2012 Fribourg International Film Festival by Cerise Howard

    It has been my extremely good fortune three years running to have attended the Fribourg International Film Festival, a most convivial celebration of the seventh art nowadays coming appreciably into its own, located in a gorgeous, majority francophone part of Switzerland.

 Over those three years I have witnessed the festival continue to evolve rapidly such that in 2012, in its eclectic 26th edition, what began modestly and earnestly as “Le Festival des films du Tiers-monde” can now accommodate genre cinema (in “Once upon a Time in the South”, a wonderful 16 film strong survey of alt-Westerns), midnight screenings, and animation (extending this year to the staging of a fabulous exhibition celebrating the work of Swiss genius Georges Schwizgebel) and can legitimately stake a claim for itself as a player on the world stage. Need any greater proof of this be proffered than that its Artistic Director from 2007-2011, Edouard Waintrop, has since landed the plum gig of General Delegate of the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes?

 It is in the feature competition that the FIFF sticks closest to its original mission: to celebrate and promote in Europe “le cinéma du sud”, i.e., the films of “the South”, a term originally meant merely to encompass the poorer countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America but which has come to be increasingly elastic under the stewardship of first Waintrop and then his 2012 successor, Thierry Jobin.

 And it was with the feature competition that my visit to the FIFF this year was principally to concern itself, for I had landed a role on the festival’s FIPRESCI jury. Were this not good fortune enough, it turned out to be a breeze to enjoy the company of all four of my fellow jurors. Sheila Johnston (President, Great Britain), Hauvick Habechian (Lebanon), Katja Čičigoj (Slovenia) and Nina Scheu (Switzerland) made for a terrifically collegiate, worldly and passionate clutch of critics with whom to view the 12 competition titles and deliberate over their merits at length in order to settle upon but a single winner.

 And, would you believe it, we eventually selected a South Korean genre film to award our prize to. The winner was feature debutante Huh Jong-ho’s cracking action comedy-melodrama, Countdown, in which Jeong Jae-yeong plays a dapper, taciturn enforcer (think certain iconic roles played by Alain Delon or Chow Yun-Fat, or even Ryan Gosling in Drive), albeit one afflicted with both amnesia and a liver rapidly on its way out. He needs go to great lengths to find – and then keep within arms’ reach – a liver donor, in the form of a slippery, chameleonic confidence trickstress (Jeon Do-yeon) who is, upon leaving prison, on an urgent mission or two of her own…

 Countdown is very witty in its play with genre conventions, has some great set pieces and only comes at all undone towards its very end, when its mood takes a turn for the strangely mawkish. Still, it did well to fend off stiff competition from such titles as Amr Salama’s Asmaa (an agitprop Egyptian Philadelphia, if you will), Sixth Generation stalwart Wang Xiaoshuai’s childhood memoir 11 Flowers, Ido Fluk’s crowd-sourcing-funded, Israeli road movie and Grand Prix winner, Never Too Late and Chen Hung-I’s highly original yet highly nostalgic Honey Pupu, a Taiwanese film examining relationships which are altogether very now, in being conducted in worlds both real and virtual, but which looks backwards throughout in wistfully lamenting the passing of technologies only very recently to have become obsolete, along with those technologies’ vendors (e.g., record shops).

 (Countdown may have been a little fortunate in that Júlia Murat’s gorgeous Histórias Que Só Existem Quando Lembradas (Found Memories) was rendered ineligible for the FIPRESCI prize, as it had already picked one up in Ljubljana.)
 Half a world away it may be, but I can heartily recommend to all my fellow Australia-based critics that they trouble to spread their wings and make the trip to Fribourg one day. After all, altogether too few are the opportunities around these parts to avail oneself of the exciting, horizons-expanding internationalism that was the very stuff of my FIPRESCI jury experience in Fribourg, so why not make a tilt at landing a spot on a jury there – or just cough up and head there anyway? That’s not even to mention the singular perks that might present themselves, which, in the case of my 2012 Fribourg expedition, extended to a fondue party high upon a mountaintop in the company of Ivan Passer, a Young God (Franz Treichler, Fribourg-born and bred), my colleagues on the FIPRESCI and other juries, various festival staffers and a multitude of estimable others, capping off a day trip which had already taken in the H.R. Giger Museum in postcard-perfect medieval Gruyères. And as for being the only Australasian at the festival… well, that’s no bad thing either! Australasians are a very welcome novelty on the festival circuit abroad, as I would urge any and all of my fellow AFCA members to find out and enjoy first-hand for themselves.

 For a greater in-depth report on the titles in competition, and on the 2012 festival more broadly, please refer to my article, “The South’s Not Long for This World: The 26th Fribourg International Film Festival”, in Issue 63 of Senses of Cinema: http://sensesofcinema.com/2012/festival-reports/the-souths-not-long-for-this-world-the-26th-fribourg-international-film-festival/

Cerise Howard is a freelance writer and peregrine film critic whose involvement with Senses of Cinema dates back to 2001. She can be heard fortnightly on Melbourne radio station 3RRR, joining fellow AFCA member Richard Watts to talk about all things cinema on “SmartArts”. She is President of the newly incorporated Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australasia; the festival’s first edition will be in 2013.

Fribourg International Film Festival jury. 
From left: Katja Čičigoj, Hauvick Habechian, Sheila Johnston, Cerise Howard, Nina Scheu.