Thessaloniki: the winners

When asked what he was looking for in a winning movie, the Jury President Jiri Menzel (director of the great, bittersweet 1968 Czech New Wave classic “Closely Watched Trains”) said “I hope to find a nice film about people." Sorry, wrong festival. As noted below, what you’ll find here is a lot of alcoholism, child abuse, intractable depression, violence against women, dead cats, faux cynicism, genuine cynicism, corrupt officials and overall despair.

Nonetheless, the jury selected a winner and a runner-up. Taking the Golden Alexander and 37,000 euros for first prize is “The Red Awn,” by Chinese director Cai Shangjun,  about a man who returns home after a long exile to find that his wife has died, his son is estranged and he’s been officially declared dead.  The Silver Alexander and 22,000 euros for second place goes to Spiros Stathoulopoulos’s “PVC-1,”  which is, to quote the festival program, “the true story of an innocent woman’s struggle for survival after she is fitted with a collar-bomb.” The International Film Critics Jury -  aka FIPRESCI - whose niceness I can vouch for from personal experience,  picked this one too. Both screened too late for me to see, but judging from the descriptions they seem very nice indeed: round up the kids and see them for the holidays.

I did see “Autumn Ball," which won a Best Director nod (but apparently includes no money) for Veiko Ounpuu. I would have chosen it as the best of the 15 films I saw, a nice balance of horror and mirth, despair and glee, with some truly uproarious and outrageous black comic moments. Same goes for Balabanov’s “Cargo 200,” which was not among the films in competition. But it would have gotten my Silver Alexander if I had one to give.


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