31 October, 2009

Svetat e golyam i spasenie debne otvsyakade (The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner) (2008)

Memory game

What if you lost everything, in an instant, that tethered you to your own existence? That's exactly what happens to Alex (Carlo Ljubek), when he is involved in a motorway car crash that leaves his parents dead and our protagonist without any memory of who he is, was, or where he's going.

But, in The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (2008) by Stephan Komandarev (Alphabet of Hope (2004)), the road back to self-worth and self-knowledge has already been mapped out by his charismatic grandfather, Bai Dan (Miki Manojlovic) who takes the young man, kicking and screaming at first, away from the medical team, who rate his chances of recovery as minimal, on a journey into the past and the game of backgammon, which will be central to Alex's salvation. The pair once again begin playing the game together, and Alex's re-initiation into its secrets becomes a series of life lessons, about resisting despair and resignation, about the need to be master of one's own fate. The young man begins asking questions about his past....

As co-written with the director by Yurii Dachev (who also worked with Komandarev on Alphabet of Hope (2004)), The World Is Big... manages the rare trick of making a simple (but heartfelt) tale of life in Bulgaria during and after the reign of totalitarian socialism. While the regime's oppressors are portrayed in a somewhat one-dimensional fashion that renders them at times preposterously inhuman, the film's overall charm lies in the credible transition in Alex and Bai's relationship, which progresses from fear and mistrust on Alex's part into a painful but ultimately joyful acceptance of who he is.

Alex's present-day trials and tribulations are contrasted with the enormous risks taken by his own father and mother Vasko (Hristo Mutafchiev) and Yana (Ana Papadopulu) who choose to flee Socialist Bulgaria in the early 1980s and emigrate to Germany, there to hopefully find a better life for themselves and their son, as the parallel story reveals their reasons for fleeing Bulgaria and their ordeals in crossing the frontier illegally and making a temporary home in an Italian refugee camp.

One senses that Komandarev still needs a little more maturity as a director, with the film as a whole more than ocassionally descending into awkward contrivances, but this nevertheless lifts the spirit and provides a refreshing change from the gloom normally associated with Balkans cinema.

Awards: Click here for details.

105 mins. In Bulgarian, German, Italian and Slovenian.

28 October, 2009

Das weiße Band - Eine deutsche Kindergeschichte (The White Ribbon) (2009)

Suffer the children

Official Selection, European Film Awards 2009

Directors before Michael Haneke have asked the same fundamental question that permeates his elegiac, trenchant study of darkness and light, Das weiße Band (2009) –namely, with specific reference to Germany, from whence did the affiliation with fascism rise, and how did a people turn a blind eye to the atrocities in their midst during the 20th century?

Haneke (who also wrote this Cannes-lauded tale) has already proved himself a director more than adept at dealing with darkness – both his Funny Games (1997 and 2007) and his end-of-the-world-as-banality Le temps du loup (The Time of the Wolf) (2003) show an artist unafraid to take viewers into landscapes, both literal and interior, that are far removed from safe ‘normality’.

And so it is with his latest – set on the eve of World War I, a series of strange, disturbing and seemingly inexplicable events begin to afflict a small village, Eichwald, in northern Germany, in which half the population works for the Baron (Ulrich Tukur) and are strongly influenced by the strict Protestant pastor (Burghart Klaussner). As the occurrences unfold, beginning with the local doctor (Rainer Block) being seriously injured when his horse stumbles over what is subsequently discovered to be a deliberately set trip wire between two trees, village teacher Lehrer (Christian Friedel, whose welcoming older voice, as portrayed by Ernst Jacobi, recounts the tale) becomes increasingly determined to find a solution to the mystery. However, it is a quest, much as was the case in Haneke’s earlier work Caché (2005), that is doomed to failure.

Suspicions simmer and accusations fly as stranger, darker crimes follow, but Lehrer (whose bashful, budding romance with his former student Eva (Leonie Benesch) is perhaps the only chink of light in a tale drenched in darkness) begins to believe that the village’s oppressed children may know a great deal more than they’re letting on. Proof, however, will be hard to come by…

Haneke paints a meticulous portrait of a still largely 19th-century agricultural community that is far removed from the mechanization and mass-murder of the 20th century that is set to engulf them but which, despite the severe moral strictures under which all still live, is nevertheless a village in which almost no family is a stranger to the evils of maliciousness, child abuse, adultery and premature death. The exception to the rule appears to be the childless Lehrer himself – the absence of children from his own life, save those under his guard at school, is shown to be the reason for his greater clarity of perception, but this does him nor anyone else little good in the end.

