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KVIFF 2023: Wrap-Up and Awards

Since last year, when I attended Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (KVIFF) for the first time, I’ve dreamt about coming back. The festival is not just a one-stop shop for most Eastern European cinema, particularly of the Czech variety, but works from Cannes Film Festival, Berlinale, SXSW, and Sundance also make their way to the spa town to be showered by applause from the dedicated cinephiles who camp out, wind through packed hilly streets, and stand in snaking lines.

Because I attended Cannes this year, this trip to KVIFF wasn’t a major catch-up of that festival’s selections. Of the 26 films I watched on the ground, ten were holdovers from Cannes. Some I wrote about, such as Pham Thien An’s “Inside the Yellow Cocoon Shell” and Elene Naveriani’s “Blackbird Blackbird Blackberry.” But there were others that I didn’t get a chance to talk about: Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s “About Dry Grasses” is a complicated, unnerving character study; Justine Triet’s Palme d'Or winner “Anatomy of a Fall” fully enveloped me in its legalese dialogue and dramatic rhythms; “La Chimera” from Alice Rohrwacher stands as a tremendous Italian absurdist daydream; Aki Kaurismäki’s “Fallen Leaves” is a tender, working-class tragi-rom-com. 

KVIFF was also filled with wonderful retrospectives. “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World,” Peter Weir’s feast of masculine tenderness wrapped in a nautical epic, screened in 35mm. John Cassavetes’ romantic screwball “Minnie and Moskowitz” was also shown. But the major highlight was curator Joseph Fahim’s richly programmed series on mid-century Japanese auteur Yasuzo Masumura (1924 – 1986). Of the eleven films from Masamura films that played, I was lucky to see four: “Red Angel,” “The Blue Sky Maiden,” “Hoodlum Soldier,” and “A Wife’s Confession.” Even the small taste I got of the series clued me into how adaptable and precise of a filmmaker Masamura could be, particularly while critiquing the Japanese army’s actions during World War II, the concept of the nuclear family, and the country’s antiquated gender roles.     

During the closing night ceremony—whereby a screening of Bobby Farrelly’s “Champions” occurred—several deserving pictures were honored: Bulgarian filmmaker Stephan Komandarev’s “Blaga’s Lessons” won the Grand Prix award in the main Crystal Globe Competition; Behrooz Karamizade’s “Empty Nets” took home the Special Jury Prize; director Babak Jalali claimed Best Director for his black and white shot indie “Fremont;” and Herbert Nordrum received Best Actor for “The Hypnosis.” Eli Skorcheva took Best Actress for her performance in “Blaga’s Lessons,” Cyril Aris’ documentary “Dancing on the Edge of a Volcano” landed a special Jury mention,” and Vincent Perez’ “The Edge of the Blade” took home the PRÁVO audience award.

In the Proxima competition, South Korean filmmaker Yoo Ji-young won the top $15,000 Grand Prix for “Birth.” Indian director Saurav Rai won the $10,000 Special Jury Prize for “Guras.” Czech director Albert Hospodářský’s “Brutal Heat” gained a Special Jury Mention. 

Academy Award-winning actor Russel Crowe received the Crystal Globe For Outstanding Artistic Contribution To World Cinema, while Academy Award winner Alicia Vikander, Ewan McGregor, and Robin Wright were honored with the Festival President’s Award. Czech actress Daniela Kolářová accepted the Festival President’s Award For Contribution To Czech Cinematography (cinematography stands as a synonym for the entire craft of cinema).

The awards received are a mark of how deep KVIFF managed to be this year. Especially since there were a few titles like Matěj Chlupáček’s Czech period piece “We Have Never Been Modern” and Tinatin Kajirchvili’s religious crucible “Citizen Saint” that didn't receive any notices from the jury.  

As I write this final wrap-up, while the cacophony of this spa town’s sounds dances through my hotel window, I leave with a bit of sadness. Not for what I didn’t see, but for what I have to leave. KVIFF is one of Europe’s oldest, most venerated film festivals. And in my eyes, from the movies, to the people and the easy on the eyes sights, it is among the very best. I will miss it.  

Robert Daniels

Robert Daniels is an Associate Editor at RogerEbert.com. Based in Chicago, he is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) and Critics Choice Association (CCA) and regularly contributes to the New York TimesIndieWire, and Screen Daily. He has covered film festivals ranging from Cannes to Sundance to Toronto. He has also written for the Criterion Collection, the Los Angeles Times, and Rolling Stone about Black American pop culture and issues of representation.

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