50th Anniversary Edition of Karlovy Vary Film Festival Puts Accent on Youth

Tomasz Mielnik's 'Journey to Rome' opens the East of the West competition section

50th Edition of Karlovy Vary Film
Courtesy of Karlovy Vary Film Festival

The Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which is Central and Eastern Europe’s leading movie showcase, may be celebrating its 50th anniversary, but it is putting the emphasis on youth and up-and-coming talent, with seven directorial debuts in the competition section.

“This year, we are excited to present the youngest competition line-up in the festival’s recent history: the average age of the filmmaker in the main festival section is 39 years old,” the fest’s artistic director Karel Och said.

The festival will feature seven world and six international premieres, including the latest movies by German director Dietrich Brueggemann, who earned plaudits for “Stations of the Cross,” and Romanian filmmaker Florin Serban, whose “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle” was a standout at Berlin. Brueggemann’s anti-Nazi satire “Heil” “delivers acrid, rapid-fire commentary on the state of German society,” while Șerban’s intense drama “Box” follows the relationship between a talented 19-year-old boxer and an attractive, older theater actress.

“Bob and the Trees,” a U.S. production by Massachusetts-based Frenchman Diego Ongaro, is one of the seven debuts in competition. Shot in cinema verite style, the story features 50-year-old logger and farmer Bob Tarasuk, a charismatic workhorse with a soft spot for golf and gangsta rap. Another debut comes from Polish documentary director and d.p. Marcin Koszalka: “The Red Spider” is a precisely constructed psychological thriller about the rise of a mass murderer. Leading Danish documentary-maker Daniel Dencik brings his first feature, “Gold Coast,” which is an “original historical film that blends lyric poetry with a terrifying nightmare while offering clear-cut testimony about European colonialism.”

The festival also presents “Antonia,” the feature debut from one of the rising stars of Italian cinema, Ferdinando Cito Filomarino. It delivers a “ground-breaking insight” into the life of the poet Antonia Pozzi. Filomarino’s short “Diarchy” was awarded at Locarno and Sundance. Another debut in competition comes from Kosovan talent Visar Morina, who directs “Babai,” the story of a 10-year-old boy who follows his father on a dramatic journey from Kosovo to Germany. In his intimate debut “The Sound of Trees,” Canadian filmmaker Francois Peloquin portrays a drama about adolescence set against the photogenic wonder of the Quebec landscape.

The festival highlights the work of two female directors, who present markedly stylized films. Anca Damian brings her artistic-cinematic creation “The Magic Mountain,” which follows her much lauded “Crulic: The Path to Beyond.” Her latest pic explores the life of mountain climber and photographer Adam Winkler, using animated collage techniques of period materials. An acclaimed work by Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem served as inspiration for Ukrainian filmmaker Eva Neymann (“House with a Turret”), whose third picture “Song of Songs” offers “fascinating, loosely connected images of the lost world of the Jewish shtetl at the beginning of the 20th century.”

Austrian director Peter Brunnerʼs soul-searching study “Those Who Fall Have Wings,” whose title acknowledges inspiration from Ingeborg Bachmannʼs poetry, is a “cinematically ambitious, symbol-based method of coming to terms with the painful loss of a loved one.”

The Czech Republic will be represented in the main competition by two titles. First-timer Slavek Horakʼs “Home Care” fixes its gaze upon a devoted home-care nurse, whom fate has decided to burden with an almost insurmountable obstacle, relating deadly serious issues with a gentle humor. The uncompromising drama “The Snake Brothers” from Jan Prusinovsky tells the story of Cobra and Viper, each of whom deals in his own way with the desolation and lack of funds in their small Central Bohemian town.

The festival runs July 3-11 in the Czech Republic.

(All movie descriptions courtesy of the film festival.)

Director: Ferdinando Cito Filomarino
Italy, Greece. World premiere
Distinguished Italian poet Antonia Pozzi (1912–1938) was among those women who were at odds with the times in which they lived. Her poems record her inability to adapt to social norms and her desire to live fully, and in poetry she sought an escape from reality and from her own complex soul and emotional life. An exceptional debut from a talented Italian filmmaker whose short work has been awarded at the festivals in Locarno and Sundance.

Director: Visar Morina
Germany, Denmark, France, Kosovo, Macedonia. International premiere
The story of 10-year-old Nori plays out in Kosovo, Germany, and on the road between the two countries. His father Gezim dominates his entire world, however, one day he leaves for work in the West, and Nori won’t be placated concerning his sudden disappearance. This feature debut from a talented Kosovan filmmaker is rendered with exceptional intensity and a flair for portraying the emotional complexities of the child’s situation.