Christian Berger’s immaculate monochrome cinematography helps the film’s near-perfect depiction of a time and place enormously, and the acting across the board is much as you would expect of a recipient of Cannes’ highest honour. And does it deserve it? Well, the same question is asked every year, so this reviewer will politely refrain from opining on that point, save to say that Das weiße Band is clearly one of the year’s best, offering insights into the worst of humanity that will long remain with the viewer.

Of course, alongside the film’s general analysis of humanity there are implicit suggestions of tendencies in the German character and culture that point towards reasons for the developments in the country’s subsequent three decades, which may court some controversy for its director, but that the film is set in Germany is in fact neither here nor there – this could be anywhere, anytime. We have seen the monster, and it is us.

Awards: Click here for details.

144 mins. Black and white. In German and Italian.

22 October, 2009

EFA Animated Feature Film 2009

EFA is proud to announce the three nominations for the new award category, European Film Academy Animated Feature Film 2009.

The jury, consisting of EFA Board Members Per Holst (producer, Denmark) and Antonio Saura (producer, Spain) as well as representatives of CARTOON, the European Association of Animated Film, Agnès Bizzaro (program consultant/ editor, France/Germany), Enzo d'Alo (director, Italy) and Joanna Quinn (director, UK), have nominated the following films:

MIA AND THE MIGOO (Mia et le Migou)
by Jacques-Rémy Girerd

NIKO & THE WAY TO THE STARS (Niko - Lentäjän poika)
by Kari Juusonen & Michael Hegner

THE SECRET OF KELLS (Brendan et le Secret de Kells)
by Tomm Moore

Mia and the Migoo (France 2008) tells the story of a young girl's journey in search of her father who is working at the building site of a luxury hotel in the middle of a hidden forest. Deep in the woods, she encounters the mysterious creature Migoo.

Niko & The Way to the Stars (Finland/Germany/Denmark/Ireland 2008) is an adventure about young reindeer Niko, who is still learning how to fly. He sets out for a quest to find his father, a famous member of the legendary Santa Flying Forces.

In the 9th century, in the remote parts of Ireland, lies the fortified Kells Abbey, which is threatened by the Vikings. In The Secret of Kells (France 2009), 12-year-old Brendan explores the art of illuminating the darkness and discovers how to protect against the barbarians' raids.

The nominated films will be submitted to EFA Members to elect the winner - the award will be presented at the European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

19 October, 2009

European Film Awards: The Prix Eurimages

The winners of the third edition of the Prix Eurimages, an award acknowledging the decisive role of co-productions in the European film industry, were announced on 17 October at a lunch held in the framework of the 'New Cinema Network' in Rome attended by a large number of professionals from the cinema industry.

This year's prize will go to two outstanding producers who have combined their efforts to develop and promote European cinema, Diana Elbaum and Jani Thiltges - two major names in international film production who head, respectively, two established production companies, namely Entre Chien et Loup in Belgium and Samsa Film in Luxembourg. Diana Elbaum and Jani Thiltges also joined forces with Patrick Quinet, Sébastien Delloye and Claude Waringo to create Liaison Cinématographique, a production company based in Paris.

Together, under these different structures, they have co-produced films notably by Sam Garbarski, Lucas Belvaux, Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, Pierre Paul Renders, Lisa Azuelos, Marina de Van as well as by Nathalie Borgers, Jacques Doillon, Nabil Ben Yadir, Frédéric Fonteyne, Jeanne Labrune, Flora Gomes, Amos Kollek, Wang Bing, Ben Sombogaart, Teona Mitevska, Faouzi Bensaïdi, Antonio-Pedro Vasconcelos, Peter Brosens and Jessica Woodworth.

Since founding Entre Chien et Loup in 1989, Diana Elbaum has produced a wide range of award-winning films - fiction and documentaries - which have received critical acclaim worldwide.

Joined by Sébastien Delloye in 1999, they have together produced some 30 films. In 2008, Diana Elbaum co-founded the company Dream Touch Pictures, the new distribution structure in Belgium.

Diana Elbaum has been a group leader at EAVE since 2006. Graduate of New York University, she now lives in Brussels.

A graduate of the INSAS in Brussels, Jani Thiltges co-founded the company Samsa Film in Luxembourg in 1986. In association with the producer Claude Waringo, he has gained a solid reputation as a producer of commercial arthouse films and has built up a catalogue of some 40 feature films. Jani Thiltges is President of the EAVE programme. In 2004, he was decorated by the Grand-Duke of Luxembourg for his activities in the cinematographic field.

The European Co-Production Award - Prix Eurimages will be presented during the European Film Awards Ceremony in Bochum (Germany) on Saturday 12 December 2009.

12 October, 2009

EFA Documentary 2009: The Sound of Insects

The European Film Academy proudly announces that the award European Film Academy Documentary 2009 - Prix ARTE goes to the film The Sound of Insects - Record of a Mummy by Peter Liechti of Switzerland.

