The official selection of the 55th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which takes place from August 20 to 28, 2021, features 32 premieres. The festival opens with Zátopek, David Ondříček’s highly anticipated drama about four-time Olympic gold medalist, the runner Emil Zátopek, who is widely regarded as the most popular athlete in Czech Republic’s history.
After axing the documentary competition in 2019, feature-length documentaries are now, for the first time, incorporated into the the Crystal Globe Competition and East of the West Competition, both previously restricted to fiction features only.
This year’s sole retrospective is a tribute to the celebrated work of The Film Foundation. Established in 1990 by Martin Scorsese, the non-profit organization is dedicated to protecting and preserving motion picture history, restoring to date over 900 classic works of cinema as well as less-known masterpieces from around the world. Ten carefully selected films produced between 1932 and 1991 and traversing the U.S., Côte d’Ivoire, Sri Lanka, Mexico, Taiwan, and Morocco comprise what is the central program of the 2021 edition.
Crystal Globe Competition
As Far as I Can Walk / Strahinja / Strahinja Banović
Directed by: Stefan Arsenijević
Serbia, France, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, Lithuania, 2021, 92 min
Strahinja and his wife Ababuo left Ghana with a dream of a better life in Europe. Instead of reaching the western part of the continent, they were deported back to Serbia. Strahinja has started to build himself a career, while Ababuo is unable to fulfil her ambitions and she feels increasingly frustrated. When she disappears one day, Strahinja sets out to find her… A crystal clear, humanistic story about the need to find one’s place in the world. It’s also a tale of love, the most profound testimony of which might also be the most painful.
At Full Throttle / Láska pod kapotou / Láska pod kapotou
Directed by: Miro Remo
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, 2021, 85 min
Fifty-something former miner Jaroslav has always dreamt of a career as a race car driver. In a congenial and jovial manner, he represents not only the charms and struggles (especially economic) of southeastern Moravia, but also the ever more visible chasm between city and countryside. An uncommonly charismatic portrait of a man struggling with the traumas of the past who, with disarming directness, clings to the promise of good luck and a dignified life alongside a new partner.
Bird Atlas / Atlas ptáků / Atlas ptáků
Directed by: Olmo Omerzu
Czech Republic, Slovenia, Slovak Republic, 2021, 92 min
An ageing proprietor of a technology company (Miroslav Donutil) has dedicated his whole life to his work, so it comes as a big blow when things suddenly start to fall apart at the seams. Olmo Omerzu’s new film relies on persuasive character acting and his special brand of gentle irony to demonstrate that, in order to preserve our dignity, we occasionally need to lose face in the eyes of others.
Boiling Point / Bod varu / Boiling Point
Directed by: Philip Barantini
United Kingdom, 2020, 94 min
The shift has hardly begun for head chef Andy and he’s already behind with everything. His restaurant is overbooked, there’s a disgruntled inspector combing the kitchen and, if that weren’t enough, a culinary icon and a respected food critic have turned up for dinner. Via a single, continuous shot, we are launched into what proves to be a very hectic evening… The superb Stephen Graham takes the lead role in a British film about anyone who’s ever been stressed out at work and got themselves into a stew.
Every Single Minute / Každá minuta života / Každá minuta života
Directed by: Erika Hníková
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, 2021, 80 min
The Hanuliaks, a couple from Slovakia, have decided to bring up their son according to Kamevéda, a complex approach to developing the child’s motor abilities and intellect. Unique in its depth of focus, this reflection on child-rearing documents a year in the life of four-year-old Miško, where not a minute is wasted since there is no room for boredom and moments of rest are merely preparation for the next achievement.
The Exam / Zkouška / Ezmûn
Directed by: Shawkat Amin Korki
Germany, Iraq, Qatar, 2021, 89 min
If Rojin doesn’t pass the university entrance exam, she will have to go through with an arranged marriage. If she does get in, she will be free. This is the pronouncement of her father, the head of the family. Rojin’s older sister Shilan tries to help her as best she can, yet every well-meant action draws the young woman deeper into a web of deceit and lies. An absorbing drama and daring probe into the theme of a woman’s right to her own life.
