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Karlovy Vary awards and comments

by Alex Deleon
The 47th Karlovy Vary Film Festival closed shop on Saturday July 7 with the customary gala awards ceremony and a screening of Woody Allen's "To Rome With Love" in the vast 1,500 seat Grand Hall (Velky Zal) of the Thermal Hotel. This was followed by the usual swanky closing reception at the stately Hapsburg era Hotel Pupp (Pronounced "poop") at the other end of the central promenade of healing waters, capping off one of the best KV festivls in recent memory. 
The twelve entry competition setion was not particuarly memorable but this has never been the strong suite of this festival. The strong sections, as usual, were Horizons with thirty titles  and the East of West selection backed up by three exceptional hommage retrospectives; Antonioni, Jean-Pierre Melville, and  the Turkish auteur Erdem.  
Melville, whose real name was Gumbach, took his artistic nom de plume from the American author of Moby Dick, was greatly influenced by American movies, and specialized in fast paced crime thrillers such as Le Cercle Roge and Le Samourai -- Film Noir in color.  He was regarded as a kind of mentor by the young directors of the French Nouvel Vague such as Godard and Truffaut. A marvelous recent bio-documentary entitled "Sous le nom de Melville" contained testimonials by other prominent directors who cited Meville as an important influence on their work --among them Bertrand Tavernier, Volker Schloendorff, and even the Japanese master Masaki Kobayashi. Another emminent French director, Claude Miler who passed away this year, was remembered with a screening of his 1975 masterpiece "La Meilleure Facon de Marcher", another seminal French film starring Patric Dewaere, an iconic enfant terrible of the time who died early of a drug overdose.
In a way this was a festival dominated by female figures.
Crystal Globe awards for lifetime contributions to world cinema were dispensed to British actress Helen Mirren. 66, (Oscar for "The Queen" in 2007) at the beginning of the fest and at the closing American actress Susan Sarandon, 65  (Oscar '95 for "Dead Man Walking")  --Sarandon is an iconic character actress with the looks of a leading lady. Susan also appeared in the cult musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show (1975) which just closed the longest run in film history in Boston this very week.
Another high profile female guest of the fest was leading Iranian actress Leila Hatami, whose film "A Separation" was a world wide hit and earned the Oscar for best foreign film in Hollywood earlier this year. Sarandon, breezing in from New York on the last three days of the festival looked amazingly youthful with her tousled red hair and unlined visage. Hard to believe that she made her film debut 42 years ago with "Joe" back in 1970. 
All three actresses presented new films here, Mirren starring in Hungarian director Istvan Szabo's "The Door" ,(Out of competition) Sarandon in the American indie "Jeff who still live with his mother", and Hatami, her latest film "The Last Step"  for which he was named best actress here. In her press conference Sarandon spoke more about the importance of motherhood in her life than anything else. Despite her reputation as a political activist the actress said that politics is realy not that important to her, but as a lifelong democrat she is hoping Obama will win --probably in a close race. Asked if she would like to teach acting she said that never having had any acting lessons herself she wouldn't know how to go about it. At the screening before a gigantic overflow crowd she reminded the audiance that "Jeff" is a small independent film that is not geting much play in the States, but she was clearly delighted facing such a sea of expectant faces here. Hatami was accompanied by her two young children aged three and five, and of course by her husband, Ali Mosaffa, who directed the film. Dressed in a flowing white slacks outfit topped by a bright green head scarf the Iranian actress looked more like an angel from heaven than a sequestered rep of an evil  Islamic Republic.
Eva Zaoralova, as  film historian, critic and promoter of Czech cinema is practically a national monument in the Czech Repulic
The Antonioni section was curated by the long the term festival artistic adviser , who knew the famous Italian director personally, and focused on his documentaries, not his features, an exceptional body of work in it own right that is rarely seen. In a way this was a festival that spotlighted unusual women.  Mme. Zaoralova has been artistic director (i.e. chief -programmer) of the festival since 1994 and was responsible for injecting new life into it when its existence was threatened in the mid nineties. As a film historian and champion of Czech film abroad she has become practically a national monument. A special event at the festival was the launching of a new book by Eva entitled "A Life With Film" at which the tall white haired grand dame appeared as usual in brightly colored robes belying her eight decades. 
The Norwegian competition entry "Mer eller mindre Mann" (The Almost Man) was a suprise winner of the Crystal Globe for Best Film along with a $25,000 cash compensation.  Henryk Rafaelson who starred as a thirty year old new father mired in adolescence was named Best Actor, sharing the distinction ex-aequo with Polish actor Eryk Lubos for his powerful  portrayal of a traumatized war veteran in Jan Jakub Kolski's  "To Killl a Beaver".  
Although the Iranian film The Last Step was regarded as rather weak by most professional viewers, Leila Hatami was sufficiently captivating in the role of a famous actress (essentially playing herself) traumatized by the accidental death of her husband --- to walk off with the Karlovy Best Actress award. It turns out that the accident may not have been so accidental and she gigggles uncontrollaby to cover up hr chagrin.  The film itself was given a "best" by the FIPRESCI jury of Foreign film critics --somewhat of a head shaker with possible political undertones. 
A special Jury Prize (the equivalent of a Silver bear at berlin) along with $15,000 in cash went to the Italian film "Piazza Fontana" which recounts the story of a huge bomb exloded at a bank on Piazza Fontana in Milan in 1969 and the complex police invetigation that followed. It must be said that the Crystal Globe statuette has a high intrinsic value as the Bohemian crystaL is itself is a highy valued handicraft of the region.
With well over 200 films on view,  many with enticing content or must-see directors, every day brought hard decisions on what to see and what to pass up. A packet of reviews will be presented separately.
Alex, Prague

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