Dedicated moviegoers at the Palm Springs International Film Festival might take as their motto Gertrude Stein’s famous quip: “I like a view but I like to sit with my back to it.” Which is to say, there’s something perverse about spending one’s days huddled in dark rooms starring at flickering lights when one might otherwise stroll about in the clean, dry air, soak up the warm winter sun, and gaze at the mountains that cradle this desert oasis.
Happily, the view inside can be just as welcoming, especially if you’re the kind of person capable of being enthralled by miserable Hungarians putting on nasty sweaters for two and a half hours. While Béla Tarr’s “The Turin Horse”, winner of the FIPRESCI prize for best film, represents an uncompromising outer limit of contemporary cinema, the PSIFF generously draws from the full spectrum of international film. For its 23rd edition, the festival showcased 188 films from 73 countries, with a sidebar devoted to new Arab cinema and a distinctive program of classics selected by filmmaker Mark Cousins, whose epic documentary “The Story of Film: An Odyssey”, received its US premiere. Opening night honors were reserved for Lasse Hallström’s “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”, with the closing night devoted to Yasemin Samdereli’s “Almanya: Welcome to Germany”. Between them a trio of gala presentations celebrated the community’s vibrant Latino, lesbian, and gay communities, and the festival got a much-needed jolt of genre exuberance with a special presentation of Steven Soderbergh’s “Haywire”.
As is customary at the festival, a section is devoted to films submitted to the Academy Awards for Best Foreign Film consideration. It is from this pool of candidates that the FIPRESCI jury makes its selection. In addition to the films and performances singled out as prizewinners, the jury showed particular admiration for “Elite Squad: The Enemy Within”, “José and Pilar”, and “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia”, and performances by Francesc Colomer (“Black Bread”), Thomas Schubert (“Breathing”), Deannie Yip (“A Simple Life”), and Ricsi (“The Turin Horse”).
The Best Film award goes to “The Turin Horse” (“A torinói ló”, directed by Béla Tarr, Hungary, 2011), for the power of its austerity and radical commitment to its vision.
The Best Actor prize goes to Matthias Schoenaerts in “Bullhead” (“Rundskop”, Belgium, 2011, directed by Michaël R. Roskam), for his superb portrayal of an innocent and sensitive man trapped in a truculent body.
The Best Actress award goes to Leila Hatami, Sareh Bayat and Sarina Farhadi in “A Separation” (“Jodaeiye Nader az Simin”, directed by Asghar Farhadi, Iran, 2011), for their naturalistic, powerful and fully interdependent portrayals of three women grappling with complex questions of guilt and morality. (Nathan Lee)
Palm Springs International Film Festival: www.psfilmfest.org