The Land of the Sons / Země potomků / La terra dei figli
Directed by: Claudio Cupellini
Italy, 2021, 118 min
Civilisation is coming to an end. The death of his only relative gives a feral boy the pretext to journey beyond the confines of his home environment; only by doing this will he be able to decipher his father’s journal, the most valuable artefact in his legacy.This singular contribution to the post-apocalyptic sci-fi genre tells of a humanity in crisis, while at the same time conveying the adventurous spirit of adolescence.
Nö / Ne! / Nö
Directed by: Dietrich Brüggemann
Germany, 2021, 119 min
Isn’t the trajectory of a shared life determined in advance? Get married, have kids, be like everyone else… According to Dietrich Brüggemann, who competed in Vary six years ago, 30-somethings conceivably have it all, yet they fail in their attempts to achieve their set ideals. Nö delivers a critique of contemporary values, while also highlighting the struggle to find and nurture love.
Le Prince / Princ / Le Prince
Directed by: Lisa Bierwirth
Germany, 2021, 125 min
Perhaps they should never have met, but fate wanted otherwise. Monika and Joseph. She is a curator, he is an immigrant from Congo, a businessman with an unclear past and present. They meet during a police raid at a bar, when the first of many sparks flies between them. An understated love story, a melodrama without pathos, a fragile story about the ambiguous nature of love and the impossibility of overcoming it through reason.
Saving One Who Was Dead / Zpráva o záchraně mrtvého / Zpráva o záchraně mrtvého
Directed by: Václav Kadrnka
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, France, 2021, 90 min
After a serious stroke, the Father goes into a coma. The Mother (Zuzana Mauréry) and the Son (Vojtěch Dyk) are suddenly confronted with a motionless body; the doctors do not give them much hope. Four years on from Karlovy Vary’s graceful ride Little Crusader, Václav Kadrnka invites us on a spiritual journey to places man is seldom permitted to enter since, here, life huddles up tightly to death and only the resurrected can return.
The Staffroom / Sborovna / Zbornica
Directed by: Sonja Tarokić
Croatia, 2021, 126 min
Anamarija starts her job as a counsellor at a new school. Together with her, the viewers begin to appreciate what kind of people the staffroom teachers are, they witness the petty conflicts and also uncover the power games that go on behind the scenes. This self-assured debut from Sonja Tarokić about the individual’s struggle within the system and the sheer effort required to preserve one’s integrity, also presents a complex study of an institution whose employees have taken on one of the most responsible roles an adult can have – to educate future generations.
Wars / Boje / Guerres
Directed by: Nicolas Roy
Canada, 2021, 84 min
When Emma turns twenty, she decides to join the army. Not only does she want to follow in her father’s footsteps, but she also yearns to rid herself of an oppressive sense of existential emptiness. Although the army’s harsh discipline helps her break free, she slowly discovers that she cannot suppress all her emotions in this male society.
East of the West Competition
After the Winter / Na konci zimy / Poslije zime
Directed by: Ivan Bakrač
Montenegro, Serbia, Croatia, 2021, 101 min
Five childhood friends from a small Montenegrin town have gradually moved away to different corners of the former Yugoslavia, yet they remain in contact, aware that their long-time friendship continues to play a fundamental role in their lives. In his inspired debut, director Ivan Bakrač delivers a spirited testimony of the young post-war generation, who still have the shadow of the past hanging over them.
Dear Ones / Blízcí / Bliscy
Directed by: Grzegorz Jaroszuk
Poland, Czech Republic, 2021, 74 min
Piotr’s father, whom he hasn’t seen for ages, calls him out of the blue and asks him to pay a visit. When he tells Piotr and his sister that their mother has gone missing without a word, the members of this estranged family start searching for her and, along the way, find out all sorts of weird stuff… Employing outlandish and, at times, absurd humour, Grzegorz Jaroszuk examines the theme of loneliness and conveys how difficult or even impossible it is to communicate with other people, particularly our nearest and dearest.
