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19 Jun 09
9th ENH: Time for femininity

From the point of view of organisers of the 9th ENH this may be a tiny fraction of a huge whole, but for a festival goer this piece of information may be very useful. Femininity will be one of the subjects present at this year's Era New Horizons festival and we hope that this fact will trigger the choice of a new path for the Festival.

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One of the retrospectives will introduce audiences to the original, slightly feminist cinema by avant-garde American director Jennifer Reeves. Her short and full-length films are very intimate journals of feminine maturing. Filled with fragility and fear related to the body's powerlessness against biology and technology, these works of art go beyond the borders of gender, questioning the definition of sanity. Reeves's oversensitive, creative characters observe the world like Sylvia Plath did, the American poet who described her struggle against the obsessive desire to commit suicide. In a spectacular re-interpretation of German classical expressionism Shadows Choose Their Horrors of 2005 the director wonders what the story of the vampire Nosferatu would be like, had Nosferatu been a woman... Highly recommended!

The Festival's programme will include regular sections loved by audiences, like the Panorama of Contemporary Cinema: Masters, Discoveries, Winners of International Film Festivals. Here, femininity will be explored in the latest experiment by Iranian director Abbas Kiarostami. In Shirin he shows 114 actresses of different ages (including Juliette Binoche), watching an adaptation of the 12th-century poem Khosrow and Shirin. The camera focuses on the women's faces only, recording tiny motions of their muscles, open mouths, moist eyes. Kiarostami shows that such a collective portrait of human emotions is the essence of a universal idea of a cinema spectacle.

The Frenchmen, Patrick Mario Bernard and Pierre Trividic, wrote the screenplay of their film specifically for the French actress Dominique Blanc. Her performance in The Other One (L'autre) was awarded at the Venice festival. Her mature character suffers from an identity crisis, lost among emotions which are not hers. It turns out that "to be yourself", as so many commercials promote now, you need courage as perfect as the perfect world around you, which is exceptionally glossy in The Other On. After watching this film one thinks that the essence of contemporariness is a stream of light, and only now can it achieve the never-ending number of fascinating formal variation, allowing it to get ever closer to a cinematographic miracle.

Meanwhile, a black-and-white documentary about the French singing actress Jeanne Balibar Ne change rien will bring to the festival audience another, previously unknown figure from directing - the Portuguese, Pedro Costa. For years he has been an outsider, using his ascetic, naturalist style to speak about urban outcasts, the slums of Lisbon and the people who live there, immigrants from Cape Verde condemned to painful separation. Ne change rien is an exception in his artistic output - a documentary of rehearsals, recording sessions and concerts of the artist. A beautiful recording of an artistic process, a film made of love for a woman and for femininity. Sometimes shown sensually like Marlene Dietrich photographed by von Sternberg, and then with naturalist freedom, Balibar is present in every single frame, the entire world is filled with her.

Costa started his filmmaking career as a film set assistant working for other Portuguese directors, e.g. Joao Botelho. This year in Wrocław we will see Botelho's True and Tender Is the North (A Corte do Norte), an adaptation of a contemporary novel by Agustina Bessa-Luis. This story about a rich family from Madera whose past is full of mystery focuses on the fate of women. A young girl tries to find an explanation for the mysterious suicides and disappearances of her female ancestors. The most interesting person for her is her grandmother, the character inspired by the first female star of Portuguese theatre - Emily das Neves.

And let's not forget Agnes Varda and her autobiographical collage The Beaches of Agnes (Les plages d' Agnes), competing in the Films about Art section. The director presents here both the intimate, the feminine elements and those which made up her profession, vocation and art, and at the same time she documents the golden age of cinema. Don't forget the struggle of feminine and masculine aspects either, explored in quasi-autobiographical experiments by Guy Maddin. His film and space installation co-produced with the Warsaw-based architect Jakub Szczęsny at the BWA Design Gallery unites features of a hairdresser's - the realm of the motherly element - and of the ice-rink associated with the father. These two places where Maddin grew up are transformed in the film-installation Cowards, Bend your Knees! (Na kolana, tchórze!) into a rendezvous home and an abortion clinic and a site of sombre crime. Recommended!

Agnieszka Szeffel

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Mike Figgis, creator of Leaving Las Vegas will present his four-screen Timecode at the festival, mixing sound and music live.

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