ROTTERDAM 2001: Wrap It Up: Surveying the Gifts at Rotterdam's 30th
by Mark Peranson
(indieWIRE/ 02.07.01) -- It began with a surprise and ended with "The Gift." Over 345,000 Dutch filmgoers and 3,000 guests went gaga for the 30th International Film Festival Rotterdam, and 40 features later, I came pretty close to losing it at the movies myself. (First sign: hallucinating English speakers in Japanese films.) The barn door of the international festival circuit, Rotterdam swings both in and out. For those of us critics who have been to a number of festivals in the last 12 months -- Cannes and Toronto most commonly -- the greatest pleasures often come in those films we may have missed previously amid the interviewing and the harried press screening schedules. The lesser pleasures in Rotterdam are those unique films we haven't heard of before, and, really, may never hear of again.
There's an admirable quirkiness to the IFFR programming, a place where documentaries stand on the same level as features, features are equal to shorts, and transgressive Asian pop box-office smashes -- "Are you ready to rumble?" an elderly Fukasaku shouted to himself, and the response was a resounding, "Not really!" -- are overshadowed by cultural historical dramas. (If I only had 48 more minutes to give, I would hand it back to "Platform"; if I had 150 minutes to spare, I would actually have seen it again.) The filmic smorgasbord is overwhelming, but so is the socializing. If there was ever any doubt that people here just want to have fun, just look at a smiling (smiling?) Béla Tarr (the Hungarian director of "Werckmeister Harmonies") on the cover of the Daily Tiger, the festival's daily print publication.
This year at Rotterdam I managed to dip into each of the festival's collection of programs, from the Ex Voto personal visions (see review of "Otesánek") to the Spotlight directors of Roy Andersson, Kamel Hassan and Anne-Marie Mièville, whose erudite new film "After the Reconciliation" features a weeping (weeping?) Jean-Luc Godard managing to survive a torrent of nasty words and unseen events, and the Cinema Live performance of the restored version of Murnau's "Faust" accompanied by the haunting music of The Faust Group.
As always, it's the Tiger award competition that attracts the most attention, and yields the most tight-lipped reactions from bleary-eyed press and jurors. Each year's offerings provide the state-of-the-art of worldwide independent filmmaking; it also shows who's hot -- and who is being copied where. Winning a 2001 Tiger this year is kind of like being the victor of a beauty contest for homely children -- and this year's three orphans were all stories about growing up, but managed to be different enough from each other in style and temperament.
"The Days Between," a pretty good exercise in Asian-influenced alienation from Germany's Maria Speth, was the best of the Tiger subset dealing with women who don't know what they want. Spleth is too confused about how to handle her confused protagonist -- perhaps she can use her Euros to hire a screenwriter. The Dutch "Iles Flottantes" suffered from the desire to chart events recognizably similar to "life as we know it" -- e.g., "Hey, I can relate to those people's problems" -- which led to a predictability and complete ordinariness, reflected in a wholly uninteresting style. Professional enough, it needed a shot in the arm. Herve Le Roux's "On appelle