An oldie but a goodie from the always great Rookie Mag, featuring classics such as Björk performing 7-months pregnant, her appearance on MTV Cribs and, of course, the swan dress!

Picks Of The Day - Sunday, October 2nd

It is the last day of RIFF and I just got one very serious recommendation to complete this 10 days of RIFF: Go and check out the Golden-Puffin-Award winner `Twilight Portrait´ (Angelina Nikonova, RUS 2011).

Marina, an upper-crust social worker with a doting husband and an enviable downtown apartment, is raped by three policemen and changes her behaviour completely. I won’t tell what will happen next, because this film is about the unpredictable events that follow this horrible incident. The spectator finds himself entangled in the story and surprised and shocked by the actions of the main character. This film might not shine with an extraordinary cinematography or avant-garde composition, but it is a truly strong story and the most intense film of the competition. The jury, comprised of the Danish actor Ulrich Thomsen,Tudor Giurgiu, Director of the Transilvanian International Film Festival and Irene Bignardi, journalist Il Messaggero (Rome), was right to award this film with the main prize of RIFF.

20:15, Háskólabíó 2

By: Wiebke Wolter

AWARDS 2011 -newsflash-

THE GOLDEN PUFFIN

Discovery Award

Russian director Angelina Nikonova´s film TWILIGHT PORTRAIT (Portret V Sumerkakh) which tells a story of revenge between a social worker and a militia man against the modern day backdrop of a Russia ridden with social conflict.

Jury Statement:

“For the extremely inspired use of cinematic language and storytelling while depicting an intriguing and provocative subject matter with unsettling, realist sensibility.”

Special Jury Mention:

Italian director Andrea Segre’s SHUN LI AND THE POET (Io Sono Li)

Norwegian director Joachim Trier’s OSLO, 31. AUGUST

FIPRESCI AWARD

International Critic’s Award

Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson´s VOLCANO (Eldfjall).

THE CHURCH OF ICELAND AWARD

Icelandic director Rúnar Rúnarsson´s VOLCANO (Eldfjall).

Special Jury mention:

Brazilian director Julia Marat’s STORIES THAT ONLY EXIST WHEN REMEMBERED (Historias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas).

RIFF AUDIENCE AWARD

Most Popular Film Award

Finnish director Aki Kaurismaki’s film LE HAVRE.

RIFF ENVIRONMENTAL AWARD

Irish director’s Risteard Ó Domhnaill’s THE PIPE. 

Special Jury Mention:

Trish Dolman’s ECO PIRATE: THE PAUL WATSON STORY.

BEST ICELANDIC SHORT FILM

Börkur Sigthorsson’s SKAÐI (Come To Harm)

Special Jury Mention:

Haukur M. Hrafnsson’s ÓSÝNILEG MÆRI (Invisible Border).

Picks Of The Day - Saturday October 1st

Forces of Nature (Sturla Gunnarsson, CAN 2010) to start with. David Suzuki, iconic Canadian scientist, educator, broadcaster and activist delivers a ‘last lecture’ — what he describes as “a distillation of my life and thoughts, my legacy, what I want to say before I die.” The film interweaves the lecture with scenes from the places and events in Suzuki’s life – creating a biography of ideas – forged by the major social, scientific and cultural events of the past 70 years. Suzuki will be present and give a lecture later!

14:00, film at Bíó Paradís 2

16:00, lecture

Gnarr (Gaukur Úlfarsson, ICE 2010) a little bit later. Watching a well known Icelandic comedian becoming the mayor of Reykjavík must be amazing and a lot of fun!

18:00, Bíó Paradís 3

And Sudden Cine Concert at night. The invitation says: „The famed band Sudden Weather Change will bury this year’s edition of RIFF Saturday night, with a feast for both eyes and ears. Even taste if you’re lucky. So, on the final night of the festival, you’ll have the opportunity to view the documentary about Sudden Weather Change, bearing the nifty name Sudden Weather Change, which is a ‘work-in-progress’ at this state, and finally listen to Sudden Weather Change burn the stage with their crude tones. That’s a lot of Sudden Weather Change.“ Go for it!

