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Thread: Wroclaw Era New Horizons International Film Festival 2009

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    Aug 2009
    London, UK

    Wroclaw Era New Horizons International Film Festival 2009

    This is a re-post of my coverage of Wrocław's Era New Horizons film festival that took place in July this year. The original post can be found at Filmaster: Era New Horizons 9 Film Festival - impressions


    I just came back from Wroclaw, Poland which for the last 10 days hosted the international film festival "Era New Horizons" ( The main idea of the festival is to show the movies that "reach beyond the borders of conventional cinema", both new and old ones. It's the biggest film event for the masses in Poland. Tens of thousands of cinema lovers watch new movies from all around the world as well as take part in retrospectives of masters of cinema. There are also many exhibitions, performances and concerts that make Era a truly cross-cultural event.

    This year many world class directors summoned to Wroclaw to take part in the festival. There was Tsai Ming-Liang, Guy Maddin, Krzysztof Zanussi, Jan Troell and Piotr Dumala whose works were being presented to the audience in full retrospective. Agnčs Varda came to show her latest movie "Les Plages d'Agnčs", while Peter Greeneway was promoting his "Rembrandt's J'accuse". We also had Polish premieres of new films by Michael Haneke, Pedro Almodóvar, Wim Wenders and others.
    Except from big films by big directors, we also had a selection of new Swedish films and documentaries, Canadian cinema retrospective and the movies of the Hungarian Golden Age (50-ties and 60-ties of the previous century).

    Furthermore, there were four contests:
    - NEW HORIZONS INTERNATIONAL COMPETITION (for movies that sketch new horizons in cinema),

    Each of them was unique in their kind. The winner of the main competition wes Steve McQueen's "Hunger" ( while the audience chose Ivan Vyrypayev's Kislorod / Oxygen ( The full results can be found on festival website:

    A photo from "Hunger", the winner of ENH9

    I spent 9 days in Wroclaw and saw some 25 movies there. You can read short reviews of each of them at In this summary I'll try to simply describe what I found most interesting.

    The movies shown in Wroclaw are not easy to watch. Lots of them are film experiments. This especially relates to the films shown as part of the main contest. They are often quite different in form to those films shown in regular cinemas. Each of them is carefully selected and ought to be unique and original in some way. There are hardly any accidental heroes. That said, I still tend to avoid the main contest films. The screenings are overcrowded and you are much more likely to have an unpleasant surprise of watching something that goes just too far beyond the borders of conventional cinema. I only saw one of them ("A lake") which I found rather boring, insignificant and disturbing in the negative sense. So, during the festival I decided to focus on the retrospectives and documentaries which usually tend to bring better "value for money".

    Agnes Varda and festival's boss, Roman Gutek

    Tsai Ming-Liang and Guy Maddin

    These are two madmen of the modern cinema.
    The Taiwanese director often ignores the plot and concentrates on the actors, trying to show the feelings of the characters and hypnotize the audience by creating a unique climax of loneliness, erotism and despair. Or at least this was the case with "The River" ( which won a Silver Berlin Bear award in Berlin International Film Festival in 1997 as well as 4 other awards on noble festivals that year.
    Maddin, on the other side, makes movies as if we lived in Germany in the 1920-ties. His films are all black and white, usually with no human voices just music, and cut into pieces like blocks of puzzle. Guy's obsessions are nightmares from childhood, especially an over-caring toxic mother who is -- in one form or another -- a character in many of his films. It was a great pleasure to watch "Brain Upon a Brain" in Wroclaw Opera with live music and sound generated by Maddin's crew and like voice by Gosia Dobrowolska. It was also great to hear Maddin speaking before the movie as he's a pretty funny guy with a great sense of humor.
    I only saw one movie by each of the abovementioned directors but my LoveFilm list has grown considerably since.

    Tsai Ming-Liang sleeping on his press conference

    Jan Troell

    We all know Ingmar Bergman but how many of you (provided that you are not from Scandinavia) really know Troell? He's everything Bergman is not and still achieves to be great! While Bergman focused on intellectual dillemas, God, faith and moral values, Troell tells the stories of regular people, their fights and their tales throughout the centuries.

    In "The Emigrants" ( he pictures a group of Swedish emmigrants escaping to America (as ridiculous as it sounds nowadays) for better life. In "Unto a good land" ( the story goes on while the family settles down in wild forrests of Minnesotta. This is not a philosophical tale but a tale about simple life, family love and bold people who faced the unknown. Fantastic acting by Max von Sydow as Karl-Oskar, complex and interesting plot and great film instinct of Troell make this saga truly spectacular and worth watching for everyone, especially the Americans interested in the beginnings of the huge migrations from Europe to the States in the 19th century.

    A picture from "The New Land"

    Another Troell's movie worth recommending is "Hamsun". It's a successful biography of the greatest Norwegian writer and Noble prize winner who switched to the dark side and supported Hitler during the Second World War. The film is great, again, mainly thanks to a phenomenal role of von Sydow. But also the director did his job in not boring to death during the 2.5h screening and without showing a bias, while staying very close to the actual events. Highly recommended to those interested in modern history.

