Monday, April 4, 2011

DISAPPEARING ACT III opens with another roster of fine European films -- all FREE!

It's an eight-day week for film buffs, beginning this Wednesday, April 6 and running through Thursday, April 14. During that time, plan to catch up on 19 of the finest films of the last year or so, some of which (Come Undone, Everyone Else, The Father of My Children, Home, Lourdes and Me Too)  had very limited theatrical runs, others not at all, and at least two of which, Bibliothèque Pascal and The Blacks represented their respective countries (Hungary and Croatia) for Best Foreign Language Film in this year's Oscar race. Others have graced the festival circuit, drawing much praise (Tales from the Golden Age, a still from which is shown above), and a couple (The Girl, Troubled Water) are from Scandinavia, which, I am told, is part of Northern Europe. So, then, all of the films are from Europe -- with an accent on the continually creative Eastern block.

My headline also mentions another amazing feature: All these films are shown free, and in a pleasant, comfortable auditorium with good projection facilities. What not to like? If you earlier let any of the already-released films go by, here's the chance to see them on the big screen.  As for the others, why not discover a good film and a noteworthy director on your own? The entire program can be found 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.)

Presented jointly by the 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.

The Polish movie 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.

As usual, with this series, there will be one evening devoted to a panel discussion on the state of foreign film here in the U.S. This year's is titled Sub-titled Cinema Initiative and the panel will include Carlos A. Gutiérez, of Cinema Tropical, Oana Radu, deputy director of the Romanian Cultural Center in New York, Delphine Selles-Alvarez, cinema program officer of the Cultural Services of the French Embassy, and John C. Woo, executive director of Asian Cine-Vision. These panel discussion are always fascinating and full of good information, including the Audience Q&A that follows. This year's panel discussion will take place on Monday, April 11, at 6:30pm.

Also , as usual this year certain directors will be in attendance: 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.

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