Intensive Life Unit / Jednotka intenzivního života / Jednotka intenzivního života
Directed by: Adéla Komrzý
Czech Republic, 2021, 73 min
Even though doctors Ondřej and Kateřina look after their patients to the best of their ability, they can’t prevent their death. As heads of palliative care at Prague’s General University Hospital they face the inevitability of the end on a daily basis. Yet what perhaps makes their job harder is the myriad options now open to them to prolong human life – and this at a time when death has become a social taboo. Betraying her special brand of empathy, documentarist Adéla Komrzý demonstrates that, while there’s no good or bad way to die, there’s always a means to improve patients’ quality of life.
Mirrors in the Dark / Zrcadla ve tmě / Zrcadla ve tmě
Directed by: Šimon Holý
Czech Republic, 2021, 84 min
Supposedly, all it takes is 36 questions and you’ll fall in love with anyone. Marie (Alena Doláková), a dancer who has just turned thirty, and her boyfriend František decide to check out this scientific theory for themselves. Yet can we rely on our love for other people if we don’t even know ourselves? A supremely contemporary view of 30-something individuals trying to navigate the way ahead.
Nuuccha / Rus / Nuuccha
Directed by: Vladimir Munkuev
Russia, 2021, 107 min
Otar’s Death / Otarova smrt / Otar’s Death
Directed by: Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze
Georgia, Germany, Lithuania, 2021, 106 min
Two families, each facing its own existential difficulties, are brought together by an unfortunate event. For one family, the accident has a fatal impact; for the other, it becomes an opportunity for a better life. The film’s careful exploration of all the participants’ perspectives culminates in a meditation on human morals while not shying away from a tragicomic tone.
Patchwork / Patchwork / Patchwork
Directed by: Petros Charalambous
Cyprus, Israel, Slovenia, 2021, 86 min
Chara’s family is everything to her, and yet she sometimes ponders a life without them. When she strikes up a hesitant friendship with a young girl, she is inexorably forced to confront a painful past and to answer a burning question: Is motherhood a natural state of boundless love and caring, or is it an ideal imposed by society?
Roots / Kořeny / Koreni
Directed by: Tea Lukač
Serbia, 2021, 80 min
A silent landscape flashes past the windows of a moving car conveying different sets of passengers. The conversations veer towards such diverse themes as carol-singing, nuclear waste, and the dangers of hornets’ nests. Tea Lukač’s anthropological probe gets by with a minimum of cinematic devices in order to deliver a focused study of the phenomena of memory, history and tradition.
Runner / V běhu / Bėgikė
Directed by: Andrius Blaževičius
Lithuania, Czech Republic, 2021, 87 min
When Marija learns that her boyfriend, who has had another of his psychotic episodes, has disappeared from their home, she runs into the streets of the city in order to find him and hopefully prevent a tragedy. Andrius Blaževičius’s dynamic drama, set over the course of 24 hours, explores the subjects of love and freedom. Marija is played with vital energy by the actress Žygimantė Elena Jakštaitė, who was chosen for the prestigious Shooting Stars program at this year’s Berlinale.
Sisterhood / Jako sestry / Sestri
Directed by: Dina Duma
North Macedonia, Kosovo, Montenegro, 2021, 90 min
The friendship of two adolescent girls is threatened the moment they have to face the dire repercussions of their manipulative behaviour. The film is set in the teen community, for whom amassing followers on social media is more important than cultivating genuine relationships. In her subtle debut the director adopts an authentic approach to capture the formative moments of youth, which teach us to accept responsibility for our actions.
Two Ships / Marťanské lodě / Marťanské lodě
Directed by: Jan Foukal
Czech Republic, Norway, 2021, 76 min
Eliška (Eliška Křenková) meets Martin (Martin Kyšperský) at a birthday party and then invites him to one of her lectures. They clearly hit it off right from the start and, with Brno serving primarily as a backdrop, their romantic adventure begins to gather momentum… A lyrical film which prompts us to consider whether we can really know and understand another human being, and whether love itself is enough.
