Wunderbar! Germany Invades Mauvais Genre Festival in France

     April 14, 2015

DIE EINSAMKEIT DES KILLERS VOR DEM SCHUSSFor the second year running, a German film wins the grand prize at the 9th annual Mauvais Genre Film Festival in Tours, France. After Till Kleinert’s The Samourai in 2014, Der Bunker, directed by Nikias Chryssos and a sensation at the Berlin Film Festival last February, took two best picture trophies, awarded by both the pro and press juries. Festival director Gary Constant, who selected the films in competition, was not joking when he said prior to its scenting that he had saved the best for last.

A unique piece of work, Der Bunker is twisted yet engaging, abstract and parabolic, funny yet flippant. Seeking total isolation to focus on an important research, a student (Pit Bukowski) sublets a couple’s bunker to work without any distractions. Instead, he ends up as the teacher of his idiosyncratic landlords’ son Klaus (Daniel Fripan), a peculiar boy who is home-schooled, is dressed in Bavarian outfits and looks a lot older than the child his parents claim he is. (Fripan is 31. Oona von Maydell, who plays his mother, is a year younger!)  All three characters are touching, unique, each one appealing in his or her own way.  Even the villainous mother evokes empathy at times. This dark comedy about growing up and education contains some scenes that will remain in the annals of cinema.

The film is flawless from start to finish.  Chryssos leaves some things open to interpretation. Explaining them would not enhance the story further — rather, they would distract from the seamless storytelling accentuated by an equally eerie score.  The art direction is somber yet spectacular and as colorful as the characters. The dark atmosphere is almost palpable, lit with a color scheme that is consistent throughout the film. For a first feature film, Chryssos certainly delivers something uncommon, shaping up our cinematic senses, shaking us up, which is exactly what Mauvais Genre aims to do.

Mauvais Genre, which literally means “bad kind or type”, is a small but ambitious indie film festival that favors genre movies like horror, fantastic and everything in between. Gary Constant, who watched over 250 films in preparation for this year’s edition, favors first and second films, giving an opportunity to discover new talents. This 9th edition was also dedicated to Charlie Hebdo, the victims of last January’s Paris terror attacks and freedom of expression.

a-hitmans-solitude-before-the-shotFor nearly a week, features films and short films, in and off-competition, were screened at Le Petit Faucheux. And what a week it was. Yours truly had the honor of representing Collider in the press jury, alongside notable film critics. The pro jury was presided by actor/director/screenwriter Francis Renaud and included actress Aurelia Poirier (The Monuments Men), author Mélanie Fazi, film critic and producer Christine Masson and last year’s grand prize winner Till Kleinert.

The second German film that created a buzz at Mauvais Genre was the comedy A Hitman’s Solitude Before the Shot, which received multiple accolades, including the Audience award, the Young Jury award (a jury composed of film students and budding filmmakers), as well as a special mention by the critic’s jury. Directed by Florian Mischa Böder, it is loosely inspired by Austrian author Peter Handke’s novel, The Goalie’s Anxiety At The Penalty Kick. The brilliant comedy — yes, Germans have quite the sense of humor — is carried by Benno Fürmann who plays Koralnik, a hitman hired by an international governmental agency formed after 9/11. A sort of Maxwell Smart (I had to sing Get Smart’s famous music to jog Florian’s memory) who resembles Jean Dujardin’s secret agent character in OSS 117 with James Bond’s grace, he has cut himself off from all social activity as he waits patiently for his first assignment. And it finally comes,  lmost 15 years after 9/11, along with an innocent-looking young woman with a Heidi hairdo and Bambi eyes. With its old-school charm and slapstick moments, it not only offered some comic relief amid the thrillers, but mixed in old-school secret agent charm.

Another favorite at the festival was Irish thriller Darkness on the Edge of Town (no relation to the Bruce Springsteen album). Presenting his film alongside actress Emma Eliza Regan, director Patrick Ryan described it as “a mix between a western and a Greek comedy set in Ireland.” An impending tragedy of murder and revenge lurks in the postcard-worthy emerald pastures of a small Irish town. Cleo (Regan), a sharpshooter, is determined to put a bullet through her estranged sister’s killer after she is found murdered in a public toilet, not suspecting for a second that it is her best friend Robin (Emma Willis). Highly deranged, Robin’s angelic face hides a sinister soul fed by childhood trauma and abuse. Cleo seems to be her sanctuary from her unhappy home life and she is willing to go to any lengths to keep Cleo all to herself, including killing anyone who gets in her way. Her devotion to her BFF is disturbing, unhealthy and ultimately tragic.

