Returning to its traditional early-July slot after two editions disrupted by Covid, the 56th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival felt very much like business as usual. The renovated pool was open and the music was blaring as the festival ran from 1-9 July in the picturesque setting of the chocolate-box Bohemian spa town.
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival returned to Bohemia this year with another feast of cinema from Europe and beyond. Running from 29 June to 7 July, this year’s festival was notable for two excellent retrospective strands to complement their competitive programmes, including the always interesting East of West Competition.
Radu Jude’s film claimed the top prize at this year’s festival and it’s easy to understand why. It embraces the kind of boldly political stance of classic Polish cinema from the Communist era like a riff on both Wajda and Zanussi. The result is a formally loose, but dizzyingly dense and morally forthright examination of national attitudes and the myopia of nostalgia.
★★★★☆ Olmo Omerzu’s follow-up to 2015’s Family Film is another tale of children left to their own devices by negligent parents, but this time takes the form of winning road movie caper Winter Flies. The title perhaps refers to resolute dipterans that have refused to be cowed by seasonal colder weather and are attempting to make the very best of harsh conditions.
★★★☆☆ Timur Bekmambetov’s new thriller Profile seeks to explore the murky world of how social media is used to recruit vulnerable young women to ISIS. The results are as compelling as they are silly. Back when the entirely desktop-based Unfriended was released in 2014, Bekmambetov was candid about wanting to expand the conceit into an entire genre unto itself.
★★★★☆ Following 2015’s Aferim!, Radu Jude returns to the topic of historical Romanian anti-Semitism in his furious new satire “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” which picked up the top prize at the 53rd edition of Karlovy Vary. Where Aferim! was a shaggy-dog road trip through 19th century Wallachia, Barbarians turns its scalpel to more recent events.
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival returned for its 52nd year from 30 June-8 July. The beautiful spa town on the edge of the Slavkov forest in Western Bohemia played host to A-list stars and directors from around the world. As ever, showcased were some titles from this year’s Cannes Film Festival as well as the latest delights from Eastern Europe.
★★★★☆ Georgian director Rati Oneli’s City of the Sun is in a constant dialogue with philosophical treatise and epic poetry, but the humanity shines through in his meditative exploration of a half-abandoned mining town. The title of City of the Sun is taken from a 1602 utopian text of the same name by Dominican philosopher Tommaso Campanella.
★★★★☆ Ain’t Them Bodies Saints director David Lowery channels slow cinema maestros Apichatpong Weerasethakul and Tsai Ming-liang in A Ghost Story, a beautiful meditation on grief, time and place. It doesn’t start out that way, though. Initially, A Ghost Story looks and feels like a stereotypical low-key US indie with subtle horror tropes.
★★★☆☆ Shimmering corn fields and the blazing midday sun may not seem like natural environs for spooky supernatural horror, but Jiří Sádek’s The Noonday Witch employs them to suitably disconcerting effect. With a tinge of Philip Ridley’s The Reflecting Skin, it re-purposes a traditional Slavic folktale into the conventions of modern horror.
★★★☆☆ “I don’t know where I’m going,” writes Ján Kollár in his diary. He’s recently been booked in for surgery, his chances of surviving it are 50/50, and he has now set off on a literal and philosophical wander in the time he knows he has left. All of this is learned from his diary and without a single word of spoken dialogue.
★★☆☆☆ Petr Václav’s latest film We Are Never Alone may represent his career thus far in microcosm. It folds in the Roma subject matter of his lauded debut Marian; Karel Roden and Lenka Vlasáková star as a despairing couple, much like in Parallel Worlds; and Klaudia Dudová, the lead actress from recent hit The Way Out, appears.