Strong Cannes slate reflects renewed vibrancy in diverse market
By Nick Holdsworth
MOSCOW -- Hungarian filmmakers are celebrating their biggest presence at Cannes in 20 years with four films in official selection.
Hungary, lead by Gyorgy Palfi's controversial "Taxidermia" in the Un Certain Regard section, is part of one of the 59th festival's most noticeable trends, with other Eastern European directors also set to make waves in and around the Croisette.
"Everybody in the film community is very happy in Hungary, even if none of the films is in the main competition," "Taxidermia" producer Peter Miskolczi said.
Hungary's 2004 film law, which allows for 20% tax credits for films shot in the country in addition to more generous government subsidies for local production, were driving forces behind the strength of films this year, Miskolczi said.
"The other element is the freshness of the young generation. All the three Cannes candidates are around 30, they think differently about film and audiences. They are free in their ideas, they can work without pressure," he added.
The vitality of work from Eastern Europe has not escaped Cannes artistic director Thierry Fremaux. At April's Paris Grand Hotel festival press launch, he said that apart from the strength of Latin American film across all festival sections -- which this year largely replaces the strong run of Asian fare in recent years -- film from Europe's old Warsaw Pact countries were the clearest geographical trend.
"Taxidermia," which in February won the Hungarian national film week awards held in Budapest, is one of a number of Eastern European productions in Un Certain Regard's 24-strong program.
A deliberately shocking odyssey through 40 years of communism as seen through the perverted focus of three generations of self-obsessed men, "Taxidermia" -- which fiercely divided critics at its February premiere in Budapest -- is likely to make waves at Cannes.
World sales agents Fortissimo Films will put on market screenings to capitalize on the significant international interest the film has generated, Miskolczi said, adding that Benelux rights to the film -- shot on a budget of €2 million ($2.5 million) -- already have been sold to the Netherlands' Contact Film.
Also in Un Certain Regard is Polish director Slawomir Fabicki's "Retrieval" (Z Odzysku), a hard-hitting story of 19-year-old Wojtek, who, battling to support his Ukrainian lover Katja and her child, is forced to enter into a dark underworld.
The €1 million budget film, produced by Piotr Dzieciol of Lodz and Warsaw-based Opus Film, is set in the harsh environs of Poland's derelict coalfields, where poverty drives Wojtek into the arms of small-time gangsters, debt collectors and illicit boxing rings as he fights for dignity and survival.
Ewa Puszczynska, head of development at Opus Film, said that during the festival the company would be looking for an international sales agent for the film and also for Adam Guzinski's "The Boy on a Galloping Horse" (Chlopiec Na Galopujacym Koniu), which will screen in Cannes' Out of Competition section.
Also screening in Un Certain Regard: Lithuania's "You Am I," directed by Kristijonas Vildziunas, whose film "The Lease" was a competition entrant in Venice four years ago; Romania's "Cum Mi-am Petrecut Sfarsiful Lumii" (The Way I Spent the End of the World), a debut by Catalin Mitulescu -- a previous winner of the Shorts Golden Palm; and the French-Russian co-production "977."
Cannes' Critics Week and Directors' Fortnight sidebars also are shining the spotlight on Eastern European films this year.
Hungarian director Agnes Kocsis' debut feature "Fresh Air" (Friss Levego), a study of a woman reunited with her homeless mother that confronts the harsher truths about a society in economic transition, plays in the Critics Week. Her 27-minute film-school short "A Virus" can be found in the Cinefondation's official selection.
Fellow Hungarian director Szabolcs Hajdu's "White Palms" (Feher Tenyer), which won plaudits that included best director at this year's national film week in Budapest, is one of two Eastern European picks for the Directors' Fortnight. A visually stunning story about an Olympic gymnast who goes to Canada to become a coach after his own career ends in injury, Hajdu's third feature is notable for the strong performances of its cast.
Also screening in the Directors' Fortnight is Corneliu Porumboiu's Romanian debut feature "A Fost sau n-a fost?" The ensemble piece, set during the Christmas holidays, reflects on the results of the country's revolution 16 years after dictator Nikolai Ceaucescu was overthrown.
The noncompetitive World Cinema program also offers a feast for lovers of Eastern European film, with its first day devoted to a review of contemporary Russian cinema.
Published May 24, 2006