Local fare fares well at festival

Most top honors at the 29th edition of the Moscow Film Festival, which closed Saturday, went to local product — or at least locally connected product.

Top Gold St. George award went to femme helmer Vera Storozheva for “Traveling With Pets,” a film far more arthouse-oriented than the director’s previous projects.

Aleko Tsabadze drew the special jury prize for “Russian Triangle” — nominally a Georgian film in that the director originally hails from Russia’s neighbor to the south, though in every other way a thoroughly Russian movie. It’s aimed more at commercial auds than usual fest fare.

Given the ongoing political standoff between the two countries, the acclaim for a Georgian pic, even if only formally such, won closing ceremony applause. Critics, however, were more skeptical as their response to the movie was rather underwhelming.

Jury prexy Fred Schepisi said from the stage that the final judgment process was the longest in the fest’s history — though he was probably forgetting the old Soviet days, when decisions were approved at Kremlin politburo level. The Australian director also slipped pretty strong hints that the final decisions were not all unanimous.

Hardest of all to decide was the actress prize, Schepisi said, which went to Hungarian thesp Kirsti Stubo for her role in Janos Szasz’s “Opium” amid strong competition from two veteran thesps in Ukraine’s “At the River.”

Ukraine also featured indirectly in the director nod to Italian helmer Guiseppe Tornatore for “The Unknown,” awarded by Emir Kusturica, given that the film’s story has a strong link with that country.

Actor prize went to Fabrice Luchini for his part in French costumer “Moliere.”

Main prize in the “Perspectives” sidebar competition went to helmer Juris Poskus’ Latvian entry “Monotony,” which also had Russian links as part of its dialogue is in that language.

Organization this year looked professional, at least as good as in recent editions — something of a surprise given that previous organizing body Interfest was replaced in a tender bid late March by the newly established Mediafest org. That gave the latter company less than three months to bring the fest together — and on no more money than in the past.

According to fest prexy Nikita Mikhalkov, more than 100,000 viewers packed into halls over the nine-day fest period. Event also marked the first appearance in the territory of the fest’s new foreign artistic director, Finland’s Kirsi Tykkylainen.

Given that Mikhalkov is a very busy helmer — currently completing two films, one a follow-on from his 1995 Oscar winner “Burnt by the Sun,” the other a local version of “12 Angry Men” — he’s increasingly a symbolic figurehead.

Tykkylainen proved that she can be more than personable to foreign and local figures alike; the personality factor is one in which previous organizers had proved famously lacking. If she’s the future face of the event for the next few years, the Moscow Film Festival’s international appeal should only grow.

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