x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

KVIFF welcomes some new kids on the block

Young talent was top of the bill when the Karlovy Vary film festival celebrated its 47th birthday last week.

A Respectable Family by writer and director Massoud Bakhshi is a suspense thriller linking martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war to a web of violence and political corruption. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival
A Respectable Family by writer and director Massoud Bakhshi is a suspense thriller linking martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war to a web of violence and political corruption. Courtesy Cannes Film Festival

Like the rejuvenating hot-spring waters that have made this fairy-tale spa town in the Czech Republic a magnet for tourists and invading armies over the centuries, the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) offers cinema a healthy injection of fresh blood. In stark contrast to the more wealthy and established festivals such as Cannes, which this year felt like a showcase for the creaky old masters of film, last week's KVIFF was abuzz with new voices and first-time directors.

Predictably, perhaps, the pains and pleasures of youth proved to be a recurring theme among these debutant features. Hüseyin Tabak's Your Beauty Is Worth Nothing, is an emotionally charged and charming portrait of a sensitive young Turkish boy growing up in modern Vienna. Then there was the explosively energetic Serbian drama Clip by Maja Miloš, a graphic portrait of a rebellious teenage girl living in Belgrade's crumbling suburbs, which cleverly incorporates footage shot on hand-held smartphones.

Meanwhile, two powerful films from youthful Israeli directors, Sharon Bar-Ziv's claustrophobic, military courtroom drama Room 514 and Rony Sasson Angel's taut, 40-minute short Wherever You Go, offered critical views on the treatment of Palestinian citizens within Israel's borders.

Iranian film-makers, both young and old, had a high profile at KVIFF. In addition to serving on the festival jury, the writer and director Massoud Bakhshi screened his excellent full-length feature debut A Respectable Family. Also in the programme was Modest Reception, Mani Haghighi's dark fairy tale about a wealthy Tehran couple on a mysterious road trip through Iran's snowy mountain borderlands, where they hand out sacks of money to baffled and sometimes angry strangers.

Leila Hatami, the star of the Oscar-winning global hit A Separation, and her husband, Ali Mosaffa, flew in to launch their latest collaboration. Written and directed by Mosaffa, with nods to Tolstoy and James Joyce, The Last Step is an arty love triangle set in contemporary Tehran. It won the International Film Critics prize at the festival and Hatami was named Best Actress.

It speaks well of modern Iranian cinema that film-makers such as Haghighi, Bakhshi, Mosaffa and Hatami choose to continue working in Iran despite the ever-present risk of censorship and worse.

At KVIFF, Hatami said that she has been offered foreign roles since the success of A Separation, but has said no. "I think this job is really related to your culture. Obviously when you are an actor and you have a much bigger public it is very satisfying, of course. But when you talk your own language it's something else. We are all the same, we are all human, but there are small things that make us different from each other."

It's not a view shared by Amir Naderi, a veteran of Iranian cinema's original 1970s "New Wave", who has not been back to his homeland in more than 20 years. Now a resident of Japan, after two decades in the US, Naderi came to KVIFF with his latest film Cut, an uncompromising Tokyo gangster-thriller that pays homage to the veteran maestros of art-house cinema. Most of the films Naderi made in Iran are still banned, which seems to delight him. "Let me tell you, I love censorship!" he said with a mischievous grin. "Of course, censorship is not good for life, not good for people. But for art, it is amazing! That's one reason I think this new wave of Iranian cinema has come up. Just like Czech cinema under communism. I hate communism, but the films were amazing!"