The 55th edition of the Karlovy Vary Intl. Film Festival returned to life in a fully live format Friday after a year-long COVID-forced break, with its traditional rousing dance numbers and a lifetime achievement Crystal Globe for Michael Caine.
The versatile two-time Oscar winner prompted his third standing ovation from the audience packed into the fest’s Grand Hall at the Hotel Thermal when he raised his walking cane from the stage in thanks to his fans.
Saying he began his actor’s journey as “a nobody from nowhere who knew nothing,” Caine told the crowd, “You’ve given me an award for something I love doing.” Fest president Jiri Bartoska honored him with what the actor called the heaviest prize he’s ever tried to lift at an upbeat ceremony featuring elaborate choreography themed around the 1960s U.S. pop song “Popcorn,” with dancers whirling discs that riffed on the unique logo for KVIFF this year, a stylized numeral 55 containing cartoon eyes.
Guests wore COVID-safe wrist bands after having presented proof of vaccine status on arrival, but few masks were in sight in the fully packed hall of the Brutalist 70s architectural icon that dominates the promenade area of this historic spa town.
Opening night presenter Marek Eben, a celebrity comedian-philosopher, observed that popcorn makes film the one art “with its own unique smell,” adding that the movie snack may be a superfood with qualities that combat depression.
But, he quickly added to uproarious laughs, popcorn isn’t needed at Karlovy Vary because artistic director Karel Och selects art films for “intellectuals who are on anti-depressants.”
The fest’s return to West Bohemia was marked by a distinctive air of optimism, following two attempts at opening KVIFF as a live event in 2020, both of which had to be cancelled as the pandemic spread. The Czech Republic currently has low weekly infection rate of 191 cases and a high percentage of fully vaccinated citizens, and virus checks and safety measures on film sets have been a success as both local and international production continued apace over the past year.
Members of the Crystal Globe jury, including former KVIFF-winning Danish doc maker Eva Mulvad (“A Modern Man,” “A Cherry Tale.”), Polish actress Marta Nieradkiewicz (“Wild Roses,” “Floating Skyscrapers,” winner of the 2013 East of the West prize), Greek writer-director Christos Nikou (“Apples”) and German critic Christoph Terhechte, artistic director of DOK Leipzig, were also introduced, along with members of the East of the West jury.
That panel, considering both doc and narrative films from the former East bloc, the Middle East and North Africa, includes Latvian producer Alise Gelze (“Oleg,” “Mother I Love You”), Macedonian producer, director and editor Atanas Georgiev (“Cash & Marry”), Czech writer-director Michal Hogenauer (“A Certain Kind of Silence”), Cypriot writer-director Tonia Mishiali (“Pause,” a KVIFF 2019 world premiere), and Paris-based Israeli film critic and historian Ariel Schweitzer.
The fest has also announced added screenings of Paul Verhoeven’s Cannes sensation and erotic nun story “Benedetta” and Simon Safranek’s “RapStory,” a dive into the Czech rap scene by the director of “King Skate,” the 2018 chronicle of pre-Velvet Revolution fringe culture centered on the highly improvised craze among practitioners who had to build their own boards.
Closing film “The Nest,” by Sean Durkin, featuring Jude Law as a British expat commodities broker in Reagan’s America who returns home, has also been announced, along with the recipient of the fest president’s award for Czech Oscar winner Jan Sverak (“Kolya”), who will present his 1995 Crystal Globe winner “The Ride,” which made headlines at KVIFF’s 30th edition.
In 2019, Sverak published a novel, “Bohemia,” and is now completing his film “Bethlehem Light,” for which he wrote the screenplay based on the short stories of his father, Czech actor Zdenek Sverak.
The younger Sverak also filmed one of KVIFF’s trademark trailers, a spoof of vintage horror stories from 1997, part of a tribute on opening night, featuring highlights of the two-decade tradition.