Tofifest Day 1


My first day at Tofifest started with a first film: Instinct (2019) by Halina Reijn. She is an experienced actress in the theatre as well as in cinema and has worked with directors such as Paul Verhoeven, Alex van Warmerdam and Peter Greenaway. It is the first film co-produced by Man up. The company Reijn formed together with Carice van Houten. The latter also plays the lead Nicoline who is a psychologist who works in the prison system dealing with sexually aggressive men. In her current job, she is confronted with Idris (Marwan Kenzari) who is a rapist and one of the worst patients at the institution. Initially, she is highly sceptical of him and is the only one in the group that challenges the idea of granting probation. Well aware of the horrendous crimes Idris committed, she gradually becomes attracted to him and a kind of power play will ensue. Nicoline is a restless person. She changes workplaces frequently, and in an early scene, we see her refusing an offer of indefinite duration, opting instead for a temporary position. Her apartment is so impersonal, I actually mistook it for a hotel room the first time it was shown. It seems that she has been waiting for something to shake up her existence.

The film is written by Reijn together with Esther Gerritsen. The purpose of the Man Up production company is “to create films and television drama with high current value and relevance told from a female perspective. To explore darker, edgy stories that, through shame or fear, often remain untold. Quality, artistic integrity and openness to their audiences define the productions” It’s a bold statement and, in my mind, a very welcome one. The story reaches really dark corners and is not afraid to be complex, without overt explanations. Those looking for a third act that wraps things up neatly will be disappointed. If you, on the other hand, are open to a film that probes the psyche in a way that few other films do, this might be the thing. The acting is uniformly excellent. It’s hard to see that the film would work as well as it does with anyone else than Carice van Houten. Throwing terms like vulnerable and confident around would only scratch the surface of what Reijn and van Houten achieve here. During the opening of The Netherlands Film Festival, the director cheekily said that she paid van Houten in kind. They are, of course, immensely aided by the cinematography by Jasper Wolf, who also lensed Monos this year. The score by Ella van der Woude also deserves mentioning.

The first scene shows Nicoline taking part in an exercise playing a violent inmate who is supposed to be handled by some policemen. The scene doesn’t merely work as a presage of the role-playing between her and Idris but it ends in an interesting way. The policemen didn’t frisk Nicoline thoroughly enough and she shows them the cigarette lighter that they failed to find on her person. Whether it means they were just lazy or it is men being afraid of going too far is an open question. In any case, the film is eminently rewarding for anyone who is game.

Jessica Hausner’s Little Joe (2019) was a disappointment to me the first time around. The namesake flower didn’t bring me that much happiness. Now I went for a second inhalation to see if the scent of Little Joe would feel different. In some ways it did. There is still some stilted dialogue, notably by two characters, and I’m still not sure how profound the probing of the concepts actually is, but as a piece of cinema, I appreciated it more this time. The cinematography and the score seemed less discordant, or maybe I was just in a better mood. I still hope that Hausner will return to make films in German.

True merit, like a river, the deeper it is, the less noise it makes.

The River (Ozen 2018) by Emir Baigazin was the first film I saw by the director. It’s a film about a Kazakh family with five sons who live on a farm in a remote village. We follow their everyday life working on the farm, where the oldest brother Aslan carry out the orders of the father who is away for most of the time. Everything is planned and quite hierarchic. Suddenly an unknown cousin, Kanat appears unexpectedly. He arrives equipped with a tablet and other modern gadgets and the brothers are introduced to a new world. Obviously the newcomer brings temptations that threaten to ruin the family structure as it was. Then Kanat disappears during a visit to the titular river. Are any of the brothers responsible?

The river by Emir Baigazin.

The film that came to my mind was Arturo Ripstein’s The castle of purity (El castillo de la pureza 1973) A film that I suspect has influenced another director that is not my Favourite, but that I guess that some people might refer to when talking about this film even though we don’t see any lobster in the river. The film looks quite different to Ripstein’s. There is an austere rigour to the splendid images that sometimes verges on arthouse clichés, but are just on the right side of becoming stilted. There is not so much concentration on narrative, but the musical approach to rhythm is perfect. The headline shouldn’t be read as a position taken by the director, but rather a feeling I had while watching. The film itself is far less assertive. It makes me want to seek out Baigazin’s previous two films.

My impressions of the festival after the first day was quite positive. The films were well chosen and the atmosphere at the festival was relaxed. More reports will follow.

Tofifest 2019

Toruń is a city of 200 000 inhabitants and is probably mainly famous for being the birth town of Nicolaus Copernicus. Since 2003 it is also the home of a film festival called Tofifest. The idea behind it is their rebellious nature, according to festival director Kafka Jaworska. They label themselves a “handmade” festival without red carpets and other superfluous things. As expected, the festival has numerous sections. Firstly an international competition named On air. It houses first and second films from several directors. Among the films selected this year, one can find Beanpole by Kantemir Balagov that was one of the big hits of this year’s Cannes festival. Other films in this section include Good posture by Dolly Wells, Instinct by Halina Rejn and Retrospekt by Esther Rots.

There is also a short film competition called Shortcut. The third and final competition section is comprised of Polish films. Cinema from Quebec is the subject of this year’s Focus. The Masters segment is dedicated to Franco Zeffirelli. In the Must be, Must see unit one can find numerous hits from the big festivals this year. Notably the first Polish screening of Roy Andersson’s About endlessness, which grabbed the best director award at the Venice film festival. Other films include Oliver Laxe’s marvellous Fire will come, Deerskin by Quentin Dupieux and the Berlin Golden Bear laureate Synonyms by Nadav Lapid. A fairly new addition to the program is the Rebels section that will focus on female heroes from all over the world.

If that wasn’t enough there is a section of Baltic silent films as well, with classics such as The Phantom Carriage by Victor Sjöström, The passion of Joan of arc by Carl Th Dreyer and Häxan by Benjamin Christensen. Other events worth mentioning is a screening of the restored version of Béla Tarr’s Sátántangó and a screening, and discussion of Céline Sciamma’s smash hit, Portrait of a woman on fire.

Apart from the competition awards, there is also a prize being bestowed on people who have demonstrated “Artistic insolence” of one kind or another. It’s called The Golden Angel and this year the laureates are Agnieszka Holland, Pawel Pawlikowski, Maja Ostaszewska and Dawid Ogrodnik.

This is just scratching the surface of the riches Tofifest has to offer. There are many reasons to visit the picturesque town of Toruń to experience this handmade festival. I, myself can’t wait to go there.