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47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Day 5: 'Army of Shadows,' 'Holy Motors' & 'Trains of Thought'

Photo of Meredith Brody By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood July 11, 2012 at 1:48PM

It’s taken several days for the mystery of ticketing for press members to be revealed to me. It took two requests at an information counter to turn up a schedule of press screenings, and two visits to the special ticketing booths inside the accreditation room to learn I can request up to four tickets a day, and that tickets are available for both that day and the next.

In fact, the main reason I came to this screening was to be in a good position for the screening occurring immediately afterwords in this theater, another documentary entitled “Trains of Thought,” because it’s about one of my obsessions, subways. I’m not exactly a trainspotter, but if a city I visit has a subway, I’m going on it. (Or, if I live there, I’m using it. I was in love with L.A.’s subway when it definitely wasn’t cool.) The film was made by an Austrian filmmaker, Timo Novotny, who I haven’t heard of, although his previous film, “Life in Loops,” which played at a previous Karlovy Vary festival, was apparently a remix of Michael Glawogger’s “Megacities,” made with Glawogger. I’ve just seen almost all of Glawogger’s work in an intense weekend at the Pacific Film Archive, curated by Dennis Lim and with Glawogger in attendance.

I would love to see “Life in Loops,” but I find “Trains of Thought” kinda relentless, kinda slick, with a too-propulsive score by Sofa Surfers, an Austrian band that’s new to me but not, it seems, to a lot of fans in the audience. Although Novotny says afterwards that he wanted to emphasize the differences among the subway systems he chose to explore, I think he’s shot them in too uniform a style. And I would have liked more of an emphasis on the history of the various subways than the impressions of its riders.

But the more that I think about it, the more I realize that, as critics often do, I’m complaining because Novotny made HIS subway film rather than the one that I would have. I would actually happily see it again. I would actually happily see “Trains of Thought 2” (a suggestion I shout out during the Q and A afterwards, when people ask why Novotny didn’t include this or that subway system).

In theory, I have time to squeeze in another screening (or, hey, a real meal or a shower or a nap) before I see Leos Carax’s “Holy Motors” at 10:30 p.m. in the main Festival theater.  But I am so psyched to see Carax’s first feature film since 1999 that I choose to get into the rush line almost immediately after seeing “Trains of Thought.” I’m so eager to see it on the big, big screen in the Grand Hall that I have even already attempted to buy a hard ticket, to ensure my entrance, but it’s sold out.

Its second screening, scheduled three days from now, is going to be in the aptly-named Small Hall, which seats 241, as opposed to the 1145 – and more, if you count the standees and stair sittees – that would be breathing alongside me in the big room. I am definitely a size queen when it comes to screen (and audience) size: I have long lamented the state of art house exhibition in the Bay Area.

I am quite overwhelmed by “Holy Motors,” a mad but gorgeous fairy tale in which Carax’s film double, the astonishing and repellent Denis Lavant, changes character (literally, in the back of a limousine driven by the iconic Edith Scob, and figuratively) in a number of amazingly imagined vignettes.  The Festival program blurb rather artlessly states (right there in black and white!) that “according to many [“Holy Motors”] should have won the Palme d’Or this year at Cannes…”  Having not seen most of its competition (but having been underwhelmed by Haneke’s Palme d’Or-winning “L’amour,” a couple of nights ago), I can’t agree for sure, but it’s certainly the most visually stunning and formally inventive film I’ve seen in a long time. I kind of love it, even though I think Carax has a nasty imagination and a cruel streak. (I can’t stand the way he has chosen to depict Paris, in a deliberately ugly, deformed, although admittedly non-cliched way.)

Afterwards I run into Mimi Brody (no relation, although we like to pretend we are sisters, or maybe I like to pretend we are sisters), who left the UCLA Film Archive for Chicago to program the Block Museum film program at Northwestern University.  Apparently our friend Gabe Klinger has assembled a motley crew to celebrate his last night in Karlovy Vary. Director/critic Dan Sallitt, Mimi, Gabe, me, and four or five others (several of whom I recognize from the Toronto International Film Festival) stand around aimlessly in the carnival atmosphere outside the Thermal hotel, trying to figure out where to drink or eat or eat and drink.

Splinter groups break off and eventually most of us meander along the river towards Aeroport, one of those enormous noisy nightclubs that I might have been tempted to enter in my youth. Tonight I hang out outside, chatting with the impossibly charming Karel Och, artistic director of Karlovy Vary, whose second festival this is. As only the best festival directors can, he appears to be everywhere during the Festival: introducing films, hosting dinners, standing outside this vibrating club in the wee hours, available to all.

He’s made of stronger stuff than I am. I turn towards my hotel and, hopefully, sleep (although the raucous sounds of celebrating from the Festival’s open-air Jameson Festival Lounge, conveniently located just up the hill, will continue until 6 a.m. Like some alky bars in NY and SF, the Festival Lounge closes for THREE WHOLE HOURS between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m.  Its Facebook page [!] claims that it closes at 4 a.m., but I am proof to the contrary. Although I am intrigued by its signature Jameson ginger cocktail, I will not, in fact, enter it once during its Festival lifespan.)

As I said above: this is the most festive Festival I’ve ever been to. I admire Gabe for being able to leave without a backward glance – although, of course, to borrow a line from Brecht/Weill, he’s only en route to the next whisky bar, i.e. another intriguing film festival in another seductive town. (I have known Festival gypsies that skip from one to another, some for work, some for play. It can become an addiction.) But I seek REM sleep.

Tomorrow, after all, I’m starting with a Polish drama at 10 a.m., with four or five other movies to follow.  It’s a tough job, but somebody has to do it.

This article is related to: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Holy Motors , Leos Carax, Jean-Pierre Melville, Classics

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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.