22:00, Bakkus, entry is free, discount on drinks for pass-holders til midnight

By: Wiebke Wolter

Standing Ovations At A Funeral

"Volcano" (Rúnar Rúnarsson, ICE 2011) premiered last night

Four men in black suits, hands folded and serious looks on their faces, entered the stage at Háskólabíó last night. They looked a bit like the four coffin bearers at a funeral. But they were film makers, including the director of Rúnar Rúnarsson, welcoming the people in the sold out movie theatre to the Iceland premiere of “Eldfjall” (“Volcano”).

“You have to be feared”, this is what superintendent Hannes tells his successor. Hannes, an old grumpy man, performing his janitor job at a school with diligent devotion, is about to be retired. Back at home he has to spend more time with his family – he sits in a chair and smokes, his wife prepares dinner and cleans the house, they rarely talk. The only time he addresses his visiting daughter and son-in-law is to tell them that he thinks the car they had bought is rubbish. Spitting out the asparagus soup he doesn’t like or insisting on smoking inside, Hannes in all his harshness sometimes looks like a little child and puts a smile on the spectators face.

When Hannes is out on the sea in his small fishing boat, smoking a cigarette or gutting fish, you actually see him smiling. But this doesn’t last for long. His ship is about to sink. First, his ship literally springs a leak and is put into the garden to restore. And when his wife suffers a stroke and ends up paralysed, Hannes life changes dramatically. The first time in his life he has to take care of the household and another person. Even though the relationship between Hannes and his children reminds a cold one, there are new unseen gestures of affection, worrying and caring towards his wife and you can see more and the heart of gold beating beneath that rough exterior.

The cold and distance in between the family members and the depressing undertone of the story is reflected in muted colours – everything seems to be either blue or grey: the sky, the old man’s beard, the clothes of the family members and the curtains and sheets. “Volcano” is narrated in long sequences, sometimes so long that it makes you feel uncomfortable, but you have to suffer along with Hannes through the awkward silent moments and the endless crying of his paralysed wife. The film Volcano is depressing and sad, but Rúnar Rúnarsson manages to create sympathy with that old grumpy man, not least by putting him into funny-awkward situations like the mentioned asparagus situation or him standing fully naked in the garden.

After the applause during the whole closing credits, the funeral party came on stage again. A serious looking group of black-dressed film makers and actors holding red roses where blessed with endless clapping, cheers and standing ovations.

By: Wiebke Wolter

Picks Of The Day – Friday, September 30th

Today is the perfect day to check out what Icelandic film makers have been up to lately:

Órói” (Baldvin Z, ICE 2010) tells the story of a sixteen year old returning from a trip to Manchester who has to deal with suicide, his own past and general search for his identity.

14:00, Bíó Paradís 4

Another teenager, Ormur, who believes he is a genius poet, struggels with growing up. “Hullabaloo” (Gunnar B. Guðmundsson, ICE 2010).

16:00, Bíó Paradís 3

A city slicker comes to a small farming community, pretending to know how to save their local slaughterhouse, unaware that he is walking into a local turbulence of small-town politics and misbehaviour. The title “Polite People” (Olaf De Fleur, ICE 2011) is probably a sarcastic one…

18:00 Bíó Paradís 3

And there is another screening of “We Need To Talk About Kevin” (Lynne Ramsay, USA 2011) which I believe to be one of the best films of the festival.

22:30, Bíó Paradís 1

By: Wiebke Wolter

Picks Of The Day – Thursday, September 29th

RIFF is showing a movie in the centre of the earth. They advertise it as “Pitch-black movie theatre, built millions of years ago”. We suspect, they are talking about a cave… If your up for that, check if there are still tickets left.

