Friday June 28th marks the beginning of the 48th annual Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Although not quite as glamorous as Cannes or Venice, Karlovy Vary is nonetheless one of the oldest and most respected film festivals in Europe. Situated in the small spa town approximately eighty miles west of the Czech capital of Prague, the festival has programmed countless landmarks in Czech, Slovak and International cinema since its foundation in 1946, and each year draws in thousands of guests and visitors from all around the world.
For the next nine days, I will be on the ground at KVIFF, bringing you daily dispatches and reviews on the festival’s most intriguing and exciting films. To kick things off, here’s my list of the ten movies I’m looking forward to the most, including new works from Ben Wheatley, Jafar Panahi and Oscar nominated Czech director Jan Hřebejk.
SPECIAL MENTION: The Ring (Dir. Alfred Hitchcock)
Karlovy Vary will screen plenty of older films in it’s “Out of the Past” section this year, including Heaven’s Gate, Amadeus and, somewhat bafflingly, the “ultimate cut” of Oliver Stone’s Alexander. But the film that has grabbed my interest is a restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1927 silent film, The Ring. Not a thriller, but rather a romantic drama about two professional boxers in love with the same woman, the presentation will be accompanied by live instrumentation in the beautiful Karlovy Vary Theatre.
10.) Bluebird (Dir. Lance Edmands)
The debut film of Lance Edmands, Bluebird got plenty of notice out of Tribeca in April, where the general consensus seemed to be “bleak, but worthwhile”. Amy Morton stars as school bus driver who makes a mistake that sends tragic ripples through a small community in Maine. That it was shot by Jody Lee Lipes, responsible for the eerie cinematography in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is another big reason to check it out.
9.) The Missing Picture (Dir. Rithy Panh)
Cambodian documentarian Rithy Panh (Paper Cannot Wrap Up Embers) has explored the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime before, but his latest purports to do so on far more intimate terms. Recounting the story of his own teenage years under the rule of dictator Pol Pot, this sobering story is told entirely using clay figurines and dolls. Winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.
8.) Honeymoon (Dir. Jan Hřebejk)
A prolific local filmmaker, Jan Hřebejk may be best known to international cinephiles for his 2000 war drama Divided We Fall, which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. His latest, Honeymoon, will have its world premiere at Karlovy Vary, and tells the story of a newly wedded couple whose lives are thrown into turmoil by the arrival of a figure from the husbands past.
7.) Heli (Dir. Amat Escalante)
The controversial winner of the 2013 Cannes Best Director Award, Armat Escalante’s Heli explores the Mexican criminal underworld through what is from all reports a mix of shocking violence and absurdist black comedy. Promises to be amongst the most challenging films at the festival; hopefully, it’s also one of the best.
6.) Child’s Pose (Dir. Călin Peter Netzer)
Romania’s New Wave has been amongst the more interesting filmic movements in recent years, with pictures like Beyond the Hills and 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days making waves at international festivals. Continuing the trend, Călin Peter Netzer’s familial (possibly oedipal) drama, entitled Child’s Pose, won the Golden Bear at this year’s Berlinale.
5.) The Grandmaster (Dir. Wong Kar-wai)
Already responsible for some of the most visually opulent films of the past fifteen years, the thought of Wong Kar-wai (In the Mood for Love) making a martial arts movie should thrill arthouse and kung-fu film fans alike. Already a hit in China and Hong Kong, The Grandmaster stars Tony Leung and Zhang Ziyi, and has been universally praised for its elaborately choreographed fight scenes.
4.) Closed Curtain (Dir. Jafar Panahi)
Continuing his brave defiance of the Iranian government, Closed Curtain is the second picture from Jafar Panahi since his state mandated house arrested and twenty-year ban from filmmaking. Shot in secret, the film explores the need for freedom in the face of outside imprisonment.
3.) Fruitvale Station (Dir. Ryan Coogler)
A dramatization of the senseless murder of Oscar Grant at the hands of Californian Police in 2009. Fruitvale Station has received a monumental amount of praise since premiering at Sundance, (including several members of the Movie Mezzanine staff), where it took home both the Jury Prize and the Audience Award. A no brainer for this list.
2.) A Field In England (Dir. Ben Wheatley)
The double punch of Kill List and Sightseers has quickly elevated Englishman Ben Wheatley to the top tier of my list of favourite filmmakers. Set in the 1600s during the English civil war, A Field in England looks to contain plenty more of his eerie visual style, as well as his signature combination of surrealism, horror and comedy.
1.) The Congress (Dir. Ari Folman)
Few films in recent memory have been as technically fascinating or as emotional resonant as Ari Folman’s animated war-documentary Waltz with Bashir. For his follow up five years later, The Congress in a meta-sci-fi blend of animation and live action, and explores the ramifications of actress Robin Wright (playing herself) selling her likeness to a studio, who use it to create a digital version of herself. Bizarre and intriguing only begins to describe how this movie looks. Personally, I can hardly wait.
Stay tuned for coverage of these films and more within the coming weeks!
Header Photo Credit: Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary