And the auteurs have united! 22nd Auteur Film Festival was held from 25th November to 3rd December in Belgrade, Serbia. !Kokoska, at your service, reviews the festival.
Even though it is clear that this festival is oriented towards the independent productions, its name remains questionable. According to the Oxford dictionary, the auteur is a film director who influences their films so much that they rank as their author. Naming the festival “auteur” practically excludes all the directors working for big studio productions from the influential authorship. Living in today’s era of political and social correctness, it is incorrect, to say the least. Also, as much as a director can influence the production, let’s not forget that a film is not a one man show, after all (not even if one is Xavier Dolan). However, let’s check what the “auteurs” had to say this year.
Album (2016) – the story of appearance and disappearance of a family
Feature debut of the Turkish director Mehmet Can Mertoğlu follows the pattern of many first-time-director-films: go back to the roots and portray the society you come from. Mertoğlu delivers the story about a creation of a history that never existed, about a creation of the so called “pregnancy album”, which consist of photographs made by Cüneyt, capturing his wife Bahar posing with a fake belly. Even though the plotline is concentrated around the couple preparing for adoption (and they, as it seems, would do anything to avoid the adoption getting public) Mertoğlu takes a look at the Turkish society in whole, underlining its drawbacks with humor. He manages to cover all parts of the society, from schools, social services, police, to the government regime – in each and every one of them his critique is addressed to the system, not the individual. The story of Bahar and Cüneyt makes it pretty easy for the viewer to see the couple’s surroundings, but the film is additionally accentuating the absurd habits and traditions ending up drowning in the “typical Turkish” and deviating from the storyline. Maybe this is why it remains unclear whether the adoption is considered shame in the whole Turkish society, and that is what forces the couple to fake the history of their own family, or if the two are exceptional individuals whose own urges drive them to drastic measures.
The very beginning of the film is interesting, as it looks like a diversion: a documentary insert about the artificial insemination of cows. Having this as an opening scene may cause you to question whether you entered the wrong screening room, but it exists for a good reason. It is a metaphor for Bahar’s and Cüneyt’s story, the story of an artificial creation of the family. The very ending is also interesting, where a long shot portrays the whole family in front of a waterfall, making it the last photograph for the fake album of a life. The pity is, however, that everything in between the beginning and the ending is diluted by Mertoğlu’s efforts to reach as further as possible in various directions. Still, he manages to transfer the thought. Had it lasted shorter – it would have been better.
Wiener-Dog (2016) – dog days are our days
Main, and in the same time “the least main” character of new Todd Solondz’s film, suggestively called Wiener-Dog is a female wiener dog, serving as a timeline on which her owners are taking turns. Solondz uses the dog as a skeleton to build up four different stories of life, death, love and lack of it, art, in fact of whatever troubles the dog’s owner. Uncertain fate of the dog, overtaken from one hands by others, without being asked anything about it, reminds us of a sealed human fate according to the theories of predetermination, where each choice we make is in fact a pseudo-choice. On the other hand, everything that happens to the wiener dog is caused by the emotion she has triggered in others. In the first story, the dog is a gift for Remy, a boy appearing in the film with a shot most certainly referencing to Linklater’s Boyhood (2014). When Remy’s parents decide to sterilize the dog and put it to sleep afterwards, Remy starts questioning the ethics of these acts which takes him a step further: he starts discussing beliefs and believing, life after death and all other tricky topics parents are struggling to answer. Remy, a cancer survivor himself, reflects those vital questions on the other being’s example, while he already went through them in his fight with cancer. All the following owners are looking for their own answers, and the path they choose in finding them directly affects the dog. In the last story, Solondz goes back to cancer, but in an absolutely different approach: the dog was named Cancer by an old, but lucid lady, whose only hedonistic leftover is petting the Cancer. Remy outlived cancer, but Cancer may outlive the lady. It is never very clear how the dog has traveled across the USA, from Ohio to Hollywood, changing his humans, but it doesn’t hinder the overall experience (it does make it look like a short-film-tetralogy, though). Wiener-Dog is a good mixture of comedy and drama, long shots of dog’s diarrhoea and thought provoking dialogues, things explicitly said and those that are to be read between the lines. Precaution: not for those unable to withhold a two minute long close-up of the dog’s watery feces alongside Debussy’s Claire de lune.
