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Alex Deleon is a festival ambassador with portal and
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1.TROMSO, January --
A fantastic place to open the festival year if you love snow and don't mind fifteen minutes of daylight, MAX January. That was just a joke, folks -- by late January you get almost a whole hour of sunlight -- around eleven AM -- but really, who needs it? ...when fest topper, irrepressible Norskie-American MARTHA OTTE, is guaranteed to provide a slate of such interesting films that you'll spend the whole time in the dark anyway.
The trophy guest of the fest this year was the bearded English imp, Mike Leigh, here to present his multi-prize winning film "Vera Drake", a very good film indeed -- in fact, let's face it, one of the year's best. One of the best Norwegian films was "A Enemy of the People", directed by local boy Erik Skjoldberg, and based on the famous Ibsen play, but updated to the present and set in magnificent fjord scenery. There were several Xlnt Swedish entries, as well as a balanced selection of international fare and the general upbeat atmosphere which always prevails when you get this far north -- six degrees above the Arctic circle, to be exact!

2. BUDAPEST, Hungarian film week, early February.
-- NOTHING -- A bad year for Hungarian cinema and even veteran Lojas Koltai's breathlessly awaited "FATELESS", based on Imre Kertesz's nobel prize winning concentration camp novel, was a big disappointment. The film immediately traveled to Berlin where the reception was also lukewarm.
(NOTE: It got a better reception later in New York)

3. BERLIN, mid February. One of the best Berlin years in recent memory -- many many winners, among them a feature length documentary on Nazi propaganda minister Goebbels, an eye-opening American documentary entitled "The Protocols of Zion", the Mitterand biopic "Le Promeneur du Champ de Mars" with a magnificent portrayal by Michel Bouquet, "Kinsey", starring a most convincing Liam Neeson in the title role, and the marvelous South African version of Carmen "U-Carmen e-Khayelitsha", sung entirely in the Xhosa click language -- the film which most deservedly took the Golden Bear. One out-and-out piece of crap, however, needs to be mentioned, "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou", an incredibly stupid, unfunny comedy, starring Bill Murray and a bunch of other big name actors. How this one passed Berlin selection muster is beyond belief -- but then, no festival is perfect.

4. ROUEN Festival of Nordic Cinema, March.
Eric Clausen's remarkable new Danish psychological tragi-comedy "VILLA PARANOIA" turned out to be the discovery and the main event of the fest, and picked up a gaggle of prizes in Rouen and elsewhere within just a few days. Eric stars, directs and does just about everything else in a film which goes straight into my Best Ten of the year. But, chicken lovers beware -- (lottsa unkind to chickens footage). Strong performance also by mainstay Danish actress, Sonja Richter. A truly off-beat and exceptional film.
Several Belgian films were also impressive, as well as a number of old Scandy docs about Polar expeditions which put you right there. It's always an interesting selection in Rouen with discoveries every day of films you would never see anywhere else -- a favorite festival of mine for this very reason, but the main festival organizer, Norwegian-Francaise Isabelle Duault, is a kind of pouting, chain-smoking bitch, who acts like she's doing you the biggest favor in the world for letting you attend her festival, and who is best avoided during the fest itself. The Hotel Cardenal in the shadow of the Monet Cathedrale, is a winner -- especially my room right over the square with the tricolor draped over the balcony, and the Café PAUL below, with automatic player piano, is a classic straight out of a Too-Loose Low-Treck poster -- This time I also took in the Art Museum at Le Havre -- marvelous -- and the Eric Satie museum in Honfleur across the Seine estuary -- by car with eccentric locale cinephile Patric (Duchamp) Marchal -- Such a lovely city (think French Sausalito) -- it's worth any excuse to visit and hang out in for a week -- loaded with good used book stores, restaurants and coffee houses with bay views, and dont forget Marcel Duchamp ...