The festival kicked off with an exclusive screening of Once Upon A Time In America, “the great Sergio Leone’s epic cinematic canvas of the 20th century,” as Martin Scorsese puts it, ahead of its release in French theaters on May 6. Restored, or rather “reconstituted,” by the Martin Scorsese Film Foundation, this new version includes 22 minutes of extra footage bringing the total run time to 251 minutes. While these images have sustained some damage, they blend in seamlessly with the film, starring Robert DeNiro, James Woods and featuring a tween Jennifer Connelly. The 1984 masterpiece is bigger than life — every shot and camera angle is primordial to the storytelling.  The second retro highlight was Angst (also called Schizophrenia), Gerald Kargl’s 1983 classic thriller during which the group Cosmique performed the soundtrack live during the screening.

darkness-on-the-edge-of-townShort films are also a major part of Mauvais Genre. A varied compilation of international films made up both the official and off-competition selections.

British filmmaker Ben Steiner won Best Short Film award for The Stomach about a man who can communicates with the dead through his stomach. Accepting his award via Skype, he joked his next film also involved an organ, the spleen. He is actually working on a vampire film set in London — “nothing to do with Twilight!” he reassured us.

Les Pécheresses, a fabulous foray into the feminine condition caused by the forbidden fruit, won double as Best Animation Short. Belgian filmmaker Gerlando Infuso was awarded the Jury Prize and the Audience Award. American filmmaker Dave Paige’s Atrium won the Young Jury prize for Best Short Fiction, while Christophe Deroo won the Mad in France Audience Award for Le Hall des Pendus. A special mention to the only female filmmaker, Aurélia Mengin, for her Adam Moins Eve, a conceptual work that some may deem controversial and downright blasphemous.

While the selection was quite varied, there were also some films that didn’t quite make the cut. While their vision and creativity is admirable, their weakness lies in the screenplay and underdeveloped characters.

The Canadian feature Backcountry was the first film in competition. Director Adam MacDonald seems very inspired by Wild, Into the Wild and even Jurassic Park. In a video message preceding the film, he named French film Haute Tension as the inspiration for Backcountry. Urbanites Alex (Jeff Roop) et Jenn (Missy Peregrim) go on a camping trip in the Canadian backcountry without a map or cell phone. What could go wrong, right? (Seriously, no map?) They run into a creepy Irish guy (Eric Balfour) who sees right through Alex’s bluff. The couple, freaked out by him, is afraid he is following them through their trek, never once thinking a hungry bear might be looking for a meal. Boy, they’re in for a surprise. Odious at first, Jenn manages to draw some empathy later on because we don’t want the bear to eat her. (Or we don’t want to admit that we do.) The grizzly bear is the most interesting character and would have deserved a best actor award had he eaten her. And the script.

South Korean director Park Suk-young flew all the way to France to present his drama Wild Flowers: “This film speaks from the heart. When we look inside people’s hearts, there are shows within. For me, personally, this movie is about war. It’s about [homeless] teens who want to find shelter.” It’s a touching film about runway teenage girls who end up in a prostitution ring led by “Uncle” who describes his job as “cock business.” Yet the script is jumbled, like bits of ideas strewn together without establishing a link to tie them together. The atmosphere is gray and dreary, the shots impossibly straining on the eye. And I, like most of my fellow jury members, did not quite capture the movie.  A former film student at Columbia University, Park left because “I had nothing to learn from America.”  A few more lessons would have been useful.

Iván Noel gave a one-man show while introducing his film The Returned before its screening.  He described how he threw a chair at one of the kids to get him to act frightened. (The boy was not hurt, just traumatized enough to do the scene.)  The French-Argentinian director, who is actually a musician and music teacher, made this film almost by accident.  His friends remarked his photos and images should be made into a movie, and hence he developed this story based loosely on the West Memphis Three criminal saga.  Three children reappear in their village after a three-day disappearance.  In a semi-autistic state, they are evidently traumatized, unable to speak, mutilated.  We suspect they might actually be dead and these are specters, as the schoolteacher claims they are, drawing suspicion on himself.  And the script is somewhat mutilated, too.

the-returnedThere is too much information for one film.  It’s not a regular thriller, but something more complex — too many elements to quite catch the thread, but it’s basically an explanation of how evil develops over time and not just from a single event.  It mixes kidnapping, family secrets, corruption and Nazi war criminals.  The characters have a lot of potential yet are underdeveloped, like the psychiatrist (Romina Pinto) with her own secrets.  The cinematography, however, is breathtaking.  Sweeping images of the Argentinian landscapes are worthy of a National Geographic special punctuated with Noel’s subtle music.  Overall, the movie is an amazing visual feat considering its budget was only $35,000.  (The entire cast is composed of his friends, neighbors and students.)  The Returned received a special mention by the jury.

