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Thessaloniki, part 4

As it turned out we did have Thanksgiving dinner in Thessaloniki. The festival organizers were thoughtful enough to throw one for the Americans in town, and so I was fortunate enough to have Turkey in an Italian restaurant in Greece with Danny Glover, John Sayles (John Malkovich had already left), numerous American critics. No cranberry sauce, though.

Speaking of turkeys, there were a few screened here, but some outstanding films as well. The awards won’t be announced for a couple of days and since I wasn’t on any jury this time around I thought I’d present some prizes of my own:

Best/Worst Cop:

If by “worst” I was referring to mere competence the detective in “Jar City” would win hands down. But I’m thinking more along the lines of “Bad Lieutenant,” in which case the Icelandic film would still be in the running as it also features, Sgt. Runar, a local yokel corrupt police chief renowned for corruption, rape, murder and extortion and who resembles the “Dick Tracy” character B.O. Plenty.

Also a strong candidate is the southern sheriff played by Stacy Keach of TV’s “Mike Hammer”  fame in John Sayles's new film “Honeydripper.” He’s a genial tyrant in a 1950s Alabama backwater who picks up passing African Americans and puts them to work picking cotton in a “Dukes of Hazard” rendition of postbellum slavery.

But the winner has to be the incredibly creepy and malevolent police inspector Zhurov in Alexey Balabanov’s “Cargo 200.” He looks like a cross between Putin and Gollum and has a genius for macabre sadism that beats anything you’ll see in “Hostel” or “Saw” or even “Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” Based, you’ll be relieved to know, on a true story.

Worst/best drunks:

That would have to included almost every character in “Cargo 200," especially Zhurov’s charming mother.

The anesthesiologist in Alexei Popgrebsky’s “Simple Things” also deserves consideration, his choice of anesthetic being  the 100 proof half liters  served up in the neighborhood dive “The Lower Depths” (which explains why the Russian health system wasn’t showcased as an alternative to US HMOs in Michael Moore’s “Sicko”).

But the winner is a toss-up between two characters in Estonian first-time director Veiko Õunpuu’s “Autumn Ball.” Should it be the estranged alcoholic husband who hides in the woods to chase his ex-wife on the way home from work? Or the would-be writer whose outrageous excesses and embarassing folly include one of the worst pick-up attempts in film history? I’d have to say the jury’s still out on that one.

Kookiest female:

Again, a highly competitive category this year. From Romania comes the kooky aspiring actress in Nae Caranfil’s “The Rest is Silence” whom we first meet as she poses in an artist studio and begs the film’s protagonist to throw a glass of cold water on her beautifully lit bare breasts. From Warsaw is the kooky 20-something in Polish director Grzegorz Pacek’s “Wednesday, Thursday Morning” who breaks the ice with the protagonist by taking a kooky pee during a parade commerating the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. But the prizewinner  comes from the USA, the home of kooky movie women. If you're in the mood for kooky pee scenes, none can beat  that of  the irrepressible title character in Jason Reitman’s “Juno;” the opening pregnancy test sequence excels in its tweeness, labored hipness and, of course, kookiness.

Most abused female:

Sadly, there are no end to candidates in this category, a kind of complement to the one above. Let’s eliminate self-abused women, such as the depressive heroine of Mexican director Pedro Aguilera’s “The Influence” whose relentless downward spiral is depressing to stay the least. Instead, let’s focus on victims directly abused by loutish men, such as the estranged wife and hapless pick-up victim described above in “Autumn Ball.” Or perhaps the woman burnt alive on stage in “The Rest Is Silence.” But my vote goes to Zhurov’s “bride” in “Cargo 200” who ends up…But I won’t abuse my role as critic by giving away the most grotesque black comic scene in this film festival.

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