“Bob and the Trees”
Director: Diego Ongaro
U.S. International premiere
Massachusetts logger Bob Tarasuk, a charismatic workhorse and hard-head with a soft spot for golf and gangsta rap, plays himself in this verite-style drama – an unpretentiously intense character study of an individual surrounded by a landscape both majestic and inscrutable.

Director: Florin Serban
France, Germany, Romania. World premiere
The story of this keenly anticipated film by acclaimed Romanian director Florin Șerban (“If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” Berlinale 2010) follows a talented 19-year-old boxer named Anghel, for whom a session in the ring is everything, and Cristina, an attractive, 30-something mother who finds herself at a critical moment in her life. Two characters with their own secrets, two journeys, two outlooks. An intense drama that penetrates to the core.

“The Sound of Trees”
Director: Francois Peloquin
Canada. World premiere
At 17 Jeremie dreams of a life different from the one that awaits him at the family sawmill in the small Canadian town where he lives. Jeremie is more interested in pimping his car, listening to hip hop, and slacking off with his friends. This impressionistic debut, built upon convincing performances, tells of a summer that completely changed a teenager’s life.

“The Red Spider”
Director: Marcin Koszalka
Poland, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic. World premiere
The feature debut by a leading Polish documentarist and cameraman was inspired by actual mass murders committed in the 1950s. A precisely constructed psychological thriller, the film delves into an intricate story of the fascination with evil that hides in places we would never expect.

“Home Care”
Director: Slavek Horak
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic. World premiere
Everyone knows about the finality of human existence but the realization of life’s actual limits comes to each of us individually and often unexpectedly. Dedicated home care nurse Vlasta (Alena Mihulova) lives for her husband Lada (Bolek Polivka), her daughter, and her patients. But then one day things change and Vlasta is forced to react. This mature debut portrays deadly serious issues with a gentle humor.

“Gold Coast”
Director: Daniel Dencik
Denmark. International premiere
Young anti-colonial idealist Wullf Joseph Wullf sets out for Danish Guinea to set up a coffee plantation but not everything goes according to plan. This bold contribution to the historical film genre casts light on a dark chapter of European history, employing the music of Angelo Badalamenti to help shift the experience into a dreamlike trip that partakes in equal measure of lyric poetry and a horrifying nightmare.

Director: Dietrich Brueggemann
Germany. International premiere
Renowned German filmmaker Dietrich Brueggemann (“Stations of the Cross”) has come out with a radical satirical comedy where, in the carefree spirit of punk, he pitches into the neo-Nazis, the media, police, and the European Union. The acrid commentary on the state of contemporary German society fed to the viewer at an impressive tempo can easily be applied to the countries bordering the director’s homeland.

“Those Who Fall Have Wings”
Director: Peter Brunner
Austria. World premiere
In the face of death, time seems to stop for those left behind. What can they do to start the clock ticking again? This inward-looking, artistically striking, and exceptionally strong drama from one of Austria’s greatest talents presents its protagonists in moments of sorrow and the occasional joy, but always as fragile, vulnerable people.

“The Snake Brothers”
Director: Jan Prusinovsky
Czech Republic. International premiere
This uncompromising drama tells the story of two brothers, who answer to the nicknames Viper and Cobra, each dealing in his own way with the bleakness, lack of funds, and the alcohol-filled evenings repeated ad nauseam in their small Central Bohemian town. Brothers Matej and Krystof Hadek excel in one of the must-see domestic films of the year.

“The Magic Mountain”
Director: Anca Damian
Romania, France, Poland. International premiere
The pic investigates the adventures of mountain climber and photographer Adam J. Winkler, who fought in Afghanistan with the mujahedin against the Soviets in the 1980s. The director employs an original artistic technique involving animated collage of period materials.

“Song of Songs”
Director: Eva Neymann
Ukraine. World premiere
The acclaimed work by renowned Yiddish writer Sholem Aleichem served as inspiration for the Ukrainian filmmaker, whose third picture offers a markedly stylized vision of the lost world of the Jewish shtetl at the beginning of the 20th century. Poetic scenes created using truly magical images are loosely connected via the motif of childhood love, while the film’s imaginative form is imbued with nostalgia.

