Karlovy Vary International Film Festival began and ended with rain. And yet, the two spotty days never put a damper on the bright week-and-a-half of vibrant faces, vocal crowds, and potent films.
It began with a screening of “Superheroes” on a glittering, opulent night, teeming with gushing gowns and sleek tuxedos soundtracked to a Eurobeat band timed to fiery pyrotechnics, and quickly strengthened from there. I wrote about 13 films in four dispatches: The big highlights included the affecting “The Blue Caftan” from Maryam Touzani, the tear-jerking Charlotte Wells debut “Aftersun,” the contemplative Rwandan film “Father’s Day” by Kivu Ruhorahoza, Brett Morgen’s psychedelic David Bowie documentary “Moonage Daydream,” and Saim Sadiq’s queer drama “Joyland.”
But there were many other films I didn’t get to write about that deserve mention: Marie Kreutzer’s Vicky Krieps-starring, Empress Elisabeth of Austria-inspired biopic “Corsage,” Park Chan-wook’s narratively and emotionally packed melodramatic noir “Decision to Leave,” and Sophie Linnenbaum’s bonkers, meta anti-fascist musical “The Ordinaries.”
During the closing night ceremony—whereby a screening of George Miller’s “Three Thousand Years of Longing” played—several deserving pictures were honored: Sadaf Foroughi’s Iran-set feature “Summer With Hope” won the Grand Prix award in the main Crystal Globe Competition; Spanish director Jonás Trueba’s “You Have To Come And See It” took home the Special Jury Prize; Czech director Beata Parkanová claimed Best Director, and Martin Finger received Best Actor for “Word.” Taki Mumladze and Mariam Khundadze shared Best Actress for their performances in Georgian director Ioseb “Soso” Bliadze’s “A Room Of My Own.”
In the new Proxima competition, Czech directorial duo Adéla Komrzy and Tomáš Bojar won the top $15,000 Grand Prix. Spanish actor and director Eduardo Casanova won the $10,000 Special Jury Prize for “La Pietà.” Croatian directors David Kapac and Andrija Mardesic’s “The Uncle” gained a Special Jury Mention. Czech director Štěpán FOK Vodrážka’s “PSH Neverending Story” won the Audience Award.
Academy Award-winning actor Benicio del Toro received the Festival President’s Award (he thanked the festival for their support of Ukraine during his acceptance speech) while Geoffrey Rush took home the Crystal Globe For Outstanding Artistic Contribution To World Cinema. Veteran Czech actor Boleslav Polivka accepted the Festival President’s Award For Contribution To Czech Cinematography (cinematography used here as a synonym for cinema rather than the title).
Most of all from Karlovy Vary, I will carry memories of the people with me: Those young, hungry film students who camped out in the forest and woke up early in the morning to devour the platter of international cinema as their breakfast. The rabble of festival goers who walked the winding cobblestone roads through the intimate, colorful canyon of resplendent Renaissance shops. I will remember the kinetic couple on the afterparty dance floor who flung themselves with wild abandon, footloose, to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody” to the point of using a chair as a prop and dropping down to their knees in rapturous glee. I will hold the smell of the fireworks, the sounds of late-night '80s playlists echoing through the streets, the glistening channel of water coursing through the town, the taste of vanilla-black currant ice cream, and the healing sulfur water spouting from a bronze serpent’s mouth, in my sensory lockbox.
I was struck by the jubilant mood of the event, and the graciousness shown by the heads of the festival—the Festival President Jiří Bartoška, Executive Director Kryštof Mucha, and Artistic Director Karel Och—along with a film community so eager, so passionate to share their festival with the world. The entire festival team fostered the same home away feeling that film critic Roger Ebert must have felt when he served as a juror for Karlovy Vary in 2002.
I’ve been to just about every major North American festival, yet long pined to cover a European Fest. And Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, which felt less awards-focused and more concerned with the art and love of cinema itself, didn’t at all disappoint. KVIFF was nourishing and restorative, soul-stirring and feverish. And I will long for the day I return.