Film platform courtesy of the Czechs

  • 2006-07-05
  • By Paul Morton
KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic - "No one talks to you in Cannes."

After a few days at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, which has been going on for 41 years at the spa resort town in the Czech Republic, you hear some variation of that statement at least a few times.
"[Karlovy Vary] is more democratic," one Scottish journalist says at the grand opening night reception at the Pupp Hotel. "It's more for the people."

There's some truth to that. People do talk to you here. One friendly Czech filmmaker walks around with his 15-year-old son, a young actor who is doing well dubbing Hollywood movies. "In the Czech Republic, we have dubbing down to an art," he says. "We do it scene by scene." And then there's hundreds of young filmmakers who can't believe they got in the front door.

Half the audiences seems to be made up of young Czechs who got in at the last minute without a ticket. Everyone claps at the end of every film, no matter how good or bad, whether or not the directors and producers are attending. Karlovy Vary, a town known for hosting Tolstoy, Goethe and Mozart, and which today still serves as a high-class spa resort, is, during the festival, populated by young men and women. They lounge in the parks, under the hot July sun, flipping through film schedules.
The festival is a particularly big event for the Czechs. This is where their movies premiere. It's often their best chance to get seen at all.

Kim Ki-duk, the South Korean director known for his grim portrayal of relationships between men and women, who has a Spielberg-level following in his homeland and a cult following everywhere else, was one of the opening night's two stars on June 30. His superb film "Time," about a beautiful woman who undergoes plastic surgery in order to test her boyfriend's love, was making its European premiere.

A small man with a wide face, Ki-duk has a peculiarly understated manner. When a Czech journalist asked him at a press conference why the lovers in "Time" were unable to recognize each other by smell after the plastic surgery, the room enjoyed a long, uncomfortable pause before the good man shook his head, smiled and, unable to come up with a good answer said, "I'm very sorry."

The other star was Andy Garcia, the Cuban-American actor who has made a career out of playing Italian toughs. On being given a lifetime achievement award during the opening night ceremony that was accompanied by a tribute film (which inexplicably kept bringing up the great stain on his career and all of Hollywood, "The Godfather Part III"), he came close to tears.
"My family came to America in 1961, when I was five, due to a very similar situation to what you had here in the Czech Republic," he told the audience, which included Czech President Vaclav Klaus, in a theme he was to sound out the next night as he presented his directorial debut, "The Lost City."

The film, based on the legendary novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante's work, tracks a wealthy Cuban family's fall as revolution sweeps through the country in the late 1950s. "I was thinking of 'Dr. Zhivago' and 'The Garden of the Finzi-Continis,'" Garcia told a press conference.
"The Lost City" is not a great film, and suffers from so many of the quirks that mar any labor of love by an actor who has been trying to get a movie made for, according to Garcia, 16 years. It's overlong. It manages to make Bill Murray, cast as a Beckettian comedian, unfunny.

The film portrays Che Guevara as a petty thug - a common, and not that inaccurate, perception among many Cuban-Americans who fled violence in their home country. When asked why Che was so often presented as a hero, he said, in reference to the iconic image that dons so many t-shirts in the West, "Alberto Korda was a very good photographer."

Estonian filmmakers abroad
On the other end of the spectrum, a few independent Baltic filmmakers enjoyed a small presence in the short film program. A 10-minute long Lithuanian film, "Censorship," about a conjugal visit in a prison that is witnessed by a security guard by camera, fell flat. No one seemed to know what was going on.

Veiko Ounpuu, 34, a Tallinn-based commercial filmmaker presented his directorial debut, "Empty," about a love triangle set against a strange '70s-esque pastel-colored landscape. Aesthetically, it's a gorgeous film, and with its palette of blues and reds and long green grass, it seems to owe something to David Hockney. But Ounpuu wasn't happy with the finished product. "The colors weren't the original colors." The film was originally meant for a smaller screen. When Ounpuu blew it up, the colors lost some of their vibrancy.

The showing didn't go well. The theater was housed in an inflatable tent in the city center, and it was hot and noisy inside. There was a revolving door at the entrance that created a constant sucking noise. "It was like watching a movie in a vacuum cleaner," Ounpuu said afterwards. People kept walking out.
He and his crew had made the film last summer and then sent it out by DVD to festivals all over Europe. Somehow they had been chosen by Karlovy Vary. "They had a limo pick me up at the airport."
An actual stretch limo?
"Well, maybe not. But I had a lot of legroom." He had heard Steve Buscemi might be coming to the festival and he was excited to meet him.

Ounpuu is a big funny man, who wears a brown jacket and brown corduroy pants. He's very capable of laughing away his frustrations. "When we made that movie we thought it was brilliant. Now, I'm not so sure." He needed a drink. He needed to do a couple of tequila shots and forget about everything. He laughed. "On to the next thing."
At a late-night Asian restaurant he talked about his plans. The film company he worked with, Kuukulgur Film, which was started by his friend Rain Tolk, the star and co-producer of "Empty," had mustered up $500,000 in funding somewhere for a feature film. "Two interweaving stories about solitude," he described it.

And then, he says on his way from the Asian restaurant to a bar tent, he wants to make a movie in which he resets the Kalevipoeg, the Estonian national epic, into modern day. The story was written by a Baltic German in the 19th century and is based on the Kalevala, the Finnish epic…
He pauses for one second. "It's a little silly to talk about that now."