Features & Opinion

Festival Roundup: 41st International Film Festival Rotterdam

By Boglarka Nagy • Published on February 14, 2012

[T]he 41st edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam was a programme full of audience-friendly features, significant guest-directors, new festival locations, unexpected discoveries and even experimental productions, giving insight on what happens globally on the film market.

In such a formidable maze of screenings and events,  first thing for every attendant would be to restrain the options and so I did: getting “specialized” for a few days in French, Canadian, Indian, Romanian, Hungarian and Portuguese productions, adding to it, just a few of those highlighted events that make any festival a festive occasion and some features of the Tiger Competition. So at the end of my stay I could sum up 26 movies, a few meetings and an interview with the most influential guest of the 41st IFFR, Takashi Miike.

I was glad to see that the public is taken seriously in Rotterdam offering them intriguing and valuable movies to watch. I could mention Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, that has been appreciated in several film festivals starting with Cannes in 2011.  Another example would be the Retour de flamme- show, during which the artistic director of the Annecy festival, Serge Bromberg gave a humorous and holistic presentation of what 3D (animation) cinema meant from the era of silent movies to our days, sometimes accompanying the images with the sounds of a piano.

In exchange the public took the festival seriously and made up for full house screenings, vivid Q&A-sessions and participation in different projects of the festival, including a film-workshop called Home Movie Factory, led by Michel Gondry. Even the youngest in the festival could experiment with 16 mm footage in the Kids on the floor –programme or play making a movie with zombies and scientists in the festival center, de Doelen.  This way the International Film Festival Rotterdam is not just a selection of movies dedicated to film critics, art lovers and professionals, but a means to create and maintain a strong cinema-public, communicating with the audiences.

And it’s not just them who get a chance every year through the event, it’s also the young filmmakers who show their projects in the Tiger Awards Competition or the Bright Future Section. In 2012 the latter had to be somewhat downscaled, but  the selection comprised  three Indian movies I could watch: Carnival by Madhuja Mukherjee, Alms for the Blind Horse by Gurvindher Singh and Valley of Saints by Musa Syeed. Three movies, that are difficult to compare, each from a very different person and even from different regions: one of them is an experimental feature trying to go beyond the story,  giving a lot of attention to the post-processing and editing to give a certain way of expression.  The second one is an adaptation of a novel, creating a movie of a strong atmosphere consisting of long shots and often silent acting, building much on the locals and the place. Finally Valley of Saints, set in Kashmir, also the fruit of close collaboration with the local population, and often has a documentary side to it.

Madhuja Mukherjee’s first feature Carnivaltold the story of Babu, returning to Kolkata during the Durga Puja, because his mother

Still from A Temple (Deool)

passed away. This storyline seemed to have become some kind of a leitmotiv. Several movies of the Tiger Competition would also have main characters coming home to visit, silently observing or asking friends left behind a long time ago about the cities or villages of their childhood, not ever finding the familiar connections, looking for ways to reintegrate themselves in their home. Often these young people had left home to find work and a livelihood, as it is the case in Midi Z’s Return to Burma or Wichanon Somumjarn’s In April the Following Year, There Was a Fire. There are also histories that are uncovered by a visit, painful moments of a past time, discovered by the son visiting her mother in the Turkish-German co-production The Voice of My Father that gives just a hint of the struggle defining identity in a country, where some time ago being Kurdish was difficult. Another touching example would be the Brazilian movie, Histórias que só existam quando lembradas that shows an almost magical village, forgotten by the world, which a young girl discovers and depicts through her photographs to slowly become a part of the old community and to learn the most important thing that is part of the tradition: making bread for everyone.

Established filmmakers get to present their newest projects in the Spectrum-section of the festival and Umesh Vinayak Kulkarni found a place in this section with his feature A Temple next to names like David Cronenberg, Takashi Miike or Mohammad Rasoulof. Ever since he started making movies, each one got presented in Rotterdam, winning the sympathy of programmers, critics and the public. On the European premiere of the movie, the screening room was full and people were interested to find out more about the making of a Marathi film, that doesn’t just express a social criticism regarding the fact that even God has become a commercial product, but that can be enjoyed as a comedy.

Still from Goodbye

And in this section of established filmmakers  I could also find the most touching dramas of the 41st IFFR: Goodbye from the Iranian Mohammad Rasoulof and this year’s representant of Canada for the Oscars: Monsieur Lazhar from Philippe Falardeau. As if the leitmotiv I was talking about would show it’s other side; struggling to find one’s place again somewhere might be a difficult task, but when someone makes a movie about struggling to leave that one place that is still vital in one’s life, that hurts. Rasoulof extended this cruel situation on a pregnant woman’s life: she shouldn’t just leave the country she knows best, but that mistreats the people living there, she has to take a very difficult decision about the birth and the life of her child to come. Goodbye expresses a long moment of grief, that won’t ever have a moment of calm, being granted in an aggressive environment.

But where are all the travelers headed? And where can they go, when they aren’t home anywhere anymore? If someone takes a look at a large scale of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam, between all the sections and different activities, there might be this one question the spectators could ask themselves again and again and there might not be one valid answer…

Boglarka Nagy is a film writer and festival programmer from Romania. She recently attended the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2012.

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