Nov. 19--BEIRUT -- One of the nice things about anniversaries is that you can enjoy the luxury of past highlights. The 2013 edition of the city's European Film Festival is a case in point. EFF's 20th edition opens this week with a range of events for audiences and aspiring filmmakers.
For the aspiring, EFF offers a program of 20 short films, made by students from 10 of the country's audiovisual schools. These will compete for two prizes -- both of them opportunities to attend one of Europe's leading international short film festivals.
The lion's share of the offerings focus on the public. Beirut projections will be supplemented by programs in Tripoli (Dec. 1-4); Zahle (Dec. 2-4); Jounieh (Dec. 5-13); Sidon (Dec. 4-5); and, for the first time, Nabatieh (Dec. 5), Tyre (Dec. 6) and Baakline (Dec. 12).
Among EFF's special presentations in Beirut is a projection of Palestinian director Khalil El Muzayen's "Gaza 36mm." This documentary feature about the closure of movie theatres in Gaza was developed within DOCmed, which is funded by the Euromed Audiovisual program.
Ordinarily EFF's programming formula amounts to a dutiful representation of works by as many EU countries (and a couple of guest countries) as possible. Sprinkled among this number are a few critically acclaimed and award-winning movies -- usually slightly older works that have completed their run of the competitive festivals but have been overlooked by commercial distributors.
The bulk of the principal program is a slate of 37 features, three of them made with young audiences in mind.
A favored theme in EU film production is the family, and this year's festival includes a number of titles that take up stories of mothers, fathers and their issue, dysfunctional and otherwise.
Take the opening-night movie, "Child's Pose," which took the Golden Bear and the FIPRESCI prize at the Berlinale back in February. Directed by auteur Calin Peter Netzer from a screenplay that he co-wrote with Razvan Radulescu, it tells an acerbic story of Romania's nouveau riche told from the perspective of Cornelia (Luminita Gheorghiu).
This manipulative matriarch of a well-connected bourgeois family finds a way to reassert her control over her errant son Barbu (Bogdan Dumitrache) when he runs over a 14-year-old boy on the freeway while driving drunk. The film has been feted both for the strength of the writing, the fine direction and the quality of the acting, especially Gheorghiu's portrayal of the domineering Cornelia.
"Child's Pose" will screen in the presence of editor and sound designer Dana Bunescu.
Another domineering blonde-headed mother, albeit a more blood-soaked one, sits at the center of Danish helmer Nicolas Winding Refn's "Only God Forgives." Crystal (Kristin Scott Thomas) is a drug-smuggling queenpin on the warpath to avenge the death of her oldest son Billy (Tom Burke). It turns out Billy may have deserved an unseemly end, and more, but never mind. Crystal cajoles her second son, Julian (Ryan Gosling), to punish Billy's killers, telling him that, were the shoe on the other foot, Billy would do the same.
The ensuing mayhem may be engaging for fans of the two principal actors but the critics have found the proceedings to be a bit listless. Though the film was in the running for the Palme d'Or at Cannes this year, there is little fear that "Forgives" will win Refn many prizes.
The film that many over-18 cineastes will be curious to see is Abdellatif Kechiche's "La Vie d'Adele" -- aka "Blue is the Warmest Colour," which caused a sensation at Cannes this year, winning both the Palme d'Or and the FIPRESCI prize. A young woman's coming-of-age tale, "La Vie d'Adele" does not tell the story of an overweening mother but one of the love affair between Adele (Adele Exarchopoulos) and the somewhat older Emma (Lea Seydoux).
The film is vintage Kechiche, immersing onlookers in the sensuality of discovery -- food, art, literature, music and conversation as well as sex. Coming in at 175 minutes, "Adele" is sure to tax fans of fast-paced movies. That said, Exarchopoulos and Seydoux's performances have been universally feted, as has the writing and cinematography.
Also among the must-see films for cineastes is "Only Lovers Left Alive," Jim Jarmusch's (typically quirky) story about very old-fashioned love in an age of tainted blood. Mischievously written and acted -- Tilda Swinton (Eve) and Tom Hiddleston (Adam) are the principals -- "Alive" also includes a cameo appearance by one of Lebanon's most photogenic performers.
For its 20th edition, EFF organizers have sweetened its usually stolid program with a clutch of six much-loved EU productions from the not-so-distant past.
Roberto Benigni's "La Vita e Bella" (1997) marks the unique collision of fairy-tale romantic comedy and holocaust picture. "Black Cat, White Cat" (1998) will be recollected as Emir Kusturica's much-loved comic tale of Balkan criminality, love, arranged marriage and Gypsy horn music.
In "Dancer in the Dark" (2000), Lars von Trier brilliantly utilizes the conventions of the movie musical (along with Bjork's vocals and much-loved pixie image) to run a filmic razorblade across the heart of the "American Dream."
Fernando Le?n de Aranoa's prescient profile of the impotent rage of a group of once militant, now laid-off, shipyard workers, "Mondays in the Sun" (2002), marks one of the breakout performances of Javier Bardem.
Somewhat gentler, Wolfgang Becker's "Good-Bye Lenin!" (2003) is a bittersweet coming-of-age tale about a son's efforts to save his mother from the knowledge that East Germany, and indeed communism, has come to an end.
Another tale of heartfelt deception, Julie Bertuccelli's Cannes' Critics Week winner "Depuis qu'Otar est parti" (Since Otar Left, 2003) tells the story of a daughter's efforts to protect her mother from news of her son's death.
Though some of these works are widely available on DVD and other home entertainment formats, all of them were made with the big screen in mind, making their revival at EFF well worth the LL4,000 entry fee.
Another highlight of this year's festival will be the projection of Fritz Lang's silent film classic "Metropolis" (1927), specifically the restored print of the film unveiled at the Berlinale in 2012. Accompanying the screening will be a new soundtrack composed by Lebanese musician Rabih Beaini and performed live by Beaini and Tommaso Cappellato.
The European Film Festival will run Nov. 20-Dec. 2, with Beirut screenings at Metropolis Cinema-Sofil. For more information, visit: http://eeas.europa.eu/delegations/lebanon or http://www.metropoliscinema.net/2013/20th-european-film-festival.
(c)2013 The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
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