Wild Roots / Jiná smečka / Külön falka
Directed by: Hajni Kis
Hungary, Slovak Republic, 2021, 98 min
Tibor and Niki, father and daughter. The young girl was only five years old when they last saw each other, before Tibor was sent to prison. He is released seven years later and tries not to think about the past. Yet he can’t erase his daughter from his life and so they are compelled to start over from the beginning. Both are irresistibly charismatic, headstrong and irascible, but also determined to find a way back to one another.
Brighton 4th / Brighton 4th / Brighton 4th
Directed by: Levan Koguashvili
Georgia, Russia, Bulgaria, USA, Monaco, 2021, 95 min
When former wrestling champion Kakhi learns that his son Soso has gotten himself into difficulties, he travels from Georgia to New York to help him… Profoundly melancholic, infused with tragicomic moments, and characterized by a sense of understanding for its protagonists, Koguashvili’s film captures the bond between a father and his adult son, an ancient bond in which the older man will always feel the need to protect his blood, no matter what the circumstances.
Dreams About Stray Cats / Sny o toulavých kočkách / Sny o toulavých kočkách
Directed by: David Sís
Czech Republic, USA, France, 2020, 96 min
“Do you know what I’ve always wanted to find out, brother? Where do you get your ideas for your drawings?” director David Sís asks his older brother Petr at the beginning of the film. He doesn’t get an answer right away, but perhaps it can be found in this documentary that, with great care, traces the highly successful career of a talented and multifaceted artist whose work crosses generational and geographic boundaries.
My Sunny / Maad Moje slunce Mad / Moje slunce Mad
Directed by: Michaela Pavlátová
Czech Republic, France, Slovak Republic, 2021, 81 min
Getting married is always a big step, but for Helena it marks a fundamental change in her life. She leaves Prague behind and moves with Nazir to Kabul, where she becomes part of a family she has never met. The new world brings much joy, but also difficulties that a European married to an Afghan man must overcome.
The Party and the Guests / O slavnosti a hostech / O slavnosti a hostech
Directed by: Jan Němec
Czechoslovakia, 1966, 71 min
Countless parables exist on power and its devastating impact, but only rarely does the focus include the opposing side: not just the victims but also the henchmen, opportunists, informers, lame cowards and, simply, people who lack their own opinions. Never had they been so precisely identified until Jan Němec made this film.
Reconstruction of Occupation / Rekonstrukce okupace / Rekonstrukce okupace
Directed by: Jan Šikl
Czech Republic, Slovak Republic, 2021, 95 min
Documentary filmmaker Jan Šikl has spent many years seeking out and collecting private film archives. In this way, he came across several hours of footage showing the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. Exactly fifty-three years later, on August 21, 2021, historical memory awakens from a long slumber with this reconstruction of the occupation, a cinematic adventure of a truly archeological nature.
Roaring 20’s / V ulicích Paříže / Années 20
Directed by: Elisabeth Vogler
France, 2021, 90 min
One day, one city, one continuous shot. Experience Paris in the summer, where life keeps going, even during the pandemic. A city filled with summer love, important life decisions, and unexpected games of chess.
Suspicion / Podezření / Podezření
Directed by: Michal Blaško
Czech Republic, France, 2022, 68 min
Nurse Hana Kučerová never smiles and she treats her patients poorly. When a patient dies under suspicious circumstances, the public, the media, the police, and her colleagues are clear as to who is guilty…. A mini-series inspired by real events that doesn’t try to place blame, but instead seeks to identify the difference between truth and mere semblance. The first part of the trilogy will be screened at KVIFF in its exclusive world premiere.
Zátopek / Zátopek / Zátopek
Directed by: David Ondříček
Czech Republic, 2021, 131 min
David Ondříček’s fascinating drama presents the life of the famous Czech endurance runner and Olympic champion Emil Zátopek, a man who, with impressive nonchalance, pushed the boundaries of human possibilities and took his place alongside other greats who transformed athletic competitions into unforgettable stories.