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Cyprus Film Days: A critical guide

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Perfect Days

The island’s only world-class film festival is well worth your time says THEO PANAYIDES

It’s Cyprus Film Days (CFD), our only world-class film festival (not counting shorts and documentaries), and something of an all-you-can-eat buffet. When it comes to this year’s 22nd edition – as with the previous 21 – the best way to consume it is all at once. Get a €30 festival pass, valid for all screenings (April 12-20), and go every night, two or three films a night – or just pay €5 per film, if you have to be boring.

We’re grateful for the opportunity to devour all these movies, grateful to artistic directors Argyro Nicolaou and Marios Lizides who’ve curated the thing, grateful to the sponsors and organisers, grateful that all films are screened with Greek and English subtitles (the Cypriot films, in what I believe is a first, will also have Turkish subtitles!). That said, after 22 years, I feel we’re entitled to gripe a bit.

Simply put, the festival is shrinking. Going back to 2013, for instance, there were nine films apiece in Glocal Images and Viewfinder (the two main sections), plus four different ‘tributes’ and sidebars featuring older movies.

Nowadays, the oldies are almost gone, which is a real shame; oldies added to CFD’s cinephile flavour. More alarmingly, Glocal Images is down to seven films, and Viewfinder – the most prestigious section, with most of the well-known titles –to just five.

One could say the older films have been ‘replaced’ by the Children & Youth section, with its four afternoon screenings – though I reckon kids would be much better served by being exposed to some film history than getting their own bland Young Adult section. One could also point out that Glocal is actually bigger than before: it’s just that this year it also includes four Cypriot films, bringing the total to 11.

Glocal Images is CFD’s competitive section, with an international jury (this year headed by Slovak producer Katarina Tomkova) and €10,000 in prize money. It’s quite exciting, but – how to put this nicely? – the films in this section are more obscure, and it’s more of a lottery whether they’ll resonate. I’ve seen two of the seven in Glocal proper, and two of the four Cypriot movies.

The national section is a boon, of course, and always fascinating – if only for the buzz of seeing familiar Cyprus locations transposed to movie land. The two I haven’t seen sound intriguing. Detached House, a co-production with Greece, is the first feature by Ioakim Mylonas, who’s been making award-winning shorts for 20 years (though nothing since 2013). It’s a cat-and-mouse power game between a petty thief and the retired cop whose home he’s tried to burgle.

Adonis Florides, meanwhile, is two for two as far as I’m concerned, having directed Kalabush and Rosemarie. His latest is Africa Star, following three generations of Cypriot women and the man whose “submission to temptation” in 1945 has affected all their lives.

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Five Shilling Nylon

Five Shilling Nylon (***) is a singular case, made by the late Christos Siopahas who passed away in 2019. This is a village-set period piece in black-and-white – and I don’t know whether it’s because it was shot so long ago (was b&w stock easier to find somehow?) but the look is luminous, especially compared to the drab b&w in recent films like Maestro and Poor Things. The plot, admittedly, is a little weak – but performances are strong, with special mention to Giorgos Kyriacou who brings notes of boyish vulnerability to a venal young man.

Also notable is Embryo Larva Butterfly (***) by Kyros Papavassiliou, probably our most imaginative local filmmaker. This sly sci-fi drama (already shown at Karlovy Vary and other festivals) comes with a mind-bending premise which I won’t spoil – except to say that (a) I’ve never seen it done before, probably because (b) it doesn’t quite work, or at least needed more world-building. The subtext here is that life is a form of theatre, every day a new performance – which is also why the Ministry of Lost Time is played by the ThOC building in Nicosia, a nice bonus detail for local audiences.

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A Strange Path

Other Glocal highlights include A Strange Path (which won Best International Feature at Tribeca), the Greek Animal (a winner at Locarno and Thessaloniki) and the Lithuanian Slow (**), a flawed but sensitive tale of the relationship between two non-verbal people (she a dancer, he an interpreter for the deaf) with extremely different sexual attitudes. I wouldn’t recommend Dreaming & Dying (*) from Singapore – which tries for the sense of casual wonder of Thai master Apichatpong Weerasethakul, but ends up laborious and not very wondrous – but even that misfire is at least unusual. This is why CFD needs to be sampled voraciously, taking the good with the bad.

And speaking of the good… Viewfinder, as already mentioned, is the jewel in the crown here, its five titles among the biggest arthouse films of 2023.

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Green Border

Two of the five are about migrants, the story du jour – though both are hampered by the fact that it’s hard to make migrant characters anything but victimised, verging on saintly. Green Border (**) never quite solves that problem, coming off a bit callous in the way it manipulates the plight of Syrian refugees for audience indignation – but it’s still a film about a tragic situation, migrants being weaponised by Belarus and tossed across the border with Poland, which (unlike ourselves with Turkey, presumably because Greek Cypriots don’t recognise our own ‘border’) illegally tosses them back. Veteran director Agnieszka Holland’s staging of the chaos is masterful.

Another veteran, 87-year-old Ken Loach, does even better in The Old Oak (****), placing Syrian refugees in a former mining town in the north of England – and finally finding solidarity between the newcomers and the resentful, but similarly oppressed working-class townspeople. A sad, sweet film with a great performance by non-pro Dave Turner, illustrating a great rule of drama: it hits harder when people are nice than when they’re being mean.

Two acclaimed character studies: the Oscar-nominated Perfect Days (***), the best Wim Wenders film in many years, is the tale of a Japanese man (Koji Yakusho, Best Actor winner at Cannes) who cleans toilets and is thoroughly Zen about it, living in the moment – though he’s also unable to form human connections except at a distance, making the film more ambivalent than it may appear. Afire (***) – by another German director, Christian Petzold – is another must-see, albeit overbalanced by its obnoxious hero, the aspiring author as pudgy, pouty man-baby. In that role, Thomas Schubert is (by design!) insufferable.

Also obnoxious, also amazing: Ilinca Manolache in Radu Jude’s Do Not Expect Too Much From the End of the World (****), a small, angry cog in the great machine of capitalism. This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but with a harried, coarse Romanian blonde driving around Bucharest, subsisting on coffee, bubblegum and road rage – and jokes, rock songs, billboards, spam calls, road signs – while talking to exploited workers and occasionally posting obscene TikToks. A vulgar, despairing film with an all-too-appropriate title. Do not expect too much from Cyprus Film Days? That too.

 

Screenings at the Zena Palace in Nicosia and the Rialto in Limassol. Full programme at cyprusfilmdays.com

 

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