5. ISTANBUL, April.
The Hotel Buyuk Londra, the most amazing cheap hotel in the world, with an ancient lobby loaded with cackling parrots and a most interesting clientele from the Four Corners -- is in itself worth a visit to Istanbul. Then the nearby Fish Market will make your mouth and eyes water from stem to stern. The bustling walking street of Istiklal with an ancient trolley car right in the middle is one of the great walking streets of the world -- along with Stroget in Copenhagen and a few others -- and then there was Ivana, the young blond Croatian bombshell in a baseball cap from the Zagreb film festival, who is on a trip of her own and is a trip in herself -- The Bosphorus boat party with all the stars and VIPs and more food 'n you could shake a stick at -- which is where I met Ivana and the Irish director Jim Sheridan and his wife -- and the belly-dancing TV lady from last year in Bursa -- whatta trip she is! -- and Biggstar Harvey Keitel (his canned speech --"I'd like to have a drink with each and every one of you" -- went over big with the local fans) -- the main-event guests of the fest, were Harv, and Jane Campion, New Zealand director of "The Piano" --good lookin lady with solid underpinning -- she topped the jury, charmed everyone, and was very accessible at parties. But no films that really stand out -- maybe because I was having too much fun otherwise --I'll hafta check my files --
Also -- Two Operas in Turkey, Donizetti's rarely performed BELISSARIO in Istanbul -- and Don whutchamacallum -- (not Carlo, and not Giovanni) -- Ah -- Pasquale! -- in Ankara, a beautiful capitol city. Many NBA basketball games on TV at my hotel in Ankara while smoking the grass of Istanbul. Fun! Turkey shouldn't join the European Union --The European Union should join Turkey!

Non-Jewish Armenian Serge Avdekian's amazing concentration camp Animation film, "Ligne de Vie" (The Line of Life) was technicaly striking and unforgettable in every way. A small gem with a heavy message. "Yadvebne" was a feature length documentary about a Polish (unaided by any Germans) Pogrom on the Jews in that city, a tale long swept under the rug in Poland. Extremely powerful. Margerete von Trotte's film, "Rosenstrasse" about the German women who saved their Jewish husbands in WW II Berlin played to a totally packed house and was one of the highlights of the fest. In general, festival organizer Miroslav Chojecki has, for the second straight year, come up with an original selection of films on the Jewish motif of a kind not to be seen elsewhere. The new venue, the venerable KINO MURANOW on the edge of the former Ghetto, is a big improvement over the House of Culture venue of the festival's first outing in 2004. Andrzej Wajda, the dean of living Polish film directors, is a big promoter of this festiva and was a constant presence. One evening I was lucky enough to have coffee with him and his wife in the cinema lobby.
The festival hotel on Plac Konstitucja was quite comfortable and well located. I think Warsaw is my favorite Euro City -- I just feel good there. Don't ast me why --I dunno ...maybe it's because I sense the Yiddish forever embedded in the sidewalks of Marszalkowska ... and know that back in 1921 my then eleven year old future mother walked those sidewalks with my Grandfather on the way to America --

7. KRAKOW Festival of shorts and documentaries, late May. Nothing stands out. The small downtown hotel provided was quite nice and user friendly. I didn't see very many films this year, but hung out at the hotel much of the time shmoozing with fest guest Maysles at the Kinoo Kijow balcony, and catching up on writing at the hotel, as the weather was shitty and the selection less compelling than in previous years. But the the overall scene was o-kay, as usual, with the now de rigeur closing party at the modernistic Japanese art museum, MANGHA, overlooking the river.

8. LOCARNO, August --
A comprehensive Orson Welles Retro, as director, actor, and object of studies by other directors, was the center-piece of the fest. The 1957 contemporary western drama, "Man in the Shadow", starring Jeff Chandler as an incorruptible sherrif up against a most evil rancher played by Orson Welles, was one of the best films of the fest -- the kind of film where you leave the theater saying "they just don't make 'em like that anymore". On the giant screen in the Piazza Grande a horrible retrospective of Terry Gillian bullshit unfolded nightly sending many viewers scurrying to the pizza stands. In my book, Gilliam is to be avoided like the Plague -- However, the gripping Indian film on opening night in the piazza was a definite winner -- basically a biopic of one of the first heroes who resisted the British occupation of India in the mid 1800s. Grand scale battle scenes and very good acting. Hope I have the name of that one written down somewhere. Food-wise, just about the only culinary bargain at the height of the summer season in this Alpine lakeside tourist trap is the great pizza at a very popular pizzeria just off the main square. After the nauseating pizza of Budapest, I found this place to be a rare treat and subsisted mainly om Pizza throughout the festival --Pizza and Orson Welles.
As for accommodations and lodging ... After getting quite a run-around of one night stands, here at the height of the tourist season (one night I actually had to sleep on the beach) I finally scored a reasonably priced villa hotel at the top of the funicular cable car. Great views -- good food -- very comfortable bed, one drawback... The last cable car goes up the hill at 8 PM -- therefore I had to forego many late shows I would have liked to attend. At the closing party I met actress Alexandra Stewart who barely remembered that I had once done an interview with her (circa 1975) in California when she was the live-in consort of Louis Malle. Tant pis. She hasn't aged very well but still has that distinctive profile with the perfectly straight Roman nose. The weather was wonderful most of the time and the Italian grace of Locarna very captivating. I'll go back -- it was fun!