“The Wednesday Child”
Director: Lili Horvath
Hungary, Germany. World premiere
History sometimes repeats itself. As a nine-year-old, Maja was abandoned by her mother and placed in an orphanage. Now it’s 10 years later and she keeps returning to the institution, now to visit her four-year-old son. Will she be able to take control of her life despite the unfavorable circumstances and her own self-destructive tendencies?

“Journey to Rome”
Director: Tomasz Mielnik
Czech Republic, Poland. World premiere
There are as many stories in the world as there are people, and Vasek, a timid guard at a gallery who becomes a reluctant painting thief, hears plenty of them on his train trip to Rome. This multilevel comedy road movie (on a train) and quest for the meaning of life is director Tomasz Mielnik’s feature debut.

Director: Bartek Prokopowicz
Poland. World premiere
After a nontraditional romance blossoms between Benek and Lena, a young couple immersed in questions of life and death, they decide to defy the natural order by having a baby. A mournful yet lightly-rendered tale about the search for identity, finding love, and the battle against a fatal illness that is nearly impossible to win.

Director: Bujar Alimani
Albania. World premiere
While a mute and lonely mother lives a life that is far from easy, she nevertheless bares her lot with dignity and courage. Her 15-year-old son is trying to stand on his own two feet, but in so doing he only complicates the grim situation in the family. This sensitive coming-of-age picture is the second feature from Albanian director Bujar Alimani.

“The World Is Mine”
Director: Nicolae Constantin Tanase
Romania. International premiere
Sixteen-year-old Larisa lives in a small coastal town in a social environment where image and money afford power over others. With courage and a dogged determination that commands and intimidates, Larisa attempts to attain just such a “dream.” Talented Romanian first-timer Nicolae Tanase captures the most intense period of a person’s life with skill and disarming authenticity.

“No Matter How Hard We Tried”
Director: Grzegorz Jarzyna
Poland. International premiere
The Mother, the Daughter, the Grandmother, and other archetypal characters gradually come together in a room where they talk incessantly. Their monologues rarely cross over into dialogue but taken together they create an absurdly humorous and satirical look at contemporary Poland, which in their opinion isn’t (and perhaps never was) a nice place to live. The movie is an adaptation of Dorota Maslowska’s successful theater play.

“Dust of the Ground”
Director: Vit Zapletal
Czech Republic. World premiere
Two brothers, the elder married, the younger with a lover and a young child meet up at their parents’ country place after the father has a stroke. A subtle family drama from debut director Vit Zapletal that distinguishes itself from the usual Czech production through its unaffected accent on the Christian faith.

Director: Tolga Karacelik
Turkey. European premiere
A cargo ship anchors out at sea. It is prohibited from entering the port, so the crew is left to wait things out in a claustrophobic environment with dwindling food supplies. A Turkish psychological thriller on what becomes of the principles of power, authority and hierarchy the moment the traditional social order breaks down.

“Heavenly Nomadic”
Director: Mirlan Abdykalykov
Kyrgyzstan. World premiere
There are still places in the world where people live in harmony with nature and the mythology that comes out of it. A family of nomads dwelling high in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan find contentment without the conquests of modern civilization. This poetic sketch about traditions that are slowly disappearing was based on a screenplay by renowned director Aktan Arym Kubat.

“Wednesday 4:45”
Director: Alexis Alexiou
Greece, Germany. European premiere
Thanks to the efforts of owner Stelios, musicians love his small jazz club in the heart of Athens and the place seems to be prospering. But an early demise threatens this island of quality music, and Stelios has a mere 32 hours to save his beloved nightclub – and himself. The movie’s tough generic shell (crime thriller) masks a bitter treatise on the Greek economic crisis.

“You Carry Me”
Director: Ivona Juka
Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Montenegro. World premiere
Ives, Natasa, Vedran, and his wife. Four people, four different destinies that cross during the filming of a soap opera entitled “Prisoners of Happiness.” Ivona Juka’s feature debut offers a colorful portrait of four strong personalities whose desire for satisfaction bumps up against seemingly insurmountable day-to-day problems.

Director: Gyula Nemes
Hungary, Czech Republic, Germany. World premiere
It’s 2017. Bees are dying out and, in the words of Albert Einstein: humanity has only four more years left. Young radical ecologists set out to wage a ruthless battle for their survival. A formally inventive and thoroughly nonconformist vision of the fight against globalization.

The full lineup can be found at the Karlovy Vary website.