Review by Zoë Robert.
With films from over 40 countries, the Reykjavík Film Festival (RIFF) is an annual feast for film-lovers.
This year’s festival opened with a screening of the French comedy Queen of Montreuil (2012) by Sólveig Anspach in the Harpa concert and conference center. The film stars Didda Jónsdóttir and Úlfur Ægisson, who in the film, as in real life, are mother and son.
Queen of Montreuil follows Agathe, played by Florence Loiret Caille, who just returned to France from a trip abroad where her husband passed away. As she struggles to come to terms with her loss and return to her work as a film director, Didda and Úlfur, who she just met at the airport, turn up on her doorstep asking for a place to crash.
As she plays host to these peculiar guests, she must also deal with the unexpected arrival of a sea lion, the neighbor she desires and her late husband’s friends—events which eventually help her deal with her grief and get her life together. Surreal at times, the film is good for being both unique and laugh-out-loud funny.From Crossing Boundaries. Source: RIFF website.
Also in the Open Seas category, which presents films from the festival circuit that have already garnered prizes and generated discussion, is Crossing Boundaries (2012) by Austrian director Florian Flicker. His fifth feature film, Crossing Boundaries is based on the play by Karl Schönherr, She-Devil, from 1914.
The story follows the lives of a couple who live in the untouched wilderness at the Austrian-Slovakian border, close to Vienna. The couple use their intimate knowledge of the waterways and floodplains to smuggle people across the border.
The film is set ten years ago when people trying to get to Europe illegally crossed the border there. Austrian soldiers would monitor the area from watchtowers built along the swamp. One of the young soldiers is tasked with trying to gather evidence about the couple’s smuggling activities by flirting with the woman. At the same time, her husband, who suspects his reasons for his frequent visits, asks his wife to seduce the soldier to distract him from catching them.
Predictably, the soldier and woman fall in love and the woman must make her choice. The film was at times a little slow but shone a light on a practice unknown to myself and many others.
Next was the romantic-comedy Love is All You Need (2012) by Danish director and guest of honor Susanne Bier. The story follows Ida, a hairdresser recovering from breast cancer, and Phillip, played by Pierce Brosnan, a widower.
The pair meet at the airport, both on their way from Denmark to Italy to attend the wedding of her daughter to his son. The film deals with pain and loss and new beginnings.
During the Q&A session, Bier explained that she and writer Anders Thomas Jensen, had wanted to make a movie about cancer, but not one that deals directly with the disease. Her and Jensen’s mothers had both suffered from cancer, with him losing her to the disease.
Bier, who is the recipient of the ‘Creative Excellence Award’ at this year’s festival, described the movie as a romantic comedy but not in the American sense of the genre.
She described Danes and Icelanders as sharing similarities when it came to family structure; families made up with children from more than one marriage. Romantic comedies are not usually my cup of tea, but this one surprised me beyond all expectations. I had only seen one of Bier’s films before, the 2010 film In a Better World (Hævnen), a random pick at the video store one day, another powerful work which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Bier’s After the Wedding (2006) and Open Hearts (2002) are also being screened at this year’s festival.
The much-anticipated screening of Iranian-French director Marjane Satrapi’s new film Chicken with Plums (2011) starring the wonderful Mathieu Amalric and Maria de Medeiros lived up to the hype.From Chicken with Plums. Source: IMDb.
A visually rich work, the film is set in 1950s Tehran and follows the last eight days of renowned musician Nasser Ali Khan’s life. After his violin is broken, he loses all will to live and isolates himself from the world.
Satrapi was asked during the Q&A session whether she preferred working on animation, like her 2007 movie Persepolis, or feature films.
She replied that while she loved animation, it felt more like a marathon, whereas with Chicken with Plums, she only had 46 days of filming and could therefore not prolong the filming process.
Another standout work.
One of the few Icelandic films (short films aside) featured at this year’s RIFF, Start Up Kids, is a documentary by two young entrepreneurs, Valgerður Halldórsdóttir and Sesselja Vilhjálmsóttir, about exactly just that: young web entrepreneurs and the stories behind their start-ups.Start Up Kids. On set with Alexander Ljung, founder of Soundcloud. Source: the Start Up Kids website.
We meet the founders of Vimeo, Dropbox, Soundcloud, among others, and hear their successes and failures, and learn about their lives as entrepreneurs.
My only criticism of the festival is the ticketing system: you can pick up tickets on the day of the screening from the cinema and from the festival information center, and the day before from the festival information center, located at the Eymundsson book store downtown. This in itself may not be a big issue for many, but the fact that there is only one cashier (but up to three volunteers) at the stand results in long lines at the book store.
It’s no small feat to put on a successful festival of this size year after year, the work of the volunteers of which is key. Having said that, the volunteers, who are no doubt doing their jobs as best as they can, could be better coordinated to work more effectively, avoid confusion and giving conflicting information. As of this year, people can buy tickets online but it appears there remains confusion when picking up tickets.
Even so, with still another week of this year’s festival remaining, I look forward to discovering more films from all corners of the globe. Reykjavík International Film Festival runs until October 7. For more information visit the festival’s website.
Zoë Robert – [email protected]