no way lessens the reality. You are left with a clear, gritty sense of everyone using everyone else, as well as with intimations of the problem this little country has of letting go of its recent past and learning to stand on its own.
Srdjan Koljevic is coming all the way from Belgrade, while Ioana Uricaru is making a personal appearance from L.A. Meanwhile, don't let these fine films get by you again. If only to see Hungary's Bibliothèque Pascal (above) on the big screen, the even't a must-attend. The Czech Center is located at the Bohemian National Hall, 321 E. 73rd Street, in NYC. Click here for a link to directions.