16:00/20:30, departure from City Hall

Volcano (Runar Rúnarsson, ICE 2011) is Icelands contribution to the main selection and competition for the Golden Puffin Award. This film explores the transition of Hannes from a working man to retirement.

20:00 Háskólabíó, Q&A afterwards

A surreal and experimental caberet-style show will take place at Iðno tonight. The RIFF Wunderland combines music, theatre, bizarre circus acts and filmmaking in one avant-garde show. After the show there will be bossa nova by Jussanam Dejah.

20:30, Iðno

We all loved Le Havre (Aki Kaurismäi, FIN/FRA/GER, 2011)! A police inspector dressed in black entering a bar with a pineapple in is hand… Great! Depressing and funny at the same time – a must see!

Read also Kaurismäki Reborn

22:00, Háskólabíó 2

By: Wiebke Wolter

Adventure Swim-In
Laugardalslaug Swimming pool

Avant-Garde, Finally

`Follow Me´ (Johannes Hammel, AUT 2010)

After a lot of realistic films dealing with social problems or family issues or suicide, I was so happy to finally see something more artificial.

In a stylised black and white, `Follow Me´ tells the story of a family of four. Or actually, the film doesn’t tell a story, it shows some strange, awkward, crazy and random sequences featuring at least one member of the family. The youngest attends religious education and reads the strange Christian instructional manual “Folge Mir” (Follow me). The older boy gets hurt at a game of hockey and nobody cares about it. The father destroys the walls of their apartment or tapes up a Christmas tree. The strangest of all is the mother, even though she is the only one who recognises that she’s acting crazy. She develops a social phobia and takes pills to get better. The mother is played by two different actresses, which is kind of really disturbing.

Aside from these distorted episodes, there are very quiet images of a harbour, of crumbling house fronts or the seventies interior of the apartment. And as an additional extra, bringing colour into this movie, there is private super 8 footage of the director himself worked into this madness.

I’m not sure if I liked the film or not, but it left me bewildered, questioning, confused and stunned – and I’m really thankful for that!

By: Wiebke Wolter

Activist Belafonte

Sing Your Song is based on the life and times of singer Harry Belafonte. And as luck would have it I sat next to his youngest daughter, Gina Belafonte (and producer of the film), during the screening. And at one point, she started singing along and I realized then: it was her song  too. Later on, the film told us (very briefly) about the divorce of her parents. And then cut straight to the LA riots.

That tells us a lot about the film and about Harry‘s life. It‘s unflinching and unsentimental, yet immensely powerful. The personal takes a backseat to the civil rights struggle, and it is clear that also happened in his life a lot, being a cause for two divorces among other things.

The film tells a captivating story of the black civil rights struggle of the 40s, 50s and 60s, and while you may thing you have heard it all before there are many nuances and forgotten stories that are left out of most accounts. And the cast includes Martin Luther King Jr., John F. Kennedy and his brother Bobby, Marlon Brando, Nelson Mandela, Sidney Poitier and Petulah Clark in an important scene.

The film could have stayed there and still be really good, but what really makes it captivating is that it actually deals with over 80 years of this on-going struggle – and instead of settling into peaceful retirement Belafonte wonders: where did we go wrong? Why are there still all those horrible problems, despite all the battles  won? The answers are not as clear cut as before, it‘s no longer just about passing a single bill (as in getting the right to vote etc.), but the criminalization of poverty is one of the main reasons cited.

It is one of the strongest films at the festival and you come out of with enormous respect and admiration for Harry Belafonte, yet this never becomes a puff piece, since Harry always remains his own biggest critic.  And at the end it‘s worth quoting John Anderson‘s review in Variety: „To call “Sing Your Song” an epic might seem overblown, but it isn’t just the story of man, but the story of a country and a century.“

Sokurov’s Faust type-cast Iceland as Hell

We seem to have a technical issue. At the moment the supposedly fool-proof tumblr doesn’t add my posts to the Reykjavík Grapevine RIFF-blog, but to some other place, titled ‘Untitled’. I blog for the void.

