Killing time on Latvian shores

Killing time on Latvian shores

Director Juris Poskus wins Best Film as the St. Petersburg International Film Festival marks a change in format.

Published: October 3, 2012 (Issue # 1729)


‘Kolka Cool’ focuses on the alienation of life in a small Latvian village.

Juris Poskus’s “Kolka Cool,” a poetic black-and-white film about the tough love between rough youths from a tiny village on Latvia’s Baltic coast, took the Best Film award at the St. Petersburg International Film festival that concluded Saturday.

The Latvian director has spent his summer vacation in Kolka for years, and recently it occurred to him that the fishing village has a particular breed of people who would serve as a fascinating subject for a film.

“They kind of thrive on contradictions, and seem to be constantly torn apart by them,” Poskus said. “Both men and women alike are at once sentimental and hard-hearted. They long for deep and meaningful feelings, yet they do not seem to be able to rise beyond the dull routine of their daily lives.”

It is no accident that the characters in Poskus’s film are always wondering what to do. They find themselves at a loss not only in killing time on a daily basis, but also in what to make of their own lives. There is no shortage on the international film market of films about young people wasting their time, but what distinguishes “Kolka Cool” is, according to the Russian producer Yelena Yatsura, a member of the festival jury, “the masterful use of the black-and-white medium to transmit the feeling of emotional devastation, spiritual alienation, lack of hope and loss of perspective.”

Fourteen films by leading directors from across the globe, from Belgium and Germany to Iran, from Turkey to Latvia and Finland, competed for the Golden Angel, the festival’s grand prize, which was awarded in a number of categories. Alexei Balabanov won the best film director award for “I Also Want It,” while Emilie Dequenne picked up the best actress award for “Loving Without Reason” and Merab Ninidze walked off with the best actor award for his role in the German film “Invasion.”

The jury, headed by Serbian director Emir Kusturica, admitted that awarding the prize for best actor had been difficult, as they could not decide between the two leading actors in “Invasion” — Ninidze, who played an immigrant lawyer with connections to the underworld, and the German actor Burghart Klaussner, who played the lawyer’s antagonist, a politically correct landlord who eventually rebels against the lawyer.

“The contrast between the two characters made the film compelling, and we would have awarded two prizes, if the rules of the festival had only allowed us to do so,” said jury member Erika Gregor, the co-founder of the Forum of New Cinema at the Berlinale International Film Festival. Although Ninidze was given the prize, Klaussner received a Special Mention.

Mika Kaurismaki’s “Road North” took the audience prize. This film — the story of a joyless 38-year-old pianist suffering as a result of separation from his wife and little daughter, and suddenly embracing his heavily drinking, chain-smoking, flirtatious and overweight father, who returns to his son after 35 years of absence — was far ahead of its closest competitors.

The Turkish director Zeki Demirkubuz received the critics’ prize for his film “Inside,” loosely based on Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s “Notes From the Underground.”

“Directors from all over the world are fascinated with Dostoyevsky, and adaptations of his prose are done with impressive regularity, but unfortunately only a handful of these adaptations have been successful,” said film critic Vladimir Kuzmin, a member of the St. Petersburg Association of Film Critics.

“Demirkubuz made the courageous and risky decision to project Dostoyevsky’s prose onto modern Turkish reality, and he succeeded brilliantly. Actually, by doing so he succeeded Akira Kurosawa, who employed the same method when making a film based on ‘The Idiot,’ Luchino Visconti with his film ‘White Nights,’ and Mika Kaurismaki with ‘Brothers,’ his adaptation of ‘The Brothers Karamazov.’”

Apart from Balabanov’s film — a touching blend of fairy tale and unfiltered Russian realities that takes hope and longing for happiness as its central theme and is expected to hit the Russian screens before the end of the year — it is unclear which of the winning films, if any, will be shown in Petersburg again. Kirsi Tykkylainen, the festival’s program director, said negotiations are now in progress between the producers of Kaurismaki’s film and Russian film distributors.

“In Finland, the film began screening in August, so it is still too early to expect any final agreements on international distribution, but let us hope that Russian audiences will soon be able to see this wonderful film,” Tykkylainen said.

The Kinoforum, which was in its third year and ran from Sept. 21 through Sept. 29, turned into an umbrella brand for four different film events, namely the International Film Festival and three already established local events: The Message to Man festival of short and documentary films, The Beginning festival of student films and the Vivat, Russian Cinema! festival of Russian films.

Reflecting on the experiment, its participants said that the unification has been a success, although for the sake of the audiences the festival needs to run for longer.

“Perhaps we should be talking about a film marathon — I have noticed that many members of the audiences were tearing themselves apart trying to make the most of this cinematic feast; many of them failed to fulfill their plans as the schedules of the festivals did not allow it,” said Lyudmila Tomskaya, director of the Vivat, Russian Cinema! festival.

Although the exact format of the next edition of the Kinoforum is yet to be determined, it has been suggested that St. Petersburg should follow in the footsteps of the established international film festivals in Cannes, Berlin and Helsinki that traditionally run for two weeks.

The Berlinale’s Gregor suggested making the event’s interactive element more vibrant.

“I would incorporate more meetings with the audiences, discussions, debates,” she said. “The audiences would love to meet the filmmakers and their crews, I am sure.”

The festival’s organizers said that the event’s sales were phenomenal.

“The halls were filled every day, regardless of time or subject — the audiences had a great appetite for what we had to offer, which tells us we are on the right track,” said Maria Averbakh, director of the International Film Festival.

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