    Hungarian Golden Age

    Before coming to Wroclaw I few zero Hungarian movies except a few recent ones that were being shown in Polish cinemas. It was a huge surprise for me to discover the amazing world of Hungarian cinema of the 60-ties, with their many original directors, each of whom kept their own specific style.
    I watched four movies of the retrospective, each by a different:
    - "Adoption" ( feels like a great movie from the very first scene. Fantastic music makes for a great climax. A story about love, friendship and loneliness and the need to have someone to take care of is almost perfect in its category.
    - "Witness" ( - a cult comedy that is still funny after 50 years. A must see for all Eastern Europeans. A mix of two Polish counterparts: Zezowate Szczescie by Munk and Mis by Bareja. Probably not funny at all for people who never lived in a communist country, though.
    - "Love" ( is a beautiful and simple movie about love in the hardest times of Hungarian communism where people were being sent to prison for 10 years for their beliefs. A very simple plot suits the story of two women -- the dying mother and the wife -- that in two ways miss and talk about János. A very touching picture that didn't try to kill us with pathos. A pearl of the Hungarian and Eastern European cinema.
    - "Silence and cry" ( -- In this one I did not understand much of the plot and I believe not many of the non-Hungarians would. Still I enjoyed the fantastic cinematography and the climax created by the director and the impassionate characters. It may be a Hungarian masterpiece but I'm Polish.

    Even though I rated "Silence and cry" worst, I's still mostly looking forward to see other, more universal movies by Miklós Jancsó as his style is the most fascinating of the above. Two of them: "Round up" and "The Red and the Wite" are already on my LoveFilm wishlist.

    New films

    As I mentioned at the beginning, I mostly visit Wroclaw for the retrospective. That said, I still watched some 10 brand new movies and two of them are worth mentioning. Those are:
    - "$9.99" ( -- a very interesting animation (both technically and otherwise) about... the meaning of life based on fiction novels by Isreali writer: Keret. It's the movie that was most enthusiastically received on Era New Horizons film festiwal in Wroclaw, Poland. The only thing that I can accuse the director of is that the movie is a bit too short and a few threads seem unfinished. Still, I consider it one of the best animations in history and I'm full of hope it's going to find a distributor in major markets.
    - "Ordinary People" ( -- a very good, simple movie. In contrary to "A Lake" ( - part of the main competition) where the non-happening was irritating, because I did not understand its aim, here it is an obvious way of showing the ordinary boring hours between the executions. I like this kind of cinema, it reminds me of Hungarian movies from 50-ties and 60-ties. Not extravagant, but simple and with some twist. One of the best movies about the Balkan war that I've seen.

    Official trailer of $9.99 can be found here:

    Of course there were many more new movies that I could write about. I especially regret I was not able to see "Kislorod" (the winner of the common vote) and "Sell out" ( -- a Malaysian satire about popculture. The winner of the festival ("Hunger") has been in cinemas in the U.K. for some time already and I'm going to watch it on DVD soon.

    A photo from Kislorod


    A good amount of the festival movies are documentaries, mostly fresh ones, not shown on many events. I have seen three that I can recommend for three different reasons:
    - "The Swindler" ( because of the story
    - "Mr. Governor" ( because of the cinematography
    - "The Sound of Insects: Record of a Mummy" ( because I could not stop thinking about it for the rest of the day and more.

    Polish films

    OK, the festival took place in Poland, there were two Polish compatitions so you were probably waiting for me to present you the latest and greatest of the recent Polish cinema. Nothing on this kind, I'm afraid. I only saw one Polish movie, which happened to win the competition: "Snow White and Russian Red" ( and I cannot say too many good things about it. It is a brave adaptation of a cult Polish novel of Dorota Maslowska, a young Polish writer, that pictures a few days of life of a philosophical yobbo (as weird as it sounds). Xawery Zulawski (who is "the proper Zulawski's" son) tried the impossible and did not fail but got hurt trying. A film reminds of "Trainspotting" of Danny Boyle but is way stranger. At times fascinating, at times a bit boring. In general -- only for the ones interested in Maslowska's work which I don't think there are many outside of Poland.

    Borys Szyc from "Snow White and Russian Red"

    If you want to watch a good Polish movie, the last one worth seeing is "Tricks" ( by Andrzej Jakimowski. I can't think of anything good that happened afterwards.


    I took part in Era New Horizons four times before and each time I enjoyed it. This year's event was no exception. I have seen many films that I could not get access to otherwise. I learned about Guy Maddin, Tsai Ming-Liang, Jan Troell and the Hungarian masters -- not even being aware of their existence before. I also saw some great new stuff that may or may not become big hits in the near future.

    New Horizons is a different festival to some more mainstream ones like Edinburgh's EIFF (that I covered here: But I like it most for its special climax and the atmosphere of platonic love for the movies. So, if you consider yourself a film buff and you live somewhere in Europe, I strongly recommend you to visit Wroclaw next year.
    Last edited by Michuk; 10-27-2009 at 04:23 AM.
    Borys 'michuk' Musielak -- film buffs community, social movie recommendations


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