[note: this issue has now been fixed, and our good friend afterseptemberism is now posting for the masses]

In case any of this ever reaches y’all, though, here is a brief summary of the most important facts of the evening, so far:

1. Before each screening the following companies declare their love for cinema: KFC, Iceland Express, KFC (yes, twice) and Nikon. Apart from those, a wine brand, a whiskey brand and a beer brand all seem to love cinema a little as well, but not enough to get an actual shot and edited motion-picture commercial, but merely fill the screensaver left on while people find their seats.

2. Lots of people seem to love cinema as well: tonight’s screening of Alexander Sokurov’s Faust, the film’s Nordic premiere, was packed. Parts of the films were shot in Iceland, a presenter and representative from production company Saga film proudly declared on stage, before the film started – but curiously enough there were no rumors about precisely which ‘parts’ of the film. We could have guessed, of course: Icelandic nature, geyser and all, shone in scenes from Hell.

Apart from this type-casting of location, someone else must provide an enlightened perspective on the film. Apparently the director has stated that ‘We have to delve into everything that is dark in man’. Surely that is true of Goethe’s Faust, the legend on which it is built and other variations on the theme. This time round the Devil is somewhat gollumish, and an occasion for very pleasing comic details. But the film did not convincingly delve into everything that is dark in man. It rather seemed to keep its distance from both viewer and the subject material the whole time: alienating the viewer already with the fundamental decision to frame the film in 4:3, with cornered edges, creating the lasting sensation that you were peeping at the vents through a view-master; while supposed subtleties in dealing with lust, greed and vanity rather simply kept them all at bay. I must have missed something, since the film got the Golden Lion at this year’s Venice film festival – you can’t argue with that, really. So please, someone, enlighten me, how this film was great.

3. To summarize: we all love cinema a lot, even KFC does, but does cinema love us? Does cinema really love KFC, Sokurov and the rest of us?

-afterseptemberism

Picks Of The Day – Wednesday, September 28th

"Stories That Only Exist When Remembered" (Julia Murat, BRA/ARG/FRA 2011) looks pretty poetic. When the young photographer Rita comes to her little village, life for old Magdalene becomes more cheerful again. Check out the trailer.  

14:00, Bíó Paradís 1

Skúli Sverrisson & Sóley are performing their music to `When It Was Blue´ (Jennifer Reeves, 2008). Landscapes from Iceland, New-Zealand, Vancouver, Nevada and more places around the world are alternating with abstract hand-painted images on the celluloid itself. The Film Concert will apperantly be a synthesis of the arts.

21:00, Fríkirkjan

And later on, put on your Dolly-Parton-wig and line-dancing-shoes. And move your Texan ass to the Wild West Wackiness film quiz party at Kaffibarinn – yeeha!

21:00, Kaffibarinn

By: Wiebke Wolter

Bela Tarr’s Family Nest (1979)

The synopsis of Bela Tarr’s Family Nest, given in RIFF’s program, reads as following:

Tensions mount as Laci and his wife, Iren, thwarted in their efforts to find an apartment of their own during hungary’s housing crisis in the 1970s, are stuck in his parents’ cramped one-room apartment. A microcosm of the Communist government’s influence in Tarr’s native country.

This is not accurate. Family Nest is a film about patriarchy as a ruthless oppressive force in our daily lives. It may be set in late communist Hungary, but those are mere circumstances – the historically contingent reasons that make the particular lives portrayed so hard. The actual subject material: how the father of a house passes his own frustrations and male aggression towards women on to his sons, how they articulate them and how the women in their lives are thereby constantly affected, is hopefully not timeless, but certainly did not fall with the Berlin wall.

