Moscow Film Festival – Still Searching
In this, its 28th year, the Moscow International Film Festival changed its main venue from the Pushkinsky film theater, advantageously located on Pushkin Square, but rather too small for this kind of event, to the recently-renovated multiplex cinema Oktyabr on Novy Arbat. Only the opening and award ceremonies were held at Pushkinsky.
However, this change did not help to solve the festival’s main problems, with the organizers still struggling to keep the event in the ‘premier league’ of international film festivals with the selection of films in the official competition and appearances of celebrities. But, in addition to these challenges, the organizers were faced with growing competition from other domestic festivals, such as Sochi’s Kinotavr, which ended just a couple of weeks before the Moscow festival began, and the proposed St. Petersburg film festival, which was originally scheduled for later this summer but then postponed to next year.
To top it all, Austrian director Michael Haneke, who was supposed to be chairman of the jury, resigned just weeks before the opening of the festival, saying that his new project was taking up more of his time than he expected. The angry organizers had nothing better to do than send a scathing open letter to Haneke and transfer the chairman’s responsibilities to Polish director Andrzej Zulawski.
As usual, the festival was unable to attract many high-profile films to its official competition or many prominent personalities to show up in Moscow, with a noticeable exception of Gerard Depardieu, who starred in Bertrand Blier’s Combien tu m’aimes? (How Much Do You Love Me?). Depardieu showed up on the closing day of the festival to collect the Konstantin Stanislavsky award for the outstanding achievement in the career of acting and devotion to the principles of Stanislavsky's acting school. Meanwhile, How Much Do You Love Me?, a story of a happy lottery winner who attempts to buy the love of a beautiful Italian prostitute with this money, was awarded a Silver St. George for the Best Director.
With few prominent movies in the main competition, younger and less known directors had quite good chances of winning awards. Both main prizes, the Golden St. George for the Best Film and the Silver St. George – the jury’s special prize – went to the directors’ first features: Sweden’s Karim Othman’s contemporary drama, Om Sara, and Great Britain’s Jeremy Brock’s coming of age story, Driving Lessons, respectively. Incidentally, Brock worked as a screenwriter for many years before producing his first feature effort in his mid forties. The Silver St. George for the Best Actor was awarded to Jens Harzer for his role as an insurance agent in Running on Empty by German director Bulent Akinci and the Best Actress prize went to Julie Walters for her role as the domineering mother of a teenage boy in Driving Lessons.
Russia’s only representative in the main competition, Worm by Alexei Muradov, an art-house type movie with a hardly comprehensible plot, received no awards. Neither did the sole US film, Ask the Dust by veteran screenwriter Robert Towne.