Karlovy Vary Film Festival, Part III

I just came from the fitness center at the Thermal Hotel, the monolithic 70s era Soviet hotel where I am staying, and let's just say that the term Kafkaesque came to mind. Had he been alive today the great Czech writer might have been inspired to write "The Castle" all over again. A simple workout involved taking a special sideways elevator only operated by a key card, paying 90 crowns, changing in a stark locker room, taking off one's shoes, showing  a receipt to gain admittance, putting your shoes on again to use the cardio machine and asking an attendant to turn it on. And if you forget your towel as I did, then you have to go back and repeat everything, removing and replacing the shoes and so on. A word to the wise -- don't take locker number 37. I'll say no more.

I'm not here for fitness, however, but for film. I have seen over half the competition movies and others besides and I have reached the point, as I have at many other festivals, when I notice certain patterns emerging. Most of  these patterns are patently silly and surely coincidental. Like, why are there so many movies in which the main character suddenly indulges in frantic and embarassingly bad dancing? But others seem to reflect some larger reality. Like the descent of a "civilized" person into "savagery" as seen above in "Terribly Happy." Over the past couple of years the standard festival feature was about immigrants from the the Third World trying to enter a European country or adjusting to life there. Here the direction seems to have reversed, with Europeans heading to the Third World -- or to the Third World equivalent in their own country -- and basically slumming it.

The results, though perhaps well intended, are  borderline patronizing, even racist. As is the case with Belgian director Manuel Pouette's "Distant Tremors," in which a three Europeans join a young Senegalese man in a trip down the river to steal fetishes and, in effect, test the differences between the Western scientific approach and African "magic." Kind of a muddle of "Apocalypse Now" and "Walkabout" with many subtitles. Or German director Tom Schreiber's "Dr. Aleman," in which a fatuous German intern takes up residency in the ER of Cali, Colombia and becomes engrossed in the violent, drug-addled criminal culture whose bullet-riddled victims he treats at the hospital. Once he's offered a gun,the film takes an inevitable, trivializing Hollywood course. Probably the best of these is Russian filmmaker Alexey Uchitel's "The Captive," in which a  couple of hardened Russian troops take a hunky Chechen guerrilla prisoner and, while esorting him back to their own lines, find he's a person just like themselves, and kind of cute.

Other motifs? Films (or plays or radio shows) within films; films about squabbling middle class, middle aged couples (Bergman has a lot to answer for for his "Scenes from a Marriage." But nothing as Kafkaesque as the Hotel Thermal's fitness center.

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