By Preston Wilder
Is there some dark significance to the fact that our usual two-page spread on Cyprus Film Days has been scaled back to this one-page article? Certainly not! The annual 10-day event (which began last Friday, and ends next Sunday) is still by far the best film festival in Cyprus, the high-point of the year for local cinephiles – and this year’s edition, organised by the Ministry of Education and Culture and Rialto Theatre, once again offers a mad week of three daily screenings (at 6, 8 and 10pm) with some very well-known titles.
No, the only reason why our coverage is shorter this year is because I’ve seen fewer films than in previous years. I could regurgitate plots, of course, but that’s amply covered on the festival website – www.cyprusfilmdays.com – and you can also call 7777-7745 or 7777-2552 for more information. With that in mind, it seems a bit pointless to plough through the 27 films one by one – so instead I offer a few suggestions, pointing out what you ought to see.
1. EVERYTHING! Well, yes. The defining charm of Cyprus Film Days is its crazy, impractical abundance. Three films a day, every day, starting in late afternoon when it’s still light outside, finishing well past midnight. If you were able to watch all 27 films – all of them, incidentally, being shown with both Greek AND ENGLISH subtitles – that would be a wondrous, unforgettable experience. You might not like them all (I’m sure there’s a couple of duds in the bunch), and you’d probably burn out before the end – but immersing yourself in a world of film, and a world so distinctively different from the rules of the multiplex, would be both exhausting and exhilarating. If only it were possible…
2. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE (****). The jewel in the crown of this year’s CFD, director Jim Jarmusch’s latest stars Tom Hiddleston (better known as Loki in the Thor movies) and Tilda Swinton as a couple of world-weary vampires – and also lovers, though they start the film at opposite ends of the Earth, he living in Detroit, she in Tangiers. They exist in a permanent netherworld, seeking refuge in all things transcendent (especially music) away from the “contaminated” world of humans – but decay, like the passage of Time, is present all around them. The film has very little plot and lots of hypnotic mood (the kind one associates with 3 a.m. in a back-alley bar), though also humour – Tilda talks to mushrooms! – and a sullen, but stubborn, romanticism, not to mention beautiful crepuscular images. To quote our blood-sucking heroine: “That certainly was visual!”. Showing Friday at 10pm in Limassol, Sunday (13) at 8pm in Nicosia.
3. OMAR (***) and CLUB SANDWICH (****). Even with a mere two dozen films, CFD is global in its scope – and here are two geographically disparate highlights, the first from Palestine, the second from Mexico. Omar was Oscar-nominated, quite a feat for an anti-Israeli drama – and its trump card is indeed the depiction of utter helplessness among young Palestinians in the West Bank, though unfortunately it turns a bit conventional in the second half (the Israeli agent is the weak link, behaving like any cop in any crime movie). Club Sandwich is something else again, a wry deadpan comedy-drama about the triangular relationship between a 15-year-old boy, his doting mum – their happy symbiosis is perhaps a little too cosy – and the girl he meets while on vacation. A low-key, deceptively wise film, and the tender, rueful ending is just right. Omar showing tonight at 8pm in Nicosia, Club Sandwich on Tuesday at 8pm in Nicosia; both films, unfortunately, have already screened in Limassol.
4. “REDISCOVERING RUSSIAN CINEMA”. Not many sidebar sections in this year’s festival (blame the crisis, presumably) – but it does include a four-film tribute to Iranian director Mania Akbari and there’s also this splendid overview of Russian cinema, currently among the boldest in the world. Four films on show, ranging from superb (Silent Souls) to merely provocative (Cargo 200, by the late Alexei Balabanov). They also include The Banishment – a stately, ravishing allegory, not for all tastes – which has already screened at a previous CFD (the 2008 edition, when it was still called ‘World Horizons’), a reminder of how long this invaluable event has been part of our cultural calendar.
5. COMMITTED. There are quite a few films I haven’t seen and plan to see in this year’s festival. I’ve heard very good things about This is Martin Bonner, while the award-winning Eastern Boys is part of 2013’s boom in LGBT-related dramas. But I absolutely have to mention Committed, a rom-com road movie with a Cyprus setting, made by Limassol-based filmmaker Stelana Kliris. (It’s one of two Cypriot films in the programme, the other being a ‘Special Screening’ of a documentary called Evaporating Borders.) A couple meet on the road and drive around Cyprus, talking relationships and finding out more about each other, all the way to a “surprise ending”. Made on a very low budget (and partly crowd-funded), Committed is a sign of something new on the local film scene – and a seat for Cyprus at the table of this international movie extravaganza. Long may it flourish! Showing Tuesday at 8pm in Limassol, tonight at 10pm in Nicosia.