Perhaps the most outlandish (read: WTF) moment was provided by Greek film Alpha, which premiered at Mauvais Genre.  Think Homer (the Greek philosopher, not Simpson) meets aliens starring Alice in Wonderland. It’s “more than a movie,” according to director Stathis Athanasiou. It’s also a live multimedia performance where the protagonist shares the stage while the film is screened. Luckily, we were spared but had to sit through what seemed like hours of this nonsensical foray into extraterrestrial territory where mythology pokes its head to pose some philosophical questions, such as “Is human law justice?” There is next to no dialogue, except the occasional monologue by the main character (Serafita Grigoriadou), but sound is an important factor in Alpha:  footsteps, a match being lit, a screaming baby. We’re in a woman’s house. Images of her kitchen and dining room are interposed with those of a little girl, a rabbit mask, a birthday cake.  Someone enters her home and she wakes up in the middle of nowhere where an abandoned car has drawn its last breath as has her brother, lying dead on a tree branch above with others. “It’s all about you, egotists. I can’t watch you like this,” she screams at him. I can’t watch this, many in the audience want to scream back.

Andrew T. Betzer’s Young Bodies Heal Quickly, presented at last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, got its French premiere at Mauvais Genre. The road movie An adolescent and his younger brother are sent away to safer pastures by their mother after the accidental killing of a young girl. So we have a car, a driver, a passenger and a stretch of highway leading to their father’s home. Except that what began as a road trip ends up hitting a dead end, a cul-de-sac from which the movie cannot back out. There is no real story. Just when you think the plot is being formed, it is brutally whisked away and the spectator is left wondering. It’s as if he couldn’t decide which angle to choose. And the Vietnam reenactment scene is completely unnecessary, wasting precious celluloid time ; it could’ve been used to polish up the screenplay. The two main characters are one-dimensional, briefly brought to life by the absurd French couple they meet in a seaside town, and the Aussie pseudo-fascist they end up working for adds some color as well, until he shaves off his ZZ Top beard and loses his “frame.”

In Backcountry, a grizzly preyed on a human. But in the festival’s closing film Tex Montana Will Survive!, Jeremy Gardner eats a baby bear. After the excellent The Battery (2012), Gardner is back with a new feature film where he plays the cocky host of a hit survival TV show. Accused of being a fraud, Tex sets out to prove that he can survive the wilds and all that Mother Nature has to offer and is dropped in the middle of a forest for 30 days with cameras and batteries to record his solo (mis)adventures. To prove his point further, he destroys his GPS… and ends up walking around in a vicious circle for, oh, several months. Dressed in a leather jacket, a red scarf casually thrown on and cowboy boots, he looks like he’s going on a date instead of the grueling outdoors. The dude is not only clueless, but also a pathological liar. As his ineptitude catches up with him, he gradually unfolds and makes some unexpected revelations… and it’s hilarious. One of the best comedies I’ve seen in a long time, Gardner, along with his co-director partner-in-crime Christian Stella, has crafted a simple idea into a full-blown story. And I wonder whether his character was inspired by a real TV host…

Unlike Tex, we survived the festival’s hectic schedule and the meteorological elements that hit the city of Tours. Nothing sunscreen and a glass of Vouvray wine couldn’t fix.

The full list of winners at Mauvais Genre 2015:

  • Young Jury Award – Feature: A HITMAN’S SOLITUDE BEFORE THE SHOT
  • Special Mention (Young Jury): DARKNESS ON THE EDGE OF TOWN
  • Young Jury Prize – Short Film Fiction: ATRIUM
  • Young Jury Prize – Short Film Animation: INVISIBLE VILLAGE
  • Audience Award – feature: A HITMAN’S SOLITUDE BEFORE THE SHOT
  • Audience Award – Short Film Fiction: THE STOMACH
  • Audience Award – Short Film Animation: LES PÉCHERESSES
  • Audience Award – Mad In France: LE HALL DES PENDUS
  • Critics’ Jury Award – feature: DER BUNKER
  • Special Mention (Young Jury): A HITMAN’S SOLITUDE BEFORE THE SHOT
  • Jury Prize – feature: DER BUNKER
  • Special Mention (Jury): THE RETURNED
  • Jury Prize – Short Film Fiction: THE STOMACH
  • Jury Prize – Short Film Animation: LES PÉCHERESSES


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