Vienna Independent Film Festival Review 2019
Everything is Beautiful At VIFF ( Vienna Independent Film Festival) 2019
Reviews: Full Length Films: The Zurich Liaison, Internment. Irish Shorts: A Decent Proposal, Land of Winter.
The Vienna Independent Film Festival is designed to celebrate international films without the pressure of big studio releases, entourages, and big budget names.
Indeed it was refreshing to attend a festival where the goal is to encourage young (or sometimes older) first time feature filmmakers. ( With that in mind, one would not have expectations of big casts and period pieces.) Well, I was wrong. There were several fairly ambitious films.
One of the most sumptuous films I have ever seen at an indie film festival, " The Zurich Liaison" played well at the vintage Cinetal theatre, and the film was impressive in many ways but ultimately director/writer Jans Neubert's vision was just a little too tame for my taste.
" The Zurich Liaison" is a period film centering on the celebrated operatic composer Richard Wagner's love life for a period of time while he was hard at work on his masterpiece " Tristan and Isolde." The music, costumes, scenery, attention to detail with the extras casting is magnificent. This is not what I consider a small budget endeavor. Visually gorgeous, I feel this movie is worth screening for the complete experience. However, I felt the running time was just too long and the plot ran out of steam because the three leading players got along too well. Ironically, for a movie about opera, there was not enough drama to sustain almost two hours on the big screen. In all fairness, this is still the festival circuit, so the movie may end up with a skilled editor to see it though distribution. Performances were fine, however, I felt the casting of an American actress in the title role of Wagner's muse was a big mistake.
New Yorker Sophie Austor as his lover Mathilde was oddly disconcerting as her accent was clearly not European, and there is no mention that her character was born somewhere else. (If the movie is dubbed for the foreign market, I guess that won't matter as she looked pristinely lovely in the title rule until she opened her mouth and destroyed the illusion.) Finnish actor Joonas Saartamo as Wagner was just fine as I might picture Wagner to be in a Merchant and Ivory film. Rudger Hauffe as her husband Otto was equally at home in 19th century Zurich sharing his wife and wealth with the composer.
"Wagner's One and Only Love" as the subtitle suggests, has supreme musical orchestrations by the London Symphony Orchestra, and is perfect for the lover of all things Wagner. I am sure there is an audience for this movie. Cudos to the artistic staff and what they have achieved here ;Director of photography Harald Gunnar Paalgard ,and original music & audio producer Torsten Rasch. If only the story was edited by a half hour, dubbed it's leading lady, and had a little more bite I would rate this an A-. (As it is, well maybe I rate it a B- due to the extraordinary effort of the production team to make it extraordinarily beautiful.)
Next on my list of eagerly anticipated films was Kast Hasa's " Internment". about the experience of being an Albanian resident during the communist era of the 1980's. This is a film with high ambitions, and a pretty small budget. I felt the sacrifice of actor/writer/ producer Kast Hasa and his family did pay off as this movie was focused, engaging, and did manage to feel pretty realistic thanks to their efforts.
If you are a fan of Cold War drama (which is making a huge comeback lately), I would definitely recommend this engaging movie based loosely on real events in communist era Albania.
I was fascinated by the vibrant performances, and subject matter from a country trapped in oppression that frankly I knew little about before this movie.
As a Writer and Director Kast Hasa shapes the story well, and he managed to do a terrific job with casting largely unknown characters who are credible and appealing in their roles. The audience becomes quite attached to the young lovers who play a deadly game with romance in a country where most decisions are made by the government.
Hasa uses the dramatic foil of a man returning from America who turns the little village upside down as the authorities use him to create more turmoil. A father is accused of collaboration with this American enemy , and his family is exiled to internment. A young woman is being forced to marry a member of the ruling party to ensure protection for her family. Both of these plots , including a subplot about a woman who must demean herself in order to visit her brother in prison--Well, everything collides just like a Shakespearean play and the result is as dramatic as one would expect.
Even though this was not a big budget film, the production plays well on the big screen, including textured photography and the scenes filmed on location in Albania are in the exact location where citizens were locked up after any real or imagined transgressions.
Films about Albania are far and few between. This small gem of a movie may not be produced in Hollywood, but the cautionary tale of what can happen in a closed society rings very authentic. I would say it is worth seeing, whether that is in a festival or a streaming service. B+
Finally, two short films which I felt worth mentioning both take place in Ireland. I loved the scenery and the cinematography of both very small budget films was quite good.
Irish born Cathal Feeney's newest short film , " A Decent Proposal " Serving as both the director and writer, Feeney is reminiscent of Woody Allen with a gentle tale of a moment gone terribly awry. The camera work is good and the characters play their roles in an understated, but suitably comic manner. One can guess where the story is headed-but after it gets there - I could not help but wondering; Is this one long elaborate joke as the Irish are so fond of doing? Did I really see what I thought I was seeing, or was the female narrator just pulling our leg. It was this plot twist which really made me curious about the characters and I felt it was a smart way to frame the film in mystery and a little magic. Feeney is a talent with a little bit of luck we shall hear more from this young man soon.
An evocative tale, Tommy Creagh's latest work, " Land of Winter" shows a lot of promise from the director/ writer as well as the lead actor Declan O Connor. I was quite impressed at the quality of the filmmaking as well as the principal actors. Creagh pays tribute to James Joyce with an evocative tale of a young man who is feeling lonely and adrift as he spends another night in Dublin alone and without any purpose. Declan O'Connor is perfectly cast as the soulful and gentle writer who reflects upon the coming snowstorm as an ominous sign of more hardship coming his way. Alone in a bar he meets a girl who might lighten his mood, but even she has trouble penetrating his lonely soul. This film captures young angst perfectly, and I wanted to know more about these chapters. Will Polly ( Quite cheerfully played by a spunky Caitriona Ennis ) make a second date? Try to catch it.
So what about movies I missed? Well, yes I did miss a few.
VIFF's 2019 prize winning feature film was titled simply, "M." It was made on a small budget by a fairly well known Scandinavian pop singer named Anna Erickson . You may recognize her from a high profile duet with the singer named Seal. I hope to review her experimental film at some point, but since screeners where not available to me at this time, that will have to wait. And if are a fan of hers, please watch out for more screenings of this highly anticipated experimental film with more of her original music.
Here's the full list.
VIFF 2019 Winners Grand Prix Doing Money — Directed by Lynsey Miller Best Feature Film M — Directed by Anna Eriksson Best Director Doing Money (Lynsey Miller) Best Original Screenplay Murder on the Road to Kathmandu — Original Screenplay by Rupalee Verma Best Short Film Dark like the Night. Karenina-2019. — Directed by Radda Novikova