ENJOY THE MOVIES
With everyone complaining about films being so long these days (anything over two hours instantly becomes a discussion), why not go the opposite direction and just make a short film? Traveling to film festivals all over the world is a wonderful and exciting experience - not just because I hope to discover some gems (like Lara and The August Virgin) but because I get to watch all kinds of films. Big and small, good and bad. And inbetween all these screenings, there's plenty of time to think. To think about what you just saw, and how it could be better, or how perfect it is, how much you want others to see these films. Wrapping up my visit to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this year, one thought that came to mind often (specifically about a few of the films) is: this would be better as a short film. So why not just make a short? It could be even better.
What if there really was a wolfboy? That's the concept for this film, The True Adventures of Wolfboy, a coming-of-age drama about a kid with a rare condition that makes him grow hair everywhere on his body. This film cannot really be compared with, say, Teen Wolf, instead it's much closer to The Man Who Killed Hitler and Then The Bigfoot – an unexpected genre mashup that is actually more of a dramatic character study than anything else. The title may be a bit deceptive, but that's the point, because his "true adventures" are the experiences he has when he runs away from home, in search of his mother, and discovers the real world – and all its ugliness. One could say, perhaps, that it is uglier than he is. But then again he's not ugly, and the film is all about accepting who we are and learning to love ourselves no matter how we look or feel.
Most coming-of-age films are about teenagers, or younger kids, maybe even someone just starting their 20s. But it's rare we see a coming-of-age film about someone in their 30s, struggling with the realities of being an adult and growing up and how life changes right before your eyes. Before you know it, your hard-partying ways are over and many of your friends are gone and you're feeling lonely. What comes next? How do we figure out what matters? Who are we really? How do we proceed? These are just a few of the questions that The August Virgin attempts to confront, not with any definitive answers, but with a real intelligence and maturity that few films (of any genre) have. Originally titled La virgen de agosto, this Spanish film follows a woman in her early 30s as she drifts around Madrid during blazing hot summer weeks at the start of August.
He's finally back with another film! German filmmaker Jan Ole Gerster earned himself a modest following with his first feature debut, a B&W film from 2012 titled A Coffee in Berlin (also known as Oh Boy). The film is a cult classic because it's known as pretty much the definitive film about life in modern Berlin today, what it's like and how it feels and everything. Jan Ole Gerster is finally back on the scene with his second feature film, titled Lara, which is premiering back-to-back at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival then the Munich Film Festival this summer. It's another outstanding film from Gerster, and another outstanding character study, a portrait of a mother dealing with her thoughts and emotions and feelings on her 60th birthday. I just hope we don't have to wait seven more years for Gerster's next film, because he's a seriously talented filmmaker.
Seen at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival. Who doesn't love The Beatles? Wait – don't answer that question. But seriously - The Beatles are the best and their music will live on forever because it's so brilliant. Danny Boyle's latest film Yesterday, featuring a screenplay written by Richard Curtis (of Love Actually, Pirate Radio, About Time), presents a crazy concept: what if suddenly The Beatles didn't exist, no one know who they were, except for one guy. And that guy then played all their songs like they were his own and became famous because they're still brilliant songs. That's the setup for Yesterday, except, this is a Richard Curtis film – which means that, not only is it actually more of a sweet love story, but it's really all about life itself and focusing on what matters rather than giving it up chasing fame and fortune and glory. Just not worth it.
We're back! We're ready! And we want to watch some films! Kicking off this weekend is the 54th Karlovy Vary Film Festival, a wonderful festival that takes place in a quaint spa town (also known as Carlsbad) in Czechia - just a few hours drive west of Prague. This is my third year in a row returning to the festival, as it's a quick trip down from Berlin and always a fun time. I'm happy to be back, happy to be here, ready to go. Always more to see, always more to discover. There's an undeniable cinephile vibe, campsites for those who can't afford hotels, the venues are vintage cinemas or old theater halls converted into temporary cinemas. Best of all, Karlovy Vary has a stellar line-up and that's why I'm here - to catch up with and see lots of films.