9. GDYNIA POLISH FILM WEEK, early september:
Nice room at the Dom Marynarza (Mariners' House) on the beach. Zanussi's latest, "PERSONA NON GRATA", handsomely filmed in Uruguay by ace cameraman Edward Klosinski, was the big number but I didn't care for it -- the press conference was better than the film. There wasn't as much social action this year as usual. The opening party on the hill with Jolanta Rayzacher of the Polish Film Promotion Agency, my oldest friend in Poland, was the only social event I attended, but it's always fun to knock the vodka back with her -- Whatta woman! -- Jacek Bromski's "Uzala" film set in the taiga on the Chinese border, was kind of a bore -- There was no one real standout, and several disappointments from touted directors, but I didn't see everything -- mighta missed some goodies -- The ladies on the bench by the sea on the last day were fun ... spent a whole afternoon with them -- Then caught a plane straight from Gdynia to Bilbao, via Frankfurt --and a bus from there to Donostia --back in Basque land and glad to be here -- the other place in Europe where I really feel at home --Ekarikkasco -- Thank-you -- after Warsaw ...

10. SAN SEBASTIAN. 2nd TIME -- and LOVED IT! -- Good Festival, Good Hotel -- and a complete ROBERT WISE Retrospective -- Wise died on the 14th of September, literally on the eve of the festival, so he was obviously unable to attend, but the Wise retro was the best Package there,
I saw three Wises (shoulda seen more!) -- all winners --"Somebody up dere likes me" (1956)-- arguably the best thing Newman ever did, "The HINDENBURG" (1975) -- incredible early Nazi era reconstruction with Geo. C. Scott at the top of his game -- and "Run Silent Run Deep", (1958), a submarine drama in which "Gable and Lancaster make the seas boil". The last one I saw on getaway day was "Queen Christiana" (1933) the archetypal Garbo film, with the icy Swede at her best, altho I'm not a Garbo fan. There were several good competition films --"Drabet" from Denmark, and especially "SUMMER IN BERLIN" (VOR DEM BALKON) with that incredible Nadia Uhl -- one of my Best Ten pix of the year --- and she, one of the best actresses. Altogether an XLNT five star festival. The image of Hitchcock on his hundreth birthday anniversary was everywhere to be seem, including on the official festival bag, which easily wins the Oscar for the Best Festival Bag of the Year! The winning film from Czech Republic was actually a loser -- and heavily pooh-poohed in the Spanish press -- but then, no festival is perfect, although, frankly Scarlett, San Sebastian comes pretty damn close!

11. FROM SAN SAB, STRAIGHT TO HAMBURG -- (VIA BILBAO and FRANKFURT) to meet Ben Geissler and consult with him on his Messina screenplay. Stayed at my usual, INSTANT SLEEP hostel in Schulterblatt -- Breakfasts at "Unter den Linden", one of the best terrasse cafes in Europe. A number of good films, but the standout was Ben Becker's one man show "Ein Ganz gewöhnlicher Jude" (A very ordinary Jew", 2005) -- about a Jewish German journalist who is asked to address a group of young German students on "what it means tio be a Jew in Germany today" and then agonizes over whether to accept the invitation or not. Amazing performance by Becker --spellbinding! This one I MUST RECOMMEND to Chojecki for the next Jewish Motifs fest in Warsaw. Another candidate for my Best Ten list, without a doubt. I also caught an unusual opera at the Hamburg Opera House, Hindemith's "MATHIS DER MALER" -- very good one in fact, (with SUSAN ANTHONY!) and I had an xlnt seat at this very modernized glitzy opera emporium. Hamburg is rapidly becoming one of my favorite cities. Good food, good bookstores, good lake views, good particle accelerators at DESY, good transportation system, good people, lotta ganja -- who could ask for anything more? (puff-puff)

