I was waiting for November to finally come upon Malaga for one reason. No, it wasn’t the advent of the local variant of the Ice Age – when you’re freezing to death inside your flat while outside it seems like normal spring time (who cares if the calendar says it´s actually November). It was what seemed for me one of the craziest film festivals that a guiri from Ukraine has ever been to – University of Malaga Fantastic Film Festival, or simply Fancine.
Now, it should be mentioned that there is apparently uncountable number of film festivals – according to different sources the numbers range from 2 to 10 thousands (the last one appears when taken into account every film festival that was held in the living room of your neighbor’s house). While there are only a few very prestigious and important ones, like Cannes, Berlinale or Venice, sometimes exactly during such small and somewhat weird festivals you can stumble upon pure diamond of modern (and classical) cinema.
Anyway, the author of this article, as a former film festival’s volunteer (and a current EVS volunteer) and movie geek, was truly looking forward to immerse herself again in this chaotic but graceful atmosphere of running from one cinema hall to another, holding in your hand the program marked with notes here and there, meeting the same people that have similar taste as you do (or just pick up the same names on the list). What a true paradise!
Despite the city of Malaga being quite cinematic on its own – hosting every year the most significant Spanish film festival and possessing other (though, maybe not that prominent) title of the birthplace of perhaps the most popular modern Spanish actor, Antonio Banderas (even one of the city’s promenades bears his name) - this event seemed to have urged the excitement not only among geeks, but apparently also among common public that was eager to find something fresh and truly mesmerizing on a big screen. Never before during my stay in Malaga have I witnessed such long queues in front of the box office of the city’s canonic theatre Albeniz. They were extending in front of cafes full of astonished tourists that, after finding out the reason that made this weird Spaniards stand in lines for half an hour, sometimes joined them as well.
Though it was clear from the beginning that I wouldn’t be able to see all the movies I wanted due to other events planned in my volunteer life (what a pity not everyone is born a Time Lord), let me offer you, occasional reader of European Youth Portal, my personal chronicle of Malaga Fancine.
The opening of the film festival which I of course couldn´t attend, started with one of the Cannes’ loud names, “The Neon Demon” by (almost) cult Dutch director Nicolas Winding Refn. While this particular film (or any other film of his) cannot be for sure attributed to the genre of fantastic or horror films, it is quite clear that he inclines in that direction, (either intentionally or not), that's why fits into the theme of festival very well. So, the next day I was among the first to stand in line to buy tickets for the second and last screening, with high level of anticipation. What I got? Well, it seems that with every next movie Refn tries to achieve less of a cinema but more of a videoinstallation – putting less and less distracting elements (as dialogues, well-written characters), making fantastic visuals just for visuals sake, trash just for trash sake and puking eyeballs just for puking eyeballs sake. Though, I admit, he’s very good at it. Shouldn’t the movies about empty and soulless world of LA fashion industry be the same soulless and empty?
To continue with the Cannes list, the other film that attracted my attention due a hype it created in Cannes (as well as Refn’s movie, but for other reasons) was French director Bruno Dumont’s “Ma Loute”. As much as this black comedy/extraordinary absurdist cannibal drama seems to me extremely unlikable to be received properly in Cannes, it couldn’t be more appropriate for this exact type of festival. To describe this film is an extremely ungraceful job. It makes you laugh hard and wonder at the same time, “What am I laughing at?”, while your mind in vain makes efforts to grasp the logic of stuff happening on the screen, sort out the connections, understand the motives… Don’t. Should you ever happen to see “Ma Loute”, just switch off your rational ability to analyze and enjoy.
Now, speaking about films I’ve seen that actually do fit into the category of horrors, I would like to mention one supposedly psychological thriller “I am not a serial killer”, with the participation Christopher Lloyd. I was quite surprised by the hype it created – the tickets were sold out an hour before screening. However, I’m not sure if most of the public was left satisfied, or a bit disillusioned, because at the end the film transforms into something completely remote from psychology and clings to the horror/supernatural genre. Which, to be honest, feels a bit uncomfortable and out of place.
Well, not to forget the most exciting part of every film festival, the debutees’ works, I should mention a feature of a young French director Marc Lahore called “The Open”, which I ended up watching thanks to one friend’s notice. The general idea of the film seemed for me by all means a fantastic one – a group of three lost souls trying to survive physically and mentally in the post-apocalyptic-WWIII-world. They’re holding together with the insane idea that helps to keep them sane – to play the “world” tournament of tennis, with imaginary balls and rockets without a net. To make it clear, we already witnessed something similar in the cinema history: that scene at the end of Michelangelo Antonioni’s “Blow-Up”, of mimes playing tennis. Only that this scene, with quite a different connotation (and location) was transformed into the full-length film and to be honest, the format didn’t convince me that much. At some point long-lasting general takes and intentionally slow narration of the 104-minute film are making you crazy. Should this story be made into a short, or perhaps incorporated into a feature that focused on multiple stories, it would be perceived much better. I love slow cinema, just not every type of it.
A little confession to make: in spite of the fact that the main purpose of most film festivals is to bring new visionaries into the cinema world, the most interesting part for me in every event of such are the retrospectives and old films. I find it an exceptional way to fill in the blanks in my film education, and moreover, to see wonderful things on a big screen (as if you were lucky to born a Time Lord). This time the so called retrospective was dedicated to classic monster films, and I couldn’t miss a chance to see both of famous “monster director” James Whale’s masterpieces, “The Invisible Man” and “Frankenstain” (though still missing “The Frankenstain’s Bride”).
During the festival there was also a chance to see such cult film classics as Fred M. Wilcox “Forbidden Planet” or even witness the unprecedented screening of the first Japanese feature-length animated film, “Momotaro, Sacred Sailors”, which also served as propaganda during World War II. And… I missed both of them.
Finally, at the end of my little festival path, I had a real luck to see the future to be winner of the festival, Iranian-born director Babak Anvari’s first feature “Under the Shadow”. Though by the means of horror genre the film doesn’t introduce a lot of new, using typical jump-scares here and there, a story, which takes place in Iraq of the 1980s, stirred by the Islam revolution and at the height of the Iraq-Iran war, is quite masterfully demonstrates the reality intertwined with hallucinations, real horrors of war and imaginary (perhaps) horrors of supernatural and uncanny. This is for sure what grasped the festival jury’s attention and even made the film to be selected as UK foreign language Oscar entry.
Now the final (at last!) and the sad part. Looking one more time through the program of the festival, I realized how little had I actually seen. Something that I missed totally was actually the main topic of the festival – Woman, the fantastic gender, within the scope of which both parts of Quentin Tarantino’s “Kill Bill” and Brian de Palma’s “Carry” were showed, the last one even made into a theatre performance in the street. And it’s just a small part of all the wonderful things I shamefully managed to run through. On the other hand, it inspires me, should such chance appear, to take a week holiday and come to Malaga next November, and now, with an intention not to miss anything. And I do recommend you, my dear occasional reader (if you survived to the end of this article) to do the same.