There is certainly a couple, Laci, one of the patriarch’s two sons, and Iren. And they are forced, by a mix of political, bureaucratic and economic reason and unreason to live with Laci’s parents. The film starts as Laci comes back home from army service. His father scolds him for not staying longer, as it seems a real man should. The scolding of the son, however, is mild in comparison with how he harrasses the son’s wife, Iren, nags, scolds, and finds faults at everything about her, accusing her of cheating on his son, squandering their money etc., while demanding obedience and respect in ‘his house’. Meanwhile, the fact seems to be that Laci has spent most of their money on booze. As Laci’s father and mother throw out a ‘dirty gypsie’ female friend Iren has brought for dinner, the two sons accompany her, then attack her in the street and rape her. Laci’s brother has a child, we learn, which he is not interested in acknowledging, contacting or supporting. In one scene the patriarch goes out for a night of fun, and is absolutely shocked to find out that a woman which he desires will not sleep with him.

When Iren is thrown out of the home, by her father-in-law, she leaves alone: the patriarch shouts that he will not have his grand-daughter ‘raised by a slut’. The child is kept at home, where Laci remains as well, questioning, as it seems, Iren’s truthfulness rather than his father’s.


It is amazing, it is almost beyond belief, that Bela Tarr made this film at the age of 20. It is so insightful into the structures of patriarchy, so mercilessly clear on the relation between its ‘normal’ functioning and deviant and criminal behavior, that such a film may not have been made since. There were some among the audience who found it tranquilizing and dozed off a bit – certainly the film’s pace is slow. The extensive uncut cinema-verite shots of conversations or monologues would probably have a hard time going through any contemporary production process. Perhaps even more disturbing, though, than contemporary cinema’s overwhelming artistic censoring in the guise of professionalism, is that not even mere verbal summaries of films made before the onset of mandatory stupidity, or outside its domain, escape its gravity: I am sure that the synopsis quoted above was not written with any evil intentions. It is far more likely that in those words someone actually described what he or she saw when he or she watched this film. That’s the scary part. Hegemony does not only affect our discourse, it affects what we see when we look. Look better. This is not a film about ‘the Communist government’s influence’, however disastrous that influence was in all spheres of life. This is a film about gender divisions as violent power matrices, male supremacy or patriarchy as a lived reality. Flawed but perfect.


P.S. I want a black-and-white digital HD camera – not one with a black and white feature, but an actual black-and-white-only chip. Color is superfluous most of the time. Where are they?

afterseptemberism

Majewski’s The Mill and The Cross

The Mill And The CrossIt’s nice to attend a film festival in your home town. I know there’s people out there who have to pay thousands in our almost non-existing currency for sandwhiches and drinks in between films, hang around in lobbies and try to look not too idle, while idly waiting for the next film. You who hang in there, I salute you – some give up, call it a day after a film or two, and go to a pub, only to waste more money on something potentially even less satisfying than a bad film, let alone a good one.

Now, before I cooked my rice with soya this evening, I saw The Mill and the Cross, a U.S. production by Polish director Lech Majewski. The film is an exploration of a painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, whose paintings you are somewhat familiar with, whether you realize or not: when you think the Tower of Babel, you think his Tower of Babel. If you ever think of 16th century communal life in Holland, chances are he has already visualized it for you. And at some point it is likely that you have come across the painting in question,The Procession to Calvary.

The filmmaker takes this rich image apart, and stages scenes from within it while adding to it glimpses behind the scene: background stories, the point of that pole on the far right, with the spoked wheel on top; life within the mountain on top of which the Mill stands, reaching towards the sky. In order to compose the most extensive canvases of the film, with a mix of staged/filmed and painted subject-material, Mr. Majewski exploits the potential of current digital technique as fully as his compatriot Zbigniew Rybczyński did analogue video and green-screens through the 1980’s. From the most subtle images of daily routines to breathtaking composed travelling shots staged with a composed technique on the basis of the painting, the film is really a delicious expansion on a work of art I now feel familiar with in a way I’d like to get to know more paintings (Guernica, anyone?).

