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47th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Days 6 & 7: 'To Kill a Beaver,' 'La meilleure facon de march,' 'Death of a Man in Balkans' and More

Thompson on Hollywood By Meredith Brody | Thompson on Hollywood July 11, 2012 at 6:04PM

I slam three cups of coffee, and go see “Zabric Bobra,” aka “To Kill a Beaver,” an intense Polish film about a rogue operative who’s hiding out in a country farmhouse and hooking up with a local wild child while plotting some kind of complicated revenge.
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Which means twelve hours later, at a 9:00 a.m. screening of Christian Petzold’s slightly Hitchcockian, smoothly-told “Barbara,” set in grey and sinister 1980s East Germany, very watchable, but with a surprisingly Ladies’ Home Journal-fiction ending. Still, I’ve been hearing about Petzold’s as an interesting director for some time, and was not convinced by his installment of the three-part television movie Dreileben, the only other film of his I’ve seen. I look forward, now, to seeing more of his work (though I don’t go to amazon.de and order any DVDs).

At 11:30, I see “For Ellen,” another in the unfortunately-titled mumblecore genre, a thin tale of a rocker (played by Paul Dano) who tries to re-connect with his 6-year-old daughter as his abandoned wife divorces him. Produced by Bradley Rust Gray (whose “The Exploding Girl,” starring Dano’s companion Zoe Kazan, was my introduction to the genre a few years ago at the Berlin Film Festival), and directed by So Yong Kim, the film co-stars, among others, an almost-unrecognizable Jena Malone, and, to my embarrassed surprise whe I read the credits unscrolling onscreen afterwards, Jon Heder – because I thought the actor merely looked quite a bit like Jon Heder, in certain shots and angles. I must be losing my touch – or he is.

At 1:30, “Waga haha no ki,” by Masato Harada, or “Chronicle of My Mother,” a soapy story of three generations of a wealthy and successful Japanese family. An honored author tries to work out his relationship with his aging mother, who abandoned him as a child, as well as with his long-suffering wife and several children. Note to blurb writers: try to avoid mentioning Yasujiro Ozu; comparisons with the master will only result in disappointment.  Not a good sign that I’m paying more attention to the sets and costumes than the rather stodgy narrative.

Afterwards I permit myself a treat: a new print of Claude Miller’s “La meilleure facon de marche,” presented in honor of the French film journal Positif’s 60th anniversary. They programmed the rather baffling “La Nave delle Donne Maledette” (1954) in similar celebration at Il Cinema Ritrovato last week in Bolgna. This seems a happier choice, at least until the Positif representative introducing the film points out that Miller recently died (before his film “Thérèse Desqueyroux” closed this year’s Cannes film fest), and that both Patrick Dewaere and Christine Pascal later committed suicide (I knew about Dewaere, but Pascal was a new one on me), helpfully telling us the methods.  Buzzkill! 

Fortunately, the film is compelling enough that I forget the grim introduction. I’m reminded of Pagnol’s delightful and touching “Merlusse,” and in this instance (unlike the Ozu reference above), the thought honors both Pagnol and Miller.  I’m so enthralled that I can almost ignore the storm that scarily shakes the tentlike temporary structure (grandly called the Espace d’Orleans) we’re watching the movie in, whose enclosure by rubbery walls smells more like a chlorinated swimming pool with every day that passes.

In the event, we exit calmly, and I actually behave like a human being and join my possibly-sister Mimi Brody for a dinner she’s organized with the delightful Jessica Chiang, late of Malaysia, now living in Dublin, who’s reviewing Karlovy Vary for Indiewire’s Playlist, and whose pieces on Szabo’s “The Door” and “Brian Eno: 1971—1977: The Man Who Fell to Earth” I couldn’t agree with more; David Martos, a radio journalist from Madrid; and Marian Masone, programmer at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. We wander around and stumble into the Ristorante Pizzeria Venezia, a recommended spot that I had poo-pooed because I wanted Czech food, damn it!  

I am thrilled to find, alongside the pasta and pizzas, roast knuckle of pork with cabbage and horseradish dumplings (which I would have if it wasn’t such a hot and sultry night) and lamb knuckle with buckwheat dumplings. Others have mushroom risotto, vegetarian lasagna, and pizza; I have a beautifully fried pork schnitzel (two huge ones, actually), and garlicky spinach, although now looking at the menu (you can find EVERYTHING online!), I wonder how I could have bypassed the stouchane bramboury se slaninou, ciboulkou a petrzelkou  -- i.e., mashed potatoes with bacon, onion, and parsley – on the five-language (Czech, Italian, English, German, Russian) menu.

Afterwards we scatter, to movies various: I take Mimi’s tip and go see a three-part program devoted to an obscure-to-me Armenian documentary filmmaker, Artavadz Pelesjan, described as a genius ideologically kindred to, oh, just Sergei Eisenstein and Dziga Vertov.  Beware the overselling: I am underwhelmed by the two short documentaries of his we see, one half-an-hour long, with some astonishing footage of shepherds and farmers battling the elements, and a ten-minute one, mostly about a country wedding. I’m even less taken with the opaque, overcut 50-minute “documentary” about him, aptly described as an “atmospheric mosaic.”

Oh well.  I trudge back to the hotel. I turn to the Internet, and while writing up the day’s screenings and researching the death of Marie Prevost, stumble across the intriguingly if clunkily titled “Dangerous Curves atop Hollywood Heels: The Lives, Careers, and Misfortunes of 14 Hard-Luck Girls of the Silent Screen,” by one Michael G. Ankerich. A couple of clicks – it’s so easy! – and it’s on its way to me.  It may even beat me home.

This article is related to: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Festivals


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Thompson on Hollywood

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.