Tofifest Day 3

My third day started with yet another first feature-length film. My thoughts are silent (2019) by Antonio Lukich. Vadim is 25 years old and more than two meters tall. He records sounds for a living which he sells to different companies. He gets a generous offer that will allow him to move to Canada and work there. To achieve this he must first record animal sounds in Western Ukraine. If Vadim manages to record the elusive Rakhiv mallard he will get a big bonus. When he arrives in his former hometown Uzhgorod he is picked up by a taxi driver who speaks to Vadim in a strange way. After a while, we understand that it’s actually his mother, and she will be his companion during the trip.

The journey will be filled with weird conversations between mother and son, filled with deadpan humour reminiscent of early Kaurismäki. (Andriy Lidagovskiy in the lead role even has a Matti Pellonpää thing going) with hilarious situations that nobody seems to react upon. The comic timing between Vadim and his mother (Irma Vitovska-Vantsa) is impeccable. The director never aims for cheap effects but keeps a steady rhythm of laconic observations. The film is constantly visually inventive. That goes for the aural aspects as well, not surprisingly, considering the subject. The film also boasts a nostalgic synth-based score. Another more recent comparison might be Gábor Reisz. even though Lukich never strives for the effects that his Hungarian counterpart achieves in his second film Bad poems. (rossz versek 2018) The film actually begins in Hungarian with a prologue set in medieval times. So once more I saw another film that I really liked and I started to wonder if there were any films during this festival that I wouldn’t like.

My thoughts are silent
Andriy Lidagovskiy in My thoughts are silent

Well, one can always cheat and rewatch a film I didn’t like at all the first time. Portrait of a lady on fire (Portrait d’une jeune fille en feu 2019) was really under fire the first time I saw it. What struck me the most when I saw it for the second time is that there are some really good scenes during the first 20 minutes, all of them indoors. One scene wouldn’t have been out of place in a Manoel de Oliveira film, and that’s one of the biggest compliments that I can give. The rest, however, felt exactly the same and the disappointment was heightened by the promise of those early scenes. That might have been why my negative reaction was so strong the first time around.

The Dardenne brothers haven’t managed to impress me for quite some time now. The last film I really appreciated by them was The child (Un fils 2005) Their latest film is Young Ahmed (Le jeune Ahmed 2019) The titular character is a 13-year-old boy who is being radicalized by an Iman. He sets out to kill one of his teachers, partly because she is dating a jew. After the failed attack, Ahmed ends up in an institution where people are trying to decide what would be best for him. One of his duties is to work on a farm where the farmer’s daughter Louise seems to take a shine to him. Some critics have labelled the film dangerous but to me, it rather feels naive. Then there are of course the ubiquitous complaints that the film shouldn’t have been directed by white men. Someone went so far as to say that “it wasn’t their story to tell”. Even if one ignores those critics it must be said that the brother’s style hasn’t changed much through the years and The Dardennes feels like one of the all-too-many usual suspects who have an open ticket to the Cannes competition. I rarely take festival awards too seriously but giving the film the prize for best direction is downright ludicrous. It would not be a hard task to pick a handful of films from the competition that would have been better suited for that award.

Le jeune Ahmed Young Ahmed Dardenne
Idiir Ben Addi and Victoria Bluck in Le jeune Ahmed.

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