To The Stars directed by Martha Stephens
To The Stars directed by Martha Stephens

Films from Chinese director Zhai Yixiang, Germany’s Jan-Ole Gerster and American director Martha Stephens are among the geographically diverse selections in the 54th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival main competition section.

Chinese director Zhai Yixiang’s eagerly anticipated Mosaic Portrait offers a diaphanously hypnotic story of a 14-year-old girl in a critical moment of her life. Following his successful debut Lilting (Sundance 2014), Cambodia-born British writer and director Hong Khaou will introduce in Karlovy Vary his moving drama about rediscovering one’s identity Monsoon (starring Henry Golding). Seven years after the premiere of his cult debut Oh Boy (EFA´s European Discovery Award), Germany’s Jan-Ole Gerster returns to Karlovy Vary with another world premiere, the psychological study Lara, starring legendary actress Corinna Harfouch.

Also making a repeat appearance in Karlovy Vary is the Philippines’ Dwein Baltazar with her subtle drama Ode to Nothing. One of the most distinctive Spanish filmmakers of his generation, Jonás Trueba combines lightness and charm with intense existential emotions in the conversation piece August Virgin. Meanwhile, American director Martha Stephens takes us back to the 1960s in her charismatic black-and-white drama To the Stars, with Kara Hayward in the lead.

Eastern and southeastern Europe are represented by a trio of new films by recognized filmmakers. Damjan Kozole (Best Director at the 2016 KVIFF for Nightlife) combines compassion and humor reminiscent of the central films of the Czechoslovak New Wave in Half-Sister. Famed Bulgarian directorial duo Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov’s intimate family drama The Father follows on the footsteps of their award-winning The Lesson and Glory. And Czech cinema is represented by the Czech-Slovak co-production of Marko Škop’s gripping drama Let There Be Light.

Belgian debut filmmaker Tim Mielants presents a curious journey towards understanding deeper truths about oneself in the bitingly ironic yet gentle Patrick. All the way from Chile, this year’s second feature debut in main competition is Felipe Ríos’s psychological road movie The Man from the Future. And returning to KVIFF’s competition section three years after My Father’s Wings, is Turkey’s Kıvanç Sezer with his absurdly humorous look at life crisis in La Belle Indifference.

Karlovy Vary IFF 2019 OFFICIAL SELECTION – COMPETITION

Bashtata / The Father / Otec

Director: Kristina Grozeva, Petar Valchanov
Bulgaria, Greece, 2019, 87 min, World premiere

After losing his wife Ivanka, Vasil believes that she is using his phone to reach him from beyond the grave, so he enlists the services of a psychic to try to make contact with her. His son Pavel tries to bring him to his senses, but Vasil stubbornly insists on doing things his own way… This small-scale family drama, about the difficulties of connecting with those close to us, includes many of the carefully arranged absurd or comic situations typical for the Bulgarian filmmaking duo.

De Patrick / Patrick / Patrick

Director: Tim Mielants
Belgium, 2019, 97 min, World premiere

Patrick is in charge of maintenance at a naturist campsite owned by his father. His workshop is as well-ordered as his life, but nothing lasts forever. The loss of Patrick’s favourite hammer has a profound effect on him and sets off a chain of events from which the gloomy lad emerges as a new man. A tragicomedy about the importance of keeping an eye on your tools, about existential nudity, and about people for whom a trailer is their whole world.

El hombre del futuro / The Man from the Future / Muž budoucnosti

Director: Felipe Ríos
Chile, Argentina, 2019, 96 min, World premiere

Michelsen, an elderly truck driver, sets out on his last trip driving freight to the southern tip of Chilean Patagonia. The long and arduous drive through the magnificent, luxuriant natural landscape, past lakes and extensive glaciers, ultimately becomes a recapitulation of his life when he unexpectedly happens upon his adult daughter, whom he hasn’t seen since her childhood.

Küçük şeyler / La Belle Indifference / Maličkosti

Director: Kıvanç Sezer
Turkey, 2019, 95 min, World premiere

Onur is sacked from his job as manager of a pharmaceutical company. He’s not too bothered about being unemployed, but the same cannot be said of his wife Bahar. Onur doesn’t listen to her and becomes indifferent not only to her anxieties but also to the world around him. He’d rather be surrounded by more zebras. A drama with dashes of absurd comedy about events that are no laughing matter: a personal crisis that impacts their marriage.