"I was trying to create a character that I myself would identify with." A film from Belarus titled Crystal Swan premiered at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival this year, the feature directorial debut of a talented filmmaker named Darya Zhuk. Darya grew up in Minsk, Belarus, but left at age 16 to study in the US. After graduating college and years of working in various jobs, she decided to go and study directing at Columbia University and has finally completed her first feature film - Crystal Swan, about a young Belarusian woman named Velya who is trying to get a visa to travel to the USA. The film premiered to positive reviews and is still searching for an American distributor, but I wanted to bring extra attention to this filmmaker and her film. Here is my interview with Darya Zhuk, discussing the challenges and joys of making her first feature.
"We are our choices." -Jean-Paul Sartre. Life is all about choices. The choices we make, or that we don't make, in small decisions, in big decisions. Everything is about these choices and every choice we make, even subconsciously, leads us down one path or another. We can't go back, but we can continue to be aware and learn what influences us to make decisions. This is an endless philosophical discussion with no conclusion, but the concept of "choices" has been on my mind a lot at film festivals - ever since a discussion I had with my friend & fellow critic Pamela Jahn at the Cannes Film Festival. Then it continued while I was at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival in the Czech Republic. I chose to go to this festival because I enjoy it, and I really want to catch up with and see more films. I'm very happy I went to this festival, and strangely enough even though a number of my friends were also there we never ended up at the same screenings. This isn't uncommon at film festivals, but it did make me think more about the choices we make - especially at fests.
Every year we get a big batch of new coming-of-age films, but only a few of them really stand out. This is one of the very best of the coming-of-age films from 2018, a lovely dramatic feature Quebec. The Fireflies Are Gone, originally titled La disparition des lucioles in French, is the third feature film made by filmmaker Sébastien Pilote, and it's wonderful. It doesn't reinvent the wheel or anything, but it is a very fresh, funny, heartwarming take on today's youth growing up without a desire to conform to their parents' desires for a perfect career-focused life. This is one of those particularly outstanding indie films that is so enjoyable and exciting that it put a spring in my step. The moment it finishes up, I was grinning ear-to-ear and suddenly happy about the world and just wanted to get out and dance. I really love when films have this kind of effect.
"Stick close to the concrete. Jam through the space. Keep it moving." Skateboarding is not just a sport, its a means of expression, a way to liberate yourself and be truly free. To ride where you're not supposed to ride, to act the way you want to act, without anyone telling you how to be or what to do. There have been many skateboarding documentaries over the years previously, but this new one is a superb look at the early days of skateboarding in the country formerly known as Czechoslovakia. King Skate is a Czech documentary made by Simon Safránek, his first feature film, and it's packed with a mesmerizing selection of archival footage looking back at how skating became immensely popular in the 1970s & 1980s in this closed-off country. As expected, there's a rad punk soundtrack to compliment all the footage making it an intoxicating experience.
"There are those who jump, and those who make others jump." This line from the film is the one line that sums up the entire story and why it's being told, and it's a meaningful statement, one that should resonate with every single person no matter where they're from. Jumpman is a Russian drama about a boy who is born with a rare disease that prevents him from feeling any pain - though everything else functions as usual. It's the latest film made by Russian filmmaker Ivan I. Tverdovskiy (Corrections Class, Zoology) and it's an intimate, indie drama made with an intense focus on the main character, a compelling tale of dignity and integrity and humanity. It's an impressive, captivating film that I really enjoyed, even though it's cynical and depressing, there's hope found in the heart of this young boy. The filmmaking pulls us deep into that story.
In a time where journalists are under attack and a free press is becoming more and more important all over the world, this documentary film is a wonderfully uplifting look at the integrity and diligence of journalists who work so hard every single day to report the news. Breaking News, also originally titled Mimořádná zpráva in Czech, is a new documentary from Czechia made by documentary filmmaker Tomáš Bojar. The footage takes us inside the offices of two news organizations in Prague - covering one major political event in 2017. It's a very simple, straightforward doc film that trains the cameras on the various people working to report the news and lets the viewers bask in their tenacity and commitment to objective reporting. It's utterly fascinating and inspiring, and the kind of vital film that we should be showing to younger audiences.