12. VALLADOLID: In the brown Spainish heartland NW of Madrid --
This was an important new addition to my festival repertoire and I was very comfortable at the Hotel Roma -- smack in the center of town in the walking streets section, a block from Plaza Mayor and the Ayuntamiento. Five scattered film venues: I ended up spending most of my time at the one nearest my hotel, altho I did catch a couple of events at the festival showcase, Teatro Calderon. Flew in from Vienna via Barcelona and the flight itself was unusual over the brown plains of Northern Castilla y Leon to this remote outback airport. 99.4 % pure Spanish city --once the heartland of Franco Spain, but for fifty years the home of this very special International film festival --I'll givvit Four Stars **** and make it an every year visit from now on! Also met some interesting filmmakers --two guys from Australia, one, Mark Bliss, a Czech immigrant with a hair-raising story a mile long, the other one, Anthony, who is an extremely talented young cat (24) of Greek origin (kai milae poly kala ellinika!) and is definitely going places -- his short film about Afgan immigrnts to Australia was terrific --really good. Fest opened with a disappointing shot from Costa-Gavras (Le Couperet), but many good Spanish features -- especially the up-roarious, rip-roaring, side splitting screamer of a comedy, "EL CRIMEN FERPECTO" (The ferpect crime) by Alex Iglesias and starring one of the funniest guys I've ever seen -- Guillermo something. I'll get the names straight later, but this was simply the rib-ticklingest film I've seen in years -- Naturalmente, at the top of my Best Ten list of the year. Incidentally, Ang Lee's FUCKABEES MOUNTAIN was also there -- and was impressive in its own way -- especially the mountain scenery and the actor Heath Ledger -- but for some reason it struck me as just a twist too phoney and forced (wazato-rashii is the Japanese word that comes to mind) -- like too much message or emphasis on making a point -- that this is "just a love story" which it is not 'just' at fucking all! It's a fukkin story about two closet faggots, and Basta -- definitely a major picture, but I mighta liked it better if it hadn't arrive so hyped up in the media as some kind of super masterpiece -- which in my book it ain't -- in spite of all the Plittickly-kreck critics who have been eulogizing it to high heaven as if their lives or jobs depended on it -- One of the better films of the year, yes -- I won't say it isn't -- but it goes into my SECOND BEST ten, because I SAW TOO MANY OTHER GOOD MOVIES THIS YEAR -- so Angst Lee checks in on my Best TWENTY list somewhere in the Second Ten -- Sorry bout that, all you serious critters --er --critics out there...

AND FINALLY FOLKS: Numbuh thur-teen -- and Here we are in Freezing Fukkin Firenze still absorbing the fascinating gaggle of Indian and Hindooistic flicks which lit up the walls --i.e., the screen of SPAZIO UNO ...the strange little culture center where the fest took place. All kinds of mind-blowers with a taste of chutney -- but for me the main event was the closing documentary on Ismail Merchant, of the Ivory-Merchant Combine -- masterpiece of a documentary about a masterpiece of a man, while the features which will most stick to my ribs are two more "First Tenners" of the year, the heart wrenching Drama "Murder Unveiled" and the Sexy Israeli rib-tickler "Turn Left At the End of the World", about an Indian Jewish family which comes to settle in a Hebrew desert colony at the end of the Israeli world, and runs into all kinds of assimilation problems with their French-speaking Morrocan Jewish neighbors.

I am still waiting to hear from the CAPRI film festival which straddles the new year from Dec, 27 to January 2nd, 2006. Indications are, however, less than positive ... so If no news in the next 24 I may just put my tail between my legs, pack up my book bags, and return to Budapest where to spend the Remains of the Year weeping in my Goulash and pissing in the sink..

THE END -- Ahmet-Agajanian de Leon, Itinerant film critic and Oriental Rug salesman.

PS: Never heard jack-shit from Capri, so I did close out the year pissing in my goolyash at the Citadella high on Gellert hill in Budapest on New Years Eve.


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About AlexDeleon

Deleon Alex

THE FESTIVALS BLOG by Alex Deleon. Watch for festival coverage from the circuit.

Ambiance and reviews from the hot spots. Welcoming your comments too.

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