There are few better ways to spend the first weekend of July than roaming between the picturesque pastel-coloured buildings of Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic, sipping a glass of Becherovka and revelling in the vibrant energy and summery glamour of KVIFF. This year, Russell Crowe was in attendance, opening the festival with a performance by his band Indoor Garden Party, while the likes of Alicia Vikander and Ewan McGregor also added further Hollywood glitz to the red carpets.
There were, of course, also some films on show. From a bounty of titles that have played at festivals like Cannes and Berlin, to dozens of world premieres in the Crystal Globe and Proxima competitions. Below is a selection of highlights from across the various strands of KVIFF’s 57th edition.
A fragmentary portrait of a young actor, Aden, navigating the world of auditions and searching for a role to play, In Camera is an engrossing debut from young British director Naqqash Khalid. Built around an astonishing central turn by Nabhaan Rizwan, who plays Aden as both an impassive blank slate and watchful, searching and adrift, the film explores notions of personality and performance. It does this less through a conventional linear narrative, but rather through brief moments that sometimes jostle against one another and at other times are complementary. They range from interactions Aden has with his two flatmates, Rory Fleck Byrne’s Bo and Amir El-Masry as Conrad (both of whom may or may not actually exist) to demoralising auditions, to surreal flights of fancy. Through all of these, Khalid uses these disconnected moments to explore the bifurcated nature of modern identity and someone grasping for an anchor.
Mami Wata – A West Afrikan Folklore
Set in a coastal village in Nigeria. C.J. “Fiery” Obasi’s gorgeously photographed monochrome drama Mami Wata – A West Arfikan Folklore confronts the potential impact of progress in a conservative matriarchal society. At the film’s beginning, the community is presided over by Mama Efe (Rita Edochie) the local leader who has the ear of the resident watery spirit of the title. However, when a man from outside is washed up on the beach, he brings with him a new perspective – introducing a warlike manner to the otherwise peaceful region and helping to spearhead a challenge to Mama Efe’s authority by disgruntled locals. Crises of faith in traditional practices abound, with Mama Efe’s daughters Zinwe (Uzomaka Aniunoh) and Prisca (Evelyne Ily) torn between applying themselves to Mami Wata’s service or rejecting the customs of their people. Through this, they will perhaps find a way to embrace their rituals while forging their own path.
In one sense, Empty Nets is a story of star-crossed lovers, and in another, it is a depiction of the difficulties such idealistic romantics have to overcome in contemporary Iran. Amir (Hamid Reza Abbasi) and Narges (Sadaf Asgari) live in a town on the coast of the Caspian Sea. Amir is from a poorer background than his beau, and after being fired from his catering job for an act of nobility, agrees to take up the net and begins to work for a fishery in an attempt to save for a dowry to win of Narges’ pompous parents. No sooner has Amir taken the job, though, than he observes the corruption of the fishery’s bosses and quickly becomes embroiled in their illegal activities – most notably nocturnal poaching to supply the black-market caviar trade. Behrooz Karamizade’s film examines the pressures young people like Amir face just to survive, in a quiet unfolding tragedy.
A Cheerful Girl
A Cheerful Girl was screened as part of a wide-ranging retrospective of Yasuzô Masumura’s work at this year’s Karlovy Vary. A filmmaker who, by all accounts, was adept at turning his hand to many genres with aplomb, this wholesome 1957 kind-of-rom-com was perhaps the most purely pleasurable experience of the festival. It’s the tale of a young woman who grows up in the care of relatives in a coastal village and moves to Tokyo after graduating high school only to learn that her distant upbringing was to spirit her away from the family home, as she was the product of an affair her father had. As the title suggests, she maintains a positive outlook while searching for her birth mother and navigating the spire of her stepmother and half-siblings, charming everyone she meets and attracting the attention of handsome suitors. A vibrantly colourful, utterly charming, and undeniably cheerful gem.
A discomfiting ambiguity pervades Pascal Plante’s Red Rooms, a Montreal-set thriller that ostensibly explores the allure of pure evil. The evil in question is that of Ludovic Chevalier (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos), an angular, hollow-eyed man accused of murdering three young girls in a bloody and brutal fashion and sharing videos of the killings on the dark web. Professional model and gambler Kelly-Anne (Juliette Gariépy) attends the trial every day, apparently enamoured with Chevalier, but whether that is because she believes his innocence like fellow fan Clementine (Laurie Babin) or for darker reasons remains intentionally ambiguous. Plante’s film contains some sensationally disquieting moments, as the inscrutable Kelly-Anne obsesses over the victims and stalks their families online, and most notably when she attends the courthouse in a wig, contact lenses and a school uniform, dressed as if she wants to trigger in Chevalier whatever the victims did. Red Rooms is a stomach-churner that, unsettlingly, lingers.
Lois Patiño’s Samsara is a film that exists on the boundary of this life and the next. To call it liminal would be misleading, a patient, deeply considered piece, it crosses metaphysical borders more than it lingers at their edge. The film is split into two discrete halves, the first following a young Laotian man as he helps an elderly local woman prepare for the end of her life, the second navigating the early days of a young goat adapting to life with a family in Zanzibar. For each of these sections, Patiño had cinematographers who are extraordinary filmmakers in their own right; Mauro Herce (Laos) and Jessica Sarah Rinland (Tanzania) help him capture the rhythms of life in these places. More incredible though is the sequence that bisects these parts, in which the audience is encouraged to close their eyes and go on an astonishing metaphysical voyage of light and sound.