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Films with Taiwan touches offer new look at Czech festival: Consultant

07/09/2024 07:02 PM
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The director, actors, and production team members of “Pierce” pose for a photo in front of a full-house audience before the world premiere of the film at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on July 3. Photo courtesy of Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary July 9, 2024
The director, actors, and production team members of “Pierce” pose for a photo in front of a full-house audience before the world premiere of the film at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on July 3. Photo courtesy of Film Servis Festival Karlovy Vary July 9, 2024

Taipei, July 9 (CNA) Two films with Taiwanese elements intrigued audiences at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) with their unique qualities, a festival consultant said while hoping for more cinematic exchanges between Taiwan and the Czech Republic.

"Pierce" (刺心切骨)," a film set in Taiwan, and "Abiding Nowhere" (無所住), the latest work by Taiwan-based Malaysian director Tsai Ming-liang (蔡明亮), were screened at this year's KVIFF, held in the western Czech city of Karlovy Vary from June 28 to July 6.

Both films offered something unusual to the predominantly Czech audience, said Martin Horyna, a consultant at KVIFF's program department who shortlisted "Pierce" for the top-ranking Crystal Globe Competition.

"'Pierce' is a film which is kind of dark in the end and also very violent," said Horyna, who has been involved in putting together the KVIFF for 12 years.

He said films like "Pierce" usually do not elicit standing ovations from Czech audiences, but it received a three-minute standing ovation at its world premiere at the KVIFF on July 3, highlighting the film's uniqueness.

Martin Horyna, a consultant at the program department of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. CNA photo July 9, 2024
Martin Horyna, a consultant at the program department of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. CNA photo July 9, 2024

In fact, all four of the film's screenings at the festival played to packed houses.

Produced by Taiwan, Singapore, Poland

Produced by Taiwanese, Singaporean and Polish production companies, "Pierce" tells the story of an ex-convict who tries to reconnect with his younger brother through the sport of fencing, while exploring themes of truth, doubt, and familial ties.

The film features Taiwanese actors Tsao Yu-ning (曹佑寧), Liu Hsiu-fu (劉修甫), and Ding Ning (丁寧) in the lead roles.

Asked what led to "Pierce" being shortlisted at the festival, Horyna said he and his colleagues liked the film's striking visuals, uncompromising story, wild plotting, and "very strong direction" from Singaporean director Nelicia Low (劉慧伶).

The audience gives a warm round of applause to the director and actors of "Pierce" following the second screening of the film at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on Thursday. CNA photo July 9, 2024
The audience gives a warm round of applause to the director and actors of "Pierce" following the second screening of the film at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival on Thursday. CNA photo July 9, 2024

He particularly appreciated how the composition and images were treated in the film, saying they were "very clean, very symmetrical, very well prepared."

Giving credit to the Polish director of photography, Michal Dymek, Horyna noted that films like "Pierce" are not commonly seen in Czech cinema in terms of visuals.

The somewhat metaphorical story also contrasted with typical story elements in Central and Eastern European films, Horyna said, pointing to social dramas in the region that tend to be more realistic or closely connected to daily life.

"The whole story (of 'Pierce') is elevated, and the ending is very elevated," Horyna said, praising its storytelling approach rarely seen in Czech cinema, especially a final scene that could lead viewers to question if it was even real.

Unconventional approach

"Abiding Nowhere" was in a non-competitive experimental film section of the festival called "Imagina" that showcases films with an unconventional approach to narration and style.

The film's three screenings were nearly sold out, Hornyna said, even if it was for a "very specific audience."

The third screening of “Abiding Nowhere” at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival drew nearly a full house at Husovka Theatre on July 5. CNA photo July 9, 2024
The third screening of “Abiding Nowhere” at the 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival drew nearly a full house at Husovka Theatre on July 5. CNA photo July 9, 2024

Previously screened as part of a special program at the 74th Berlin International Film Festival in February, "Abiding Nowhere" is the 10th installation in Tsai's Walker series.

In the film, Taiwanese actor Lee Kang-sheng (李康生), dressed as a Buddhist monk, deliberately traverses different spaces in Washington.

Noting that some members of the audiences left the theater before the screenings ended, Horyna said the purpose of "Imagina" was to show people there was "a different spectrum of cinema," such as Tsai's films.

No filmmakers in Central and Eastern Europe create films like Tsai's work, Horyna said, stressing that this form of contemplatively slow cinema "is really new for them (the audience)."

Taiwan-Czechia cinematic exchanges

Given the interesting impact of the two films, Horyna expressed hope for more cinematic exchanges between the two countries in the future, which would cut against the current norm of Czech producers mostly co-producing with European filmmakers.

One possibility, he suggested, was through the participation of productions funded by the Taiwan Creative Content Agency (TAICCA), an agency supervised by Taiwan's Ministry of Culture that selects projects from around the world that have Taiwanese elements.

As Taiwan has been proactive in international co-production of films through agencies like TAICCA, which also invested in "Pierce," Horyna believed there was room for greater reciprocity from the Czech side.

Markéta Záhumenská, director of the Czech Centre Taipei, said a Taiwanese delegation, including representatives from TAICCA and the Taiwan Film and Audiovisual Institute (TFAI), was invited by the center to attend the KVIFF and other events over the past week.

Markéta Záhumenská, director of the Czech Centre Taipei. CNA photo July 9, 2024
Markéta Záhumenská, director of the Czech Centre Taipei. CNA photo July 9, 2024

One of the activities was a visit by TFAI representatives to the Czech National Film Archive because of their interest in film reconstruction and animation.

Meanwhile, TAICCA representatives introduced their international co-production projects to potential applicants during workshops at the festival's "Industry Days," according to Záhumenská.

"The Taiwanese delegation to KVIFF was like a starting point for future collaboration," said Záhumenská, whose center was just launched in June.

She hoped that a stronger relationship between the Czech Republic and Taiwan will be built through cultural exchange events held by the center in the future.

(By Sunny Lai)

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