Saturday, August 25, 2012

OFF12 - Odense International Film Festival

The 27th Odense International Film Festival took place on August 20-25. As always the festival concentrated on short films, animations and documentaries. The films competed in fourteen different categories, best international, national and animation being the most important, and this year the animations were amazingly good. As for the short films and documentaries…well…

The films weren't bad, not at all, but they weren't really good, either. I don't know if it's a new trend in filmmaking, but the thing is that most of the films stopped in mid-story. They had no ending, in fact it felt as if half of the films were missing and I can't figure out why. Maybe it IS fashionable among directors only to show the first half of a film or maybe they ran out of money when they got that far? Some chose to tell the rest of the story in writing on signs, others just didn't care. Maybe the new generation of filmmakers doesn't care about plots? Many of the films were pretty violent and bloody and it seemed that, as long as the directors were able show the bloody, gory, violent bits, they couldn't be bothered with endings.

Worth mentioning are, however, the Hungarian "Finale", a funny and surprising short film by Balazs Simonyi, the humorous and strange Swedish short film "The Twin" by Gustav Danielson and the French "The End" by Barcelo, featuring Charlotte Rampling in an eerie tale about the actress being digitally replaced by an up and coming talent in her old movies. As for the animations, there were so many good ones this year. Some of my favourites were the British "A Morning Stroll" by Grant Orchard about a man and a chicken in New York, the musical and very funny "Big House" by Estonian Kristjan Holm and the Danish "Dog in Heaven" by Jeanette Nørgaard based on Hanne Kvist's children's book by the same name.

This year's winner of the International Grand Prix was the Swedish "The Twin" and the National Grand Prix went to "Dog in Heaven" (both mentioned above). The Bulgarian "Rew Day" by Svilen Dimitrov won "Best Animation", showing the last day of a man's life, seen as on a videotape that is being rewound. They were all pretty good films, but not my favourites. Had it been up to me, the International Grand Prix would have been won by the Dutch "Small" by Sanne Vogel, a funny and charming short film about being touched by man for the first time. For the National Grand Prix I would have chosen Søren Grinderslev Hansen's "The Black Sheep", a chilling tale of a man and his brother who is a true monster. Best animation for me was the Danish "Slug Invasion" by Morten Helgeland, brilliantly animated and very funny, about killer slugs in the garden of an elderly lady.

As usual the festival had its problems. For one there were not enough ballot papers, so several hundred people didn't get to vote. Another problem was the so-called "Artist portraits", short portrait films sponsored by Mercedes-Benz. There were three in all, each featuring a Danish artist, none of them being particularly famous. What was wrong with that was, that at each OFF12 screening you had to watch one of these portraits first, meaning that you had to see the same film over and over again. It was unbearable! Personally I came to see the films about clothes designer Stine Goya and director Michael Noer four or five times and the one about musician Kim Kix no less than seven times! In the end I felt like screaming when his face appeared on the screen and I promised myself never to listen to any of his music as I'm just fed up with the guy! So these promotional portraits were not a success.

Last year the festival had solved its biggest problem - not enough room for the audience - by screening each show 3 times, but this year the problem was back as the audience had grown. At every screening people were rejected at the door, not just the "ordinary" audience, but even the press and the directors of the films! The main reason for this was (like in previous years) that schools were able to pre-book seats. A school class is roughly 30 people and often 2 classes had pre-booked the same screenings. As the cinemas only had respectively 50 and 100 seats, there were no room for anybody else, especially if the Youth Jury showed up as well as they counted another 30 persons! For some reason the Youth Jury preferred to watch the screenings together instead of going on their own like the adult jurors, so that caused a bit of overcrowding as well.

As this is recurring problem that has existed since the festival opened for pre-bookings from schools, my suggestion would be that the festival has special screenings for schools and the Youth Jury, this way making room for the "ordinary" audience. Either that or the festival could go back to using the "big" cinema complex by the railway station again like they did some years ago. This cinema complex has 9 screens and seats 1,000+.

The lack of capacity is a huge problem at the festival, because people who are rejected at the door get very angry and aggressive and they take it out on the ones who got a seat. I got the last seat at one of the screenings and I was verbally assaulted by a little old lady because of that. And I'm not the only one. People get very rude, pushing and shouting at the ones who got a seat and it surely takes the fun out of watching the films, when you literally have to run the gauntlet to get there.

As usual the festival had lots of extra activities - for free of course - like open air screenings of movies like Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", workshops, masterclasses, concerts and a video bar and then of course there was "The Old Theatre". At "The Old Theatre" old silent movies are screened accompanied divinely on piano by composer Lars Fjeldmose and introduced by the witty and insightful film historian Ulrich Breuning. The films this year were "First Public Screening", "L'Arrivée d'un Train en Gare de la Ciotat" and "Démolition d'un Mur" all from 1895 by Louis & Auguste Lumière, "Le Voyage dans la Lune" from 1902 by Georges Méliès, "One A.M." from 1916 by Charles Chaplin and finally the Laurel & Hardy movie "Big Business" from 1929. As usual this was the highlight of the festival for me.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Odense Flower Festival 2012

Once again the Flower Festival is here, so it must be August. Each year Odense City, Denmark has a flower festival with huge displays of flowers based on a new theme each year. This year the theme was Nordic Children's Literature, but like the past 3 years, the flower displays were a huge disappointment. I don't understand it. In the early years of the festival, the displays were beautiful and imaginative with floral sculptures made in the shape of dinosaurs, the sights of European capital cities, the French revolution etc., but nowadays the festival has turned into just a few flowerbeds and a lot of nursing schools selling their flowers. Not much to look at, which is a shame, as people come from all over Europe to see the flower sculptures that are no longer there.
Over the years, the festival has got smaller and smaller, no longer covering the entire city. This year it was even smaller than the very small one last year. In fact it only covered three streets and three squares this year as opposed to two parks, three streets and five squares last year. Very disappointing. As for the displays, 99% consisted of flowerbeds with cardboard cut-outs of characters from Nordic children's literature. Except for a few dogs from Hans Christian Andersen's "The Tinderbox" none of the characters were made by flowers, which was also very disappointing.
Although the makers of the displays could have used any character from any book, they all concentrated on characters of only three authors, namely Danish Hans Christian Andersen, Swedish Astrid Lindgren and Norwegian Thorbjorn Egner. These three are of course some of the most famous and beloved authors of Scandinavian children's literature, but it would have been nice to see characters by other authors, too. What about the Moomins by Finnish Tove Jansson, Aunt Green, Aunt Brown and Aunt Lavender by Swedish Elsa Bescow or the Eight Children by Norwegian Anne-Cath. Vestly? The only other author represented was Swedish Selma Lagerlöf as there was one, ONE, display showing "The Wonderful Adventures of Nils". The funny thing here was, that the display was situated in a square that usually houses a sculpture of Hans Christian Andersen's "The Emperor's New Clothes", but instead of using this sculpture in a display, it had been covered up by trees and cloth in order to give room for Nils!
Of the three authors represented, the same characters were used again and again to the extend that the displays used the exact same cardboard cutouts! The ones used the most were Thorbjorn Egner's tooth trolls "Karius and Bactus", Astrid Lindgren's "Pippi Longstocking" and Hans Christian Andersen's "Thumbelina".
 Apart from that, Thorbjorn Egner was represented by his "Climbing-Mouse and Other Animals in the Hunchback Wood" and "When the Robbers came to Cardamom Town."
 Astrid Lindgren was represented by "Karlsson-on-the-roof", "Nils Karlsson, the Elf", "Emil of Lönneberga" and "The Brothers Lionheart."
 As for Hans Christian Andersen, you could find displays inspired by his fairytales "Clumsy Hans", "The Emperor's New Clothes", "The Nightingale", "The Steadfast Tin Soldier", "The Woman with the Eggs" and "The Ugly Duckling".
 The reason why you'd find so many Hans Christian Andersen-inspired display is, that Odense is in fact the hometown of Hans Christian Andersen and many of the displays had already been shown at earlier flower festival in town!
It's safe to say that the flower displays were disappointing this year, but at least the different activities connected to the festival were great. There were design exhibitions, storytelling, free theatre performances and kids were able to play with water and get a makeover in order to become trees and flowers.
Norwegian actors went around town, acting out scenes from "When the Robbers came to Cardamom Town", Swedish actors made a "Pippi Parade" and Danish child actors and actresses acted out scenes from Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tales. The festival also included a lot of free concerts with everything from gospel and church organ music to rock and pop. My childhood friend Claus performed there with his poetic pop band "Tankens Bager" ("The Baker of Thoughts") and they gave a great 2 hour concert for free.
 While they were on stage, the festival got a visit from the Danish Crown Princess Mary who was there to open the festival and name a new plant. I hadn't expected to meet her, but I did, which of course was one of the more interesting moments of the festival for me.
All in all the festival was a disappointment, though, and I'm seriously thinking of boycotting it next year like I did in 2010. Just saying…

Monday, August 13, 2012

"The Carnivorous Lamb" by Agustin Gomez-Arcos

This summer I got to read Agustin Gomez-Arcos' brilliant novel "The Carnivorous Lamb" and all I can say is: how come I hadn't heard about this book before? It's wonderful, amazing, one of the best books I've ever read and I fell in love with it straight away.

First published in French (and titled "L'agneau carnivore") in 1975, this novel written by a Spanish author who immigrated to first London, then Paris, is an allegorical criticism of Franco's Spain and its Catholic Church. It tells the story of a young boy who grows up during Franco's regime in a decaying house, cut off from the rest of the world. When first he is born, he refuses to open his eyes for 15 days as a protest to the world into which he is born, and when he finally opens them, it is only to look at his 6 years older brother. His mother, who belongs to a wealthy family, that aligned with Franco’s Nationalists, hates him. His father, who is a Republican saved from imprisonment by his wife's wealth, ignores him. But his brother, Antonio, loves him and becomes his mentor, saviour and eventually - as the young boy is not allowed outside the house - his lover.

The incestuous love between the two brothers spears Franco, Catholicism, Spain, family, morals in this dark, biting tale with its vicious humour and social absurdity that is so often characteristic of Spanish literature. The psychological portraits of the characters are deep and twisted; the mother, so sickly absorbed in death, cataclysms and "yellowness", the father, withering away in his study to the voice of Franco, the maid Clara, a childhood friend of the parents, who lost her husband during the Civil War, and then of course the boys. Antonio, who looks so much like his father and the young narrator (we don't get to know his name until the very end of the story, so I won't use it here as it is part of the plot), who looks so much like his mother. As the narrative unfolds, it becomes clear that the incestuous relationship between the brothers is not only their rejection of the world into which they are born, but also the subtle revenge of the grown-ups on society.

"The Carnivorous Lamb" is like no other book I have ever read. Although my thoughts sometimes wandered to Gabriel Garcia-Marquez' "Autumn of the Patriarch", to William Faulkner's "The Sound and the Fury" and even to Floortje Zwigtman's Adrian Mayfield-series, it clearly has its own vile, dark, funny, political, psychological and sensual voice. The language is beautiful, the metaphors and allegories are amazing and the story is one you'll never forget. I just wish I had discovered this book years ago, so that I would have been able read it a hundred times more than I will now.

Five out of five stars: *****


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