In co-operation with the European culture channel ARTE, the European Film Academy annually honours an outstanding achievement in documentary filmmaking. The recipient of the award is chosen by an independent jury, whose members this year were documentary filmmaker Nino Kirtadzé from France/Georgia, Austrian producer and ORF editor Franz Grabner and Russian documentary filmmaker Viktor Kossakovsky. Upon the invitation of the city of Vilnius, the jury members screened all ten nominated films
and decided on the winner on site.

The jury decided to give the award to The Sound of Insects "for its skillful exploration of minimalistic means to create an extraordinary visual story between life and death".

In association with the European culture channel ARTE, the winner will be presented with the award at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

10 October, 2009

EFA 2009: Documentary Nominations

The European Film Academy proudly announces the nominations in the category European Film Academy Documentary 2009: Prix Arte. A total of ten documentary films are nominated - upon invitation by the city of Vilnius, this year's documentary jury will now convene in the Lithuanian capital to screen the nominated films and decide on the winner.

Appointed by the European Film Academy and ARTE, the members of the documentary jury are:

Nino Kirtadzé: Documentary filmmaker, France/Georgia

Franz Grabner: Producer/editor ORF, Austria

Viktor Kossakovsky: Documentary filmmaker, Russia

In association with the European culture channel ARTE, the winner will be honoured at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on Saturday, 12 December, in Bochum, Germany.

The nominated documentaries are:

The Beaches of Agnes (Les Plages d'Agnès)
Agnès Varda, France

Below Sea Level
Gianfranco Rosi, Italy/USA

Burma VJ
Anders Østergaard, Denmark

Cooking History (Ako Sa Varia Dejiny)

Peter Kerekes, Slovakia/Austria/Czech Republic

The Damned of the Sea (Les Damnés de la Mer)
Jawad Rhalib, Belgium


Yoav Shamir, Denmark/Austria/Israel/USA

The Heart of Jenin (Das Herz von Jenin)
Leon Geller and Marcus Vetter, Germany


Lilian Franck and Robert Cibis, Germany/Austria

The Sound of Insects - Record of a Mummy (Das Summen der Insekten -- Bericht einer Mumie)
Peter Liechti, Switzerland

The Woman With The 5 Elephants (Die Frau mit den 5 Elefanten)

Vadim Jendreyko, Switzerland/Germany

06 October, 2009

EFA Honours Isabelle Huppert

Whether it is as a Jewish refugee in Diane Kurys' Coup de foudre (1983), as late 17th-century Madame de Maintenon in Saint-Cyr(2000) by Patricia Mazuy, or as Magistrate Jeanne Charmant in Claude Chabrol's L'ivresse du pouvoir (2006), Isabelle Huppert has given some of cinema's most unforgettable moments a face. Her frequent collaboration with Chabrol has brought to the screen characters such as Violette Noziere(1978), Marie in Une affaire de femmes (1988), Madame Bovary (1991) and Jeanne in La cérémonie (1995).

She has worked in France and abroad with directors such as Andrzej Wajda, the Taviani brothers, Jean-Luc Godard, and Michael Cimino as well as Maurice Pialat, Michel Deville, Mauro Bolognini, Marco Ferreri, Benoît Jacquot and Bertrand Tavernier. Isabelle Huppert has won virtually every award there is, among them a European Film Award for La pianiste (2001) by Michael Haneke and for 8 femmes (2002) by François Ozon, as well as a BAFTA and a David di Donatello for La Dentellière (1977) by Claude Goretta, a César and a Golden Bear, three awards in Venice and twice the Award for Best Actress in Cannes.

In recognition of a unique contribution to the world of film the European Film Academy takes great pleasure in presenting Isabelle Huppert with the European Achievement In World Cinema 2009 award. Isabelle Huppert will be a guest of honour at the 22nd European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December 2009, Bochum.

05 October, 2009

EFA 2009: New Award

The European Film Academy and CARTOON, the European Association of Animation Film, take great pleasure in announcing the creation of a new award category for the European Film Awards:


The award honours outstanding achievements in European animation film. A committee of experts will now select three nominations. The nominated films will then be submitted to the EFA Members to elect the winner who will be presented at the European Film Awards Ceremony on 12 December in Germany's Ruhr Metropolis.

The European Film Awards 2009 are presented by the European Film Academy e.V. and EFA Productions gGmbH with the support of the Minister President and the Minister for Federal and European Affairs and the Media of North Rhine-Westphalia, Filmstiftung NRW, RUHR.2010, the German State Minister for Culture and the Media, the MEDIA Programme of the EU, FFA German Federal Film Board, and TNT Express.