By Christiane Passevant translated by Neville Rigby.
True to tradition, the 33rd International Festival of Mediterranean Cinema, CINEMED, fulfilled its role in revealing new cinematic talent, while also reflecting the new movements, revolts and revolutions around the wider Mediterranean.
The great surprise of the year has been to evaluate how Egyptian cinema foresaw the spontaneous rebellion, which burst out across the region following the Tunisian uprising. Something happened alongside the Levant, as the originality of the films bears witness to, evident in the willingness to abandon the usual codes of filmmaking, the freewheeling collective haste to leave behind the existing order – and why not? Ahmad Abdalla’s Microphone is a good example. Cinema became a sort of announcer, heralding a turmoil lying dormant beneath the surface of society well before the occupation of Tahrir Square.
Young filmmakers have refused to be reliant on government support, and instead launched themselves into low budget projects with strength, imagination and resourcefulness to circumvent their technical difficulties; simply put, Egyptian cinema is breaking out and reinventing a new form of filmmaking – social, inventive, grassroots and free.
You can, if you wish, find links with the great Egyptian filmmakers, like Youssef Chahine, some of whose most beautiful films have been restored,[i] but the important point is not this supposed line of descent, it is the creative drive which enlivens young Egyptian filmmaking.
Cairo 678 by Mohamed Diab (who received the ‘young audience prize’ at Montpellier) was given an ovation at its public debut. This young film director, concerned with the struggle for women’s rights, cast his eye over Egyptian society, both universal and steeped in a specific culture. We had already been able to see at the CINEMED festival in 2009, two innovative films – an impassioned documentary by Saad Hendawy, Taboo Subject, investigating violence against women, and a fiction film, One-Zero by Kamla Abu Zekri – dealing with the same problem, the recognition of women’s rights in a patriarchal society. Cairo 678 made no concessions in portraying the current situation of Egyptian society. Three women refuse to remain silent in the face of daily harassment of which they are the target; they rebel and decide to respond. How? By all possible means – physical, judicial and the media. Equally the film makes a statement about class differences and the economic difficulties of the people, anticipating the demands of the uprising in which women played an active and major role.
CINEMED’s overview of the new Egyptian cinema was accompanied by many other discoveries, which also reflected the movements, protests and revolts throughout the Mediterranean area. Bruno Bigoni’s documentary, The Colour of Wind, tracing the journey of a merchant vessel, sets off from Barcelona and the Spanish revolution of 1936, to draw a red line between the different upheavals around the Mediterranean, the conflicts, the migration, the artistic barriers, so keenly marked in music and in myth.
Michel Ciment, film critic at Positif and jury chair for the Antigone d’Or prize, defined CINEMED as a precious festival, doing as much to ‘rediscover the past’ as to ‘shine a light on new talents’, certainly an untypical festival that does not favour big productions whilst ignoring others of quality.[ii] This year the Antigone d’or was awarded to a Palestinian-Israeli director, Sameh Zoabi, for Man Without a Cell Phone. It is a comedy with an abrasive wit, which, even if Zoabi does not acknowledge having made a political film, depicts a state of tension while treating it with mocking humour.
The twelve full-length films in the competition were for the most part involved in a social approach to differing degrees: Emanuele Crialese’s Terraferma, filmed on the island of Lampadusa, witnessing the reality of illegal immigration; The Shadow of the Sun (La Sombra del Sol) by David Blanco, an anarchic yet poetic essay on the homeless of Barcelona, the men of the Barrio Chino; The Enemy by Dejan Zecevic, a potent tract against the absurdity of war.
Monster’s Dinner by Ramin Martin, is a critical and outraged film on human relations, social etiquette and its ‘totalitarian’ excesses. It has a confounding originality, whilst reminding us of Luis Bunuel’s The Phantom of Liberty, a very beautiful and successful example of black humour.
Each year the Festival discovers the wealth of Turkish cinema. Once Upon a Time in Anatolia by Nuri Bilge Ceylan, a masterly chef d’oeuvre, was given a preview screening this year.
Another work, Make a Fake (Senza arte né parte) by Giovanni Albanese, describes the sacking of workers in a pasta factory. Liberalism, profit and fakes – an Italian comedy in the purest tradition.
The superb retrospective of Pietro Germi allowed us to savour anew films like My Friends (a restored version), Path of Hope, Divorce, Italian Style and as well Seduced and Abandoned with Stefania Sandrelli, who attended the Germi retrospective. The presence of this great actress also provided an opportunity to see her film, Christine, Cristina, which she had just directed. The film is about the life of Christine de Pisan (1364-1431) and the struggle for the rights of women, which did not exist at that time.
Two Israeli films were screened, Hanna’s Garden by Hadar Friedlich (winner of the critics’ prize), an admission of failure of the kibbutz ideal, seen through the filter of liberalism, and Melting Away by Doron Eran, a critique of the family and restrictions bound by social convention – in this case concerning transexuality.
A seminal figure in Spanish cinema is Ventura Pons, whose new film, Mil cretins, was in the Panorama selection, in homage to Catalonian film. Another homage to a productive artist, Andréa Ferréol, offered the opportunity to see or view again many of her films, including the magnificent Peter Greenaway film, Zoo (A Zed and Two Noughts).
CINEMED’s ‘Night in hell – Mediterranean vampires’, a night of cult films, as usual, was a series of incredible international gems where the dubbing of certain films added once more to the entertainment value.
The numerous shorts perhaps reflect the festival’s diversity the most, including Asier Altuna’s Le Troupeau, Yasmine et la révolution from Karin Albou, Rouge pâle from Ahmar Bahet, I Could Be Your Grandmother by Bernard Tanguy (winner of the audience prize), Khaled Hafi’s Freedom, Mokhtar by Halima Ouardiri (winner of the Grand Prize for short films), Brûleurs by Farid Bentoumi (the young audience choice among the short films), and also RF by Stavros Liokalos (Prix Canal+) and Pulled Between Two (Tiraillement) by Najwa Limam Slama. They all echo the preoccupations of the Mediterranean.
As for the documentaries presented, they proved that on the large screen cinematographic production fuels reflection. My Land by Nabil Ayouch brought a different perspective on Palestinian exile; Quand tout le monde dort by Erdem Murat Çelikler told the story of a taxi driver who photographs the homeless at night in the streets of Istanbul; Cinema Komunisto from Mila Turajlic blended cinema and politics; Will there be a Theatre up there? from Nana Janelidze (Prix cine4me) explored the destiny of a Georgian actor and his family under both Nazi and Stalinist regimes; Les Tortues ne meurent pas de vieillesse from Hind Benchekroun and Sami Mermer gives voice to three elderly Moroccan men, a fisherman, a musician and an innkeeper; Al final de la escapada by Albert Solé follows Miguel Nunez in his struggle to be allowed to die in dignity.
Women of Hamas by Suha Arraf, caught between the daily struggle of survival and militancy, offers a portrait of four Palestinian women in Gaza; the magnificent and quite original Angst by Graça Castanheira received the Prix Ulysse.
What characterised the 33rd festival, was again the selection, as much the new productions as the retrospectives, the homages and diverse themes – a good demonstration that style and content can be brought together for everyone’s pleasure. It was current, responsive, critical and impassioned. The ‘Mediterranean’ is still producing dreams, opportunities to meet and exchange.
Christiane Passevant is a journalist and film editor who writes on the cinema. In 2004 she published Cinéma Engagé, Cinéma Enragé with Pascal Dupuy and Larry Portis.