Daily Archives: April 25, 2012

BIFF 2012 #9: Papa Gold (Germany 2011)

One of Frank's increasingly desperate attempts to demonstrate something to Denny

Film festivals are a challenge for writers like me. I generally choose the films I watch after some research, selecting titles because either I think I will like them or because I think they might be important in helping me understand film culture a bit better – including the culture that produces the film. Of course, this leaves out many films that I might enjoy but it means that it is rare that I’m faced with a film that I find difficult to engage with. But at festivals there are certain choices that you can’t always make. Papa Gold is one of the six films in competition as a New European Feature and I found it hardgoing. It’s not my kind of film but I still have to try to be fair to it.

The central character Denny (played by writer-director Tom Lass) is a young man living in Berlin. One day Frank (well played by Peter Trabner) turns up. “Do I know you?” asks Denny. “I’m your mother’s second husband” comes the reply. Frank tells Denny that he now has a half-sister and suggests that he might want to visit and meet her. Frank pressurises Denny into letting him stay, even though it’s only a one-room flat and Denny spends most of his time with a seemingly endless supply of young women – requiring Frank to move out “for a couple of hours or so”. Frank puts up with this because his mission is to persuade Denny to return home and see his mother and new baby sister. It will take us some time to discover why Denny hasn’t been home for so long.

The blurb on the film’s website (it’s made by an independent company set up by the director and his brother who also appears in the film) suggests that Denny is a student. I’m assuming that it is the summer holiday in Berlin, but Denny doesn’t seem interested in anything apart from young women. Frank seems to think that his new stepson needs therapy of some sort and tries to organise it himself. IMDB suggests that the film is a comedy. If there are comic moments, they arise because of Frank’s well-meaning attempts to win Denny round and how they go wrong. I thought this was all rather sad and I don’t remember laughing. I remember also reading a comment that suggested the tagline “Who will mature first”  –which sums up one reading of the plot.

The budget was said to be only €2,500 and if so, the production is a major achievement. Using a Google translation, I’ve found one German website that suggests most of the film was improvised and then rehearsed. The writer praises the film as a ‘fresh take’ on the coming-of-age film and indeed the film has already won an award at a German festival. If anything, Papa Gold felt like an American Independent to me. If I was more familiar with so-called ‘slacker films’ I’d know if that was an appropriate reference. But the ones I have seen were more enjoyable than this. Papa Gold runs for only 77 minutes which doesn’t leave much space for any of the female characters (the mother remains invisible) which is a shame because it is Denny’s inability to make any emotional contact with women that remains the central issue in the film. I’ll be interested to hear what the Bradford judges think of it, especially Joanna Hogg and Wendy Ide. They’ll probably like it more than I did!

BIFF 2012 #8: Avé (Bulgaria 2011)

Kamen and Avé have missed the last ferry across the Danube

Avé is a teenage girl who arrives at a roadside outside Sofia and starts to thumb a ride. Already there is art student Kamen and he isn’t too keen to have competition. Inevitably though, the two get a ride together and the adventure begins. This is a road movie/romance/coming-of-age drama with a leavening of humour, mostly supplied via the performances of Andjela Nedyalkova as Avé and Ovanes Torosian as the long-suffering Kamen.

As the journey continues, Kamen discovers that Avé likes to reinvent herself for every new situation and he tries to separate from her when her fantasies threaten to involve him. But we know he can’t – this is a road movie and they’ll get back together. A prologue has already hinted at Kamen’s need to travel to the town of Ruse on the Danube across from Romania for the funeral of a friend, but it’s some time before we learn the reason for Avé’s journey – and should we believe her anyway?

I’m not sure if I’ve seen a Bulgarian film before but I recognised the region. The ‘Scope digital print looked very good and I enjoyed the film very much. It’s a first feature by co-writer and director Konstantin Bojanov who has previously been involved in documentary production. It was a pleasure to take in long shots of landscapes. Although Bulgaria isn’t at its best viewed from major roads, there is still a sense of adventure and who can resist a story that holds out the promise of a trip to Varna (from whence came Nosferatu/Dracula)? Avé tells us at one point that she has lived in Delhi and that you can find Indian girls in Bulgaria. Again this could be a fantasy but it is a road movie staple, that sense of wanting to be somewhere else. In reality, the distances the couple travel are not very long (300 kms from Sofia to Ruse) but they seem greater in narrative terms.

This interesting interview with the director reveals that the film was completed for around 600,000 Euros and that it s story was partly based on his own experiences. Bojanov has lived in New York for the last 15 years but he tells us that his self-education in films (he was at art school in Sofia) was of 1960s and 1970s European and American New Wave films. He cites Y tu mamá también as the kind of modern road movie he likes – and that makes sense. I’m not sure if Konstantin Bojanov is a diasporic director as such – are there Bulgarian communities in the US? – but his film certainly has both a ‘local’ and a ‘global’ feel. Nice music too.

Avé is a specialised film, not a commercial mainstream film so don’t expect a Hollywood ending. I’m glad about that because it meant I could leave the screening thinking about travelling by train through Bulgaria and wondering what happened to Kamen and Avé. I expect to see more of Andjela Nedyalkova who has genuine star quality. This is one of the six films in competition in Bradford and it stands a good chance of winning. It has already been picked up for distribution by Network Releasing so watch their website for details of screenings.

Here’s a pretty good trailer: