From Kazahkstan comes Emir Baigazin’s THE RIVER (OZEN). Five drab figures in a drab landscape, unsmiling brothers, dressed in almost identical shifts of mud-coloured brown. It’s at first hard to place them historically. They spend their time toiling on the land, tending scrappy crops, above all making bricks for a new barn that you feel will never be built, almost becoming the mud they are manipulating. Their father is unloving and autocratic, their mother downtrodden and silent. The eldest boy, Aslan, is his father’s reluctant lieutenant, tasked with keeping them hard at work, hating it when he has to physically punish them for their inevitable lapses. They understand this and try to protect each other, united in their oppression. One day Aslan takes his brothers along to the wide river he has discovered nearby and they find enormous liberation in play in the water.
But everything changes when an alien figure arrives at the house, bringing the modern world and colour with him, and finally locating this as a contemporary scene – an asexual youth, in shiny silver jacket and bright yellow socks, riding on a hoverboard, clutching a phone. Turns out he’s a cousin from the village, bored, come on a visit, like an exotic bird that has strayed out of its usual orbit. Nose in his device, he shows little interest in his surprised hosts, occasionally allowing them a wondering look at the screen. Then one day they take him to the river. And everything changes.
This was the last, and one of the most striking films I saw at TIFF this year. Its political message, from an ex-Soviet state, is there for all to see. The grim monochrome landscape of labour and the glittery trappings of the alien world of capitalism, possession, are equally constraining, and only the river gives a sense of beauty and freedom. But it’s also a powerful, pessimistic story of the end of innocence, a version of the serpent coming to Eden with a dangerous gift of knowledge, except this time it’s already a kind of hell it’s bringing enlightenment to.
And so TIFF 18 comes to an end. The final evening in Cluj brought, as ever, the Awards Ceremony at the lovely National Theatre building. Sadly the winner of the Transilvanian Trophy for Special Contribution to World Cinema, Nicolas Cage, had already been awarded his trophy on a rainy night a week earlier – what a treat it would have been to see him rock up to the stage in those decorous bijou surroundings! On this 18th edition of the festival, a ‘coming of age’, Director Mihai Chirilov spoke of trying to bring together 12 competition films ‘not about politics – but speaking of relationships and about ourselves, intimate films’. Winner of the Transilvanian Trophy was the Colombian Monos, with May el-Toukhy receiving Best Director Prize for Queen of Hearts (Dronningen), with a Special Jury Prize for Louis Garrel’s A Faithful Man (L’Homme Fidel). Best Actor award went to Ingvar Eggert Sigurdsson for his stunning performance in A White, White Day (Hvitur, Hvitur Dagur). Romanian Days prizes went to Andrei Cohn’s Arrest, with the Debut prize going to Monsters (Monştri) by Marius Olțeanu, and a well deserved Special Mention to Nora Agapi’s documentary Timebox. Best Romanian Days Short was the excellent Opinçi by Andrew and Damian Groves, I do hope it gets seen in the UK, and best Shadow Short was Carlos Beinca’s Noria.
The end to another TIFF. Though I found no utter masterpieces there this year, it was as ever a week of pure pleasure, with the thrill of discovering the cinema of two countries – Albania and Kazakhstan – I’d never encountered before, Romanian directors established and new, a re-acquaintance with the ever invigorating György Pàlfi’s work, and clutch of fine documentaries. And what a pleasure to see films in the Arta Cinema again, restored to its former charms, even if the (hopefully temporary) seats are an endurance test.
I depart on the Sunday morning, down the hill and along the sunny boulevard where Betty’s Ices are just opening up, the pavement cafes are filling up, there’s a crowd outside the Victoria waiting to see a documentary about the death of Dag Hammarskjold, and many Clujeans are in their Sunday best for church or for graduation ceremonies, proud parents and grandparents with beaming young folk carrying huge bouquets. Then the sun’s shining as my plane circles above the hills surrounding the city, a landscape that always reminds me of the Yorkshire Dales, and I’m soon back, alas, to the land of Brexit…
Part 1 Here
Part 2 Here
Part 3 Here
Part 4 Here