Josef gives me a ride downtown and reminiscences about meeting Gregory Peck, Nastassja Kinski, Claudia Cardinale and Oliver Stone, thus reminding me how steeped in film history this little Bohemian town really is. Josef lives in a Karlovy Vary suburb but works as an electrician in Munich on weekdays – but for the last decade of the last century he worked at Hotel Pupp, the grandest hotel of them all, where all the fanciest parties are, and all the fanciest guests stay.
This is my sixth festival and the 53rd overall. I know that number because the graphic designers of the festival love using it in their logos – and 53 has never looked so good. But after finding a central location all the other times, I ended up in the suburbs this time, so finally had to learn how the bus system and taxis work, which certainly cost me a film or two in the end.
The distance can also be a hassle when you have to go home to fetch your suit – so when I get an unexpected invite to the opening party my Finnish colleague didn’t have to work very hard to convince me to skip that Gala bullshit and come with him to an Ukrainian documentary instead. Unfortunately, it turned out to be the worst film of the entire festival.
For my part, it was 1-1 one when it came to Ukrainian director Sergei Losnitza. I had loved Blokada, where he edited together rare archival footage from the siege of Stalingrad. But I hated Maidan with a passion, his film about the square of the same name and the protests there. Unfortunately Victory Day (Den’ Pobedy) turned out to be bad in very much the same way as the latter. It started off pretty well though, perhaps because he played that lovely Russian melody over, something I suspect might be the same singer as portrays the lovely Crocodile Gena in the world’s best ever birthday video.
But here´s the problem in a nutshell: Sergei Losnitza simply does the most boring documentaries imaginable, with an unhealthy dose of nationalism to boot. Perhaps Blokada is an exception because he didn’t shoot the material himself, who knows? His method is simply to observe, show the life on the street. But even that can be done in numerous ways – and in his case the camera is impossibly distant, so we never learn anything of value about anybody – he’s simply bearing witness of a day of celebration but does nothing really to put it into context. He’s simply like the desperate newscaster who goes downtown on a day like this to find some background material – only he makes into a whole film. You might just as well find a spot at some nearby cafe for two hours. That’s not entirely fair though, the cafe film would be a better one. Because what little selection Losnitza does seems to focus on the most banal nationalism ever, nothing dramatic or enlightening, just banal and boring.
My fellow cinema-goer seemed to agree – but told me that Losnitza‘s feature films were as good as his documentaries were bad. So perhaps he’ll get one more chance at some point to make the score even again.
Text: Ásgeir H Ingólfsson