KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic — The Karlovy Vary Film Fest kicked off Friday, with its emotionally charged opening weekend fueled by appearances that inspired moments of pride, cheers — even philosophical reflection.
The last was (perhaps unexpectedly) provided by Harvey Keitel, accepting an award for outstanding contribution to world cinema with a moving speech about the mission of actors and filmmakers that left veteran festgoers buzzing.
Keitel recognized ex-Czech president Vaclav Havel, an opening-night dignitary (Keitel and Havel were later spotted bonding in a long tete-a-tete), and capped the speech with a request for a moment of silent recognition that Marlon Brando had died — news for many in the opening night audience.
Keitel was followed by vet Czech cinematographer Miroslav Ondricek, receiving a standing ovation and a lifetime achievement award. Honor for the home team giant was preceded by clips from just a few of his many films, stretching back to seminal Czech new wave (“Loves of a Blonde”) through his international period (“If,” “Ragtime”) and on to what may rank as his career best (“Amadeus”).
However, the next night both Keitel and Ondricek were outdone by Elijah Wood, arriving to hundreds of squealing fans on Saturday night to introduce “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” and smile endlessly for cameras before hitting the dance floor.
They weren’t the only celebs enjoying a fest that has become a cozy favorite on the circuit for many regulars. Opening night film “The Boys From County Clare,” which had auds tapping their feet, featured a delegation including stars Bernard Hill and Colm Meaney and director John Irvin — visiting the fest for the third time.
Also on hand were Cannes market director Jerome Paillard and mover and shaker Pierre Rissient, returning to Karlovy Vary for the first time since 1968. “After the last time I was here something bad happened. I hope it won’t this time,” quipped Rissient, referring to the August 1968 Russian invasion.
On the film front, opening week-end had yet to provide a galvanizing title, although groundbreaking doc filmmaker Albert Maysles gained a new generation of fans filing in for a retrospective of films created in tandem with his brother David.