Raw (2016) – where bloody meets sex
If the elements of Julia Ducournau’s debut would be listed, many would think “what a dream (film) come true”: good teenage girls gone bad, crazy parties, sex, blood, tears and sweat. The name of the 2012 Croatian film Cannibal Vegetarian would perfectly suit the protagonist of this comedy-horrorish-drama: Justine is a veterinary medicine freshmen, coming from a vegetarian family. Soon she is about to discover her great passion for the human body (in every possible sense). Justin’s environment is a raging mass, in which older students are in control of freshmen’s lives, turning them into an unrealistic lunacy on the borderline between utopia and dystopia. For Justine, it tends to get closer to dystopia, where she struggles to find her own piece of space. This is a coming of age story of self discovering, told in the language of horror films, but missing one important element of this genre – typical music. From time to time the film slips into comedy due to characters’ unexpected reactions to the situations they find themselves in. The moment when Justine tastes the human flesh for the first time is tightly connected to her first sexual experiences, and the sexual drive is mixed up with animal instincts and the urge for food. Justine is often shown as an animal, having predator eyes, or lurking in ambush. Nevertheless, she is proof that even dangerous animals are capable of feeling emotions strong enough to control their desire for meat. If you manage to cope with your urge to think “no way the Belgians party this hard” or “bloody hell, what was that now?”, Raw will entertain and make you relive your own first self discoveries (whether you like it or not). And not to be forgotten, cannibalism runs in the family.
The Untamed (2016) – just how the Sci-Fi subgenre of Mexican soap opera would look like
There is no better description than the one given above for the coproduction between Mexico, Denmark and France, directed by Amat Escalante. Despite the fact that the viewer is left not knowing the exact relationships between the characters for quite a long time, it is instantly understandable that those relationships are not the healthy ones. When they get defined, they probably become even unhealthier than expected: the husband is cheating on his wife with her brother. As in all soap operas, the role of the mother in law is inevitable, but there comes also another figure, a mysterious girl Veronica. She seems to know some holly secrets, but is not selfish – she takes other characters, one by one to close encounters with “the most beautiful something”. In the last third of the film, we have a close encounter with that something, which turns out to be an alien-octopus-sex-machine (not exaggerated). The octopus offers an unforgettable but deadly experience of sexual healing. If it occurs to you that this twist is just not destined to fit into the melodramatic remainder of the film, it occurs to you right. It seems like those “trips” to the Sci-Fi-ish unknown are shabbily attached to the film, with a culmination in the scene where all forest animals are mating in a crater left by an asteroid that brought the octopus to the Earth. It is evident that The Untamed intends to celebrate sex and the catharsis it brings, but calling the whole “ritual” with the octopus “turning to your primitive side”, it resembles a contradiction to the emotional and abstract enlightenment supposedly following the ritual. Kubrick had the black monolith, Escalante has an octopus. One manages to extend the viewers’ thoughts to their limits, making the viewers explore their primitive and nonprimitive sides and question their own presence, the other does not. Which one is which?
All the films you read about now were in the festival’s main competition. None of them won. Iranian director Rafi Pitts and his film Soy Nero made their ways to the top. This decision was made by the jury members: Gruvinder Singh, last year’s winner director, Petra Weisenburger, general director of the NIPKOW program, and Malgorzata Szumowska, probably Poland’s most famous female director right now.
Do not let others judge for you – make sure to watch the films and decide on the winner yourself!
Until the next time the auteurs unite.