The 54th Karlovy Vary Film Festival kicked off Friday with a short explainer in communist-era culture from host Marek Eben, who commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution in the Czech Republic with a tribute to a retro snack. Eben reminded audiences of what the evening would have looked like if not for the peaceful overthrow of the regime by Václav Havel and his followers with one word: chlebíčky.
The notorious open-faced egg and mayo sandwich appetizers that used to mark every party congress were guaranteed to land on your clothes, he explained as the mainly Czech audience broke up. “Then we were all equals,” Eben noted ironically.
It wasn’t clear whether anyone shared the joke, told in Czech, to Julianne Moore before she took the stage to receive her Crystal Globe for contribution to world cinema. Moore, who is also in the Bohemian spa town to screen the drama “After the Wedding,” shared the limelight with her husband, writer-director Bart Freundlich and Billy Crudup, who plays her haunted spouse in the film.
Fest prexy Jiří Bartoška presented the award following a moving tribute to his 25 years of service at the fest. The Czech actor and and his longtime colleague, former artistic director and film journalist Eva Zaoralová, were feted with a short film highlighting their exploits with Hollywood stars and, in Bartoška’s case, on the golf course, invariably smoking his signature cigarette. The silver-haired Bartoška, voice trembling with emotion, expressed thanks and was at a loss for words, even though, as he said, “I’m cynical as hell.”
The gala evening kicked off with its traditional dance performance, this year a string of acrobatic moves choreographed to play off the fest’s black-and-white stripes graphic theme. The performance warmed up a crowd of tux and ballgown-wearing film fans at the Brutalist Hotel Thermal.
The fest opener dance tradition goes hand-in-hand with an open-air orchestral performance by the Czech National Symphony Orchestra, held outside the cinema hall, which this year featured Beatles hits inspired by the screening of Danny Boyle’s “Yesterday.”
Past fest guest Casey Affleck also returns this year along with young actress Anna Pniowsky to screen the second film he’s directed, “Light of My Life” about a father-daughter relationship in an apocalyptic world in which women have died off.
Affleck, who screened his directorial debut “A Ghost Story” in Karlovy Vary in 2017, will introduce his latest feature in the same hall, noted for its thoroughly 70s red modular decor and angular slate slabs.
Also appearing in Karlovy Vary is Kara Hayward, screening Official Selection competition film “To the Stars,” building on a strong current of youth-friendly films along with the premiere of Czech horror pic “The True Adventures of Wolfboy,” directed by Martin Krejčí and starring fest guest Jaeden Martell.