Lara / Lara / Lara

Director: Jan Ole Gerster
Germany, 2019, 96 min, World premiere

Lara has just turned sixty; it’s a very special day that will culminate in a career-defining piano concert given by her son. Viktor remains elusive, however, and his mother’s repeated attempts to get through to him come to nothing. German acting legend Corinna Harfouch stars in this precisely crafted psychological study by one of the most successful German filmmakers of his generation, Jan-Ole Gerster, who here takes up the thread of his critically acclaimed debut Oh Boy.

Ma Sai Ke Shao Nv / Mosaic Portrait / Portrét mozaikou

Director: Yixiang Zhai
China, 2019, 107 min, World premiere

A diaphanously hypnotic story conveyed more through contemplative silence than words, in which a pregnant 14-year-old makes a surprising revelation when asked to name the father of her child. The young Chinese director follows in the footsteps of the Sixth Generation filmmakers, taking fragments of impressions and moods to craft an unsettling image of the injured heroine, who remains proud and strong. Yet despite this – or perhaps for this reason – she finds herself mired in a deep chasm of alienation.

Monsoon / Monsoon / Monzun

Director: Hong Khaou
United Kingdom, 2019, 85 min, World premiere

Kit can’t remember much of his native Vietnam. When he returns to the Land of the Golden Star for the first time in over thirty years, he takes in the local surroundings as any Western tourist would; everything seems remote and alien. A subtle film which records one man’s journey back to his roots as it evocatively mediates the (re)discovery of his identity.

Nech je svetlo / Let There Be Light / Budiž světlo

Director: Marko Škop
Slovak Republic, Czech Republic, 2019, 93 min, World premiere

A Slovak village is getting ready for Christmas. Forty-year-old Milan travels from Germany where he works to be home with his family. However, the serene and festive atmosphere is unsettled by the suspicion that his son, a member of a paramilitary youth organisation, might be involved in a harrowing event that stunned the local community. This compelling drama, about the strength and fragility of family ties, examines our sense of moral responsibility in a world where xenophobia takes precedence over compassion for those closest to us.

Oda sa Wala / Ode to Nothing / Óda na nicotu

Director: Dwein Baltazar
Philippines, 2018, 92 min, International premiere

It seems as if nothing can upset Sonya’s routine. No-one cares about the ageing funeral shop owner anymore, except when she provides discounts on flowers and coffins. One day a body belonging apparently to no-one finds its way to her shop, and Sonya develops a highly unusual relationship with it. An inscrutable, tender and bitterly comic film about the desire for companionship.

Polsestra / Half-Sister / Nevlastní sestra

Director: Damjan Kozole
Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia, Croatia, 2019, 105 min, World premiere

Half-sisters who were never that close are forced by circumstance to share a flat in Ljubljana… The leading Slovene director returns to Karlovy Vary with a remarkably precise study of alienation and the inability to communicate, in a film characterised by polished dialogue, plentiful black humour and entirely natural performances.

To the Stars / To the Stars / Ke hvězdám

Director: Martha Stephens
USA, 2019, 111 min, International premiere

Bullied by her classmates, reclusive Iris finds small-town life pure torment; for self-assured Maggie, however, moving to the provinces provides an opportunity to stand out from the rest. A film excelling in finely wrought detail that takes us back to the 1960s, a time when society, bound by gender prejudice, detested the idea of individuality in women.

La virgen de agosto / The August Virgin / Srpnová madona

Director: Jonás Trueba
Spain, 2019, 125 min, World premiere

In the hot summer months, when Madrileños leave their homes in droves to escape the insufferable heat, the centre of Madrid is left abandoned. That is, except for the tourists and a handful of undaunted locals – and those who can’t see the way forward, like Eva, a charming thirty-something. Told with appealing finesse, the story unfolds during the city’s August festivals, when a person’s inner turmoil can be soothed by fleeting encounters and unexpected adventures.

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