The now famous Pacific Meridian Film Festival in Vladivostok had its 14th edition from September 10 to 16, 2016, in a city which is mythical in the Russian Far East, and where actor Yul Brynner was born in 1920 (his statue was erected by his son Rock Brynner, in front of his native house).
As usual, the hospitality of the festival was wonderful, especially for the three juries (Main, NETPAC and Fipresci), and the lineup of films was quite well chosen. The program of our Netpac jury (composed of Mrs Nina Kochelyaeva, Russia, Mr Andreas Ungerböck, Austria, and myself, chairman) was composed of eleven films, partly from the main competition, and partly from other sections, like the Panorama, reflecting the spirit of the Pacific Ocean countries.
But one may wonder if the two Russian films made in Europe (Elixir and I Know How to Knit) could actually be part of an Asian competition for the NETPAC Award. Most of the other films in our section were selected from previous film festivals, like Cannes (Album, from Turkey, and A Yellow Bird, by K Rajagopal, from Singapore, were both first shown at the Cannes Critic's Week this year), or Busan (Immortal, from Iran, our award-winner), but of course never shown at Vladivostok before. While the main jury gave its Best Feature film award to the excellent Chinese film Life after Life by Zhang Hanyi (supported by producer Jia Zhangke), and the Fipresci jury its own award to another interesting Chinese film, Old Stone by Johnny Ma, we opted for what we thought was the revelation of our competition: Immortal, the second film by young Iranian director, Hadi Mohaghegh, a stunning visual experience, fueled by the great cinematography of Rozbeh Raiga, which makes us the bewildered witnesses to the endless agony of an old man, the only survivor of a car accident, when he was the driver, that killed all of his family except his grandson. The old man tries everything possible to die, but the grandson does his utmost to lead him to a peaceful death in spite of everything. With very little dialogue, and the sheer power of incredible images (the ants in the old man's nose!), Immortal is a rare sensory experience, hardly seen in any contemporary film. Hadi Mohaghegh's next films must be carefully followed up.
Other good films in our section attracted our attention: Under construction by female director Rubaiyat Hossain shows the difficult choices of a stage actress (the excellent Shahana Goswami), in modern Bangladesh threatened by fundamentalists; A Yellow Bird by Indian-Singaporean director K Rajagopal deals energetically with money and race problems in multi-ethnic Singapore, and Life after Life by Zhang Hanyi is a fascinating film about trees and souls in rural China, much under the influence of his master Jia Zhangke. There was also a third Chinese film, The Family by Liu Shumin, about an old couple and their children in modern China, quite interesting, but overlong (282 minutes!), although redeemed by a good last part which finally takes us out of the grandma's kitchen! Solo, Solitude, by Indonesian director Yosep Anggi Noen, is a disappointing film that would like to express the feelings of some people of a political party banned by Soeharto in the 1990s. The good surprise came on the last day of the competition with A Double Life, a Japanese film by director Yoshiyuki Kishi, an intellectually teasing film about a young student whose professor asks her to tail a neighbour for her thesis, with all the attendant consequences. It’s a cerebral feast, with some funny episodes.
Altogether this edition was quite rewarding in terms of selected films, and it will be hard to forget the outstanding welcome of the staff and volunteers in this fascinating city, Vladivostok. Spasiba bolshoye! (Thank you so much)!
- Max Tessier