Having said that, I have a problem with the film, which may not be the author’s fault. At the center of Bruegel’s canvas, there Jesus hides behind a cross being carried along the road – while the women in the foreground of the frame would be the women who mourned him, his mother Mary figuring off-center between the others. Calvary is another name for Golgotha – Bruegel thus transposes the Passion onto his own times, creating a modern juxtaposition upon which the whole work is built. 

The film does not factually betray Bruegel’s decency (or whatever the motivation was behind his decision) to hide the savior’s face behind the cross. Jesus’ face is not revealed in the film. In spirit, however, it takes a turn inconsistent with the prima facie artistic decisions of the painter: not satisfied by exposing the importance of the painting’s understated central scene, Majewski dramatizes the procession and crucifixtion, making it serve as a climax in a film which might not have needed one. Whereas Bruegel’s painting is wonderfully earthly, and can be devoured with or without any relation to the Christian faith, the film is not. This is already problematic for those of us who are not so much avowed atheists, as simply lousy when it comes to the whole religion-faith-belief thing. I’m not speaking in terms of thought, ideas or disliking any sort of message – but merely in terms of the cinematic experience: at the point in the film when a mixed pan-tilt-crane-dolly shot made it unambiguously clear that the audience was supposed to be awed, I was bored. It didn’t work. It was so much dead time for me.

This decision of Majewski, to explicitly awe the audience through the painting’s religious motive, whereas the painting itself stays nonchalantly impassive towards the viewers’ interpretation of the scenery, also involves an interpretation that bothered me: that the Mill on top of the mountain, reaching towards the sky, thus symbolizes heavenly powers, and the Grinder a visual representation for a divinity. This misses the point, however, of the absolute earthliness of the mountain, the Mill and the Grinder: towering above Humanity, above Christ and above the two trees, of life and death, the Mill does not represent any divinity to me. On the contrary it strikes me as a representative of the logic of times to come: the logic of the mill is the logic of a looming industrialization: a means of production that abstracts wheat from grains, a tool upon which workers and others become wholly dependent for their output, their purchasing power and their survival. This may be overtly marxist of me, but at least old Bruegel was polite enough to keep the matter ambiguous for the lot of us. Which Majewski did not.

It’s an impressive film, but probably still more impressive for those of us unaffected by the secularization ongoing since the 16th century.

After I cooked and ate my rice, I went to see some more films. More about that later.

Alterseptemberism

Picks Of The Day – Tuesday, September 27th

This year’s main selection “New Vision” doesn’t seem that experimental and avant-garde as last year’s. `Follow Me´ (Johannes Hammel, AUT 2010) seems to be an exception. Black-and-white landscapes, mixed with autobiographic 8-mm-footage telling a multi-layered-psychotic-depressive story. That sounds interesting!

16:00, Bíó Paradís 1

Lara Roxx, a young porn star, was diagnosed with HIV positive. The documentary ´Inside Lara Roxx´ (Mia Donovan, CAN 2011) follows five years of ups and downs as she tries to reinvent her life.

20:00, Bíó Paradís 4, Q&A afterwards

There is an interesting special event today: Home Movie Screenings. Film profecionals and filmbuffs Ásgeir Kolbeins, award-winning filmmaker Hrafn Gunnlaugsson, Hugleikur Dagsson, comic book writer, and Úlfhildur Dagsdóttir, writer and critic will screen their favourite movies in their homes! A surpise movie and a peek into some stranger’s homes, that sounds fantastic.

The Home Movie Screenings will take place at 21:00. Get your ticket at Eymundson.

Last year Vincent Moon screened some of his so-called „Take Away Shows“ at RIFF. He also produced some of these music videos, where artists perform at unusual places, in Iceland. The results can be admired at Bakkus tonight. As an appetiser check out Retro Stefsons Mama Angola.

21:00, Bakkus

By: Wiebke Wolter