In Thessaloniki, "Lola" Keeps Running, "Keg" Explodes, "Pi" Finds
by Dave Ratzlow
In a town where everyone has a balcony and the sun sets on the Mediterranean
with a triumphant rosy glow, it's a wonder that people have time to see any of
the over 150 films being shown at the 39th International Thessaloniki Film
Festival which began last Friday. Still, film lovers are packing nearly every
one of the thirty daily screenings taking place on seven screens across the
Among the twelve films in the International Competition this year (which is
limited to first and second time filmmakers) are "The Apple" directed by
18-year-old Samira Makhmalbaf from Iran, "Short Sharp Shock" directed by Fatih
Akin from Germany, and Darren Aronofsky's "Pi" from you know where.
Good Machine is also in town with a sidebar program entitled "In the Shadow of
the Beast" featuring Hanna Weyer's "Arresting Gina" and Todd Solondz's
"Happiness." In addition, a selection of films from the Balkan States and
from Asia will be presented. And as if that weren't enough, the festival will
also host extensive retrospectives of Peter Greenaway, Ken Loach and Akira
At stake this year in the International Competition are two main awards, the
Gold and Silver Alexander. Each of which carries a purse of $40,000 and
$25,000 respectively and will be awarded by a seven member jury of
international filmmakers. Also up for grabs is the Heineken Audience Choice
Award worth about $75,000 which will go towards the distribution of the
winning film. So far, the French farce "God's Got My Voice" directed by Bruno
Podalydes leads in the International Competition and "Shores of Twilight"
directed by NYU Graduate Film School alumnus Efthimious Hatzis, leads the
National Competition. Most of the films, however, have just as many negative
votes as positive ones.
One of the most talked about films at the festival, however, isn't even up for
an award. An emotionally violent film directed by International Competition
Jury President Gordan Paskaljevic, "The Powder Keg" is set in Belgrade just
before the 1995 peace accord and follows the lives of several ordinary people
trapped in a nightmare of despair, frustration and betrayal. Even with
powerful performances by actors of all ages and the seamless interconnection
of stories, the newly formed Paramount Classics, which picked up US
distribution rights this Fall, will have a hard time marketing this downer
beyond NYC. It is certainly not the kind of word of mouth chirper that can
successfully launch a distribution company.
None of the International Competition films (with the possible exception of
"Pi") have ignited the excitement of the general audiences like those films
found in the New Horizons Section. This diverse sidebar aims to "highlight
the newest, most daring trends in independent film," and no film epitomizes
that more than "Run Lola Run" directed by International Competition veteran
Tom Tykwer (the German director appeared at Thessaloniki last year with his
second film, "Wintersleepers"). "Run Lola Run" is a stylish and aggressive
gem, to be distributed in the US by Sony Pictures Classics next year.
"Run" stars the beautiful bright-red-haired Franka Potente as Lola, a young
woman who must find 100,000 deutchemarks in 20 minutes or her boyfriend will
be killed. The intricate structure and vibrant energy of the movie has the
potential to be the most successful German release in the U.S. in a long time.
The Athens press said it best recently when it printed "'Run Lola Run' is a
fresh alternative to some of the festival's other offerings. . . the ones
you're suppose to like, but can't."
They're talking, of course, about the Greek films, which some of the young
cinephiles who spoke with indieWIRE referred to as substandard. In a country
where only 3% of its movies are made nationally, routine farces with girls,
guns and diamonds, such as "Red Dragon," are no match for "There's Something
About Mary" which is playing at the same new multiplex rented by the festival
this year for second screenings and New Horizon films. And "Blackout," a
Greenaway inspired clunker directed by Melelaos Karamaghiolis, winner of
Thessaloniki's 1990 Best Documentary award, didn't live up to it's vast
expectations. Even with an impressive digital soundtrack and crisp widescreen
cinematography, the 2 hour 40 minute film about a model who starts receiving
cassettes from her dead pilot boyfriend, started seeing a steady stream of
walk-outs after its first hour.
There have been many strong films so far at the festival and word-of-mouth has
packed most second screenings. Every one is hoping that Constantine
Giannaris' International Competition film "From the Edges of the City,"
screening tonight, will be the breakthrough Greek film of this year.
Meanwhile, poor Stratos Stasinos, who directed the fine Greek emigration film
"Epirus," sat mute at a press conference, because all the attention went to
fellow panelists, actor Sean Gullette and director Darren Aronofsky of "Pi."
These two US ambassadors of indie have been seen around the festival beaming
with pleasure. Appropriately, Aronofsky introduced his Greek-lettered film by
thanking Euclid, Archimedes, and Pythagoras. He also mentioned that
Thessaloniki has been the only festival which hasn't had trouble printing his
title in the program.
Thessaloniki's award winners and a complete festival wrap-up will be published
the week of Dec. 30.