Welcome to my trip report from Karlovy Vary’s 54th international film festival.
About the festival
Attending the Karlovy Vary film festival or Kviff has become a tradition for me.
For the past 15 years, Kviff represented everything I liked about film festivals.
- The Festival is held in Karlovy Vary, a beautiful spa town with a rich history and breathtaking Baroque architecture.
- It lasts for a week, so there is plenty of time to relax and chill.
- Besides watching a movie, you will be entertained by an accompanying program, that will spice things up between movie projections, like contests, concerts, interviews, etc.
- You will meet movie enthusiasts, who share the same interests as you and who will enjoy every minute of the projection.
- Finally, the ticketing system has some gambling elements, that make the whole experience unpredictable and fun.
This year, unlike the previous year, I was low on vacation days, so I booked only two nights at the end of the festival.
Retrospectively, it was not the best idea and has more cons than pros.
- At the end of the festival, accommodation is much cheaper.
- Most of the movies will be already reviewed by other visitors.
- It will be less crowded.
- There is a better chance to get into movies you are interested in, see above.
- Both the movie and the accompanying program are less interesting.
- People are fatigued from watching movies and are not as excited as in the first couple of days.
- There is less chance to see the movies you missed. Overhyped movies are repeated more frequently in the first half of the festival.
- There are no fireworks.
You better book your accommodation at least half a year in advance, because price ramps up quickly with time.
This year, I paid extra for the spa hotel Lázeňský Pramen, which is conveniently located near Thermal.
For 50 USD a night, we got a spacious hotel room with an extra living room and free continental breakfast.
So far the best hotel I have stayed in Karlovy Vary.
Too bad they are already sold out for the next year.
As I mentioned earlier, the accreditation system has some gambling elements incorporated.
Movies are projected at multiple theatres across the city at different times.
With a single accreditation pass, you can reserve 3 tickets for free each day.
Or you can wait in line and hope for the best.
This is where it gets interesting.
Tickets for over-hyped movies are hopelessly sold out early in the morning.
So you can either wait at the last-minute ticket desk, that release expired tickets, that were not picked up 15 minutes before the start of the movie.
Or you can wait in line 1 hour, 2 hours before the start of the movie.
In the first case, there is a little chance you will get tickets.
But you are limited to theatres, that are within walking distance.
Because if you don’t arrive 5 minutes before the start of projection, your seat reservation will fall through to other visitors, who patiently waited in line.
In the second case, you will need to know beforehand the popularity of the movie and the capacity of the theatre.
Then you can guesstimate how early in advance you need to go to get in.
In my experience, for the most wanted movies in Small hall, you can safely come 1hour and 20 minutes before the start.
There will be like 15-25 people in front of you.
In the Grand Hall, the minimum is 2 hours before the start.
Sometimes, even 2 hours won’t guarantee you the entrance, because you will have more than 40 people waiting in line in front of you.
Now calculate in the walking distance between your actual position, your destination, your time, and the popularity of the movie.
You try to optimize the best outcome for each movie.
This is what I enjoy.
Most of the time, I end up waiting in line.
You can meet and chat with interesting people while waiting.
Or you can utilize your time and do something productive.
I am sure there is a better way to get into each movie, but it is much less fun.
Thanks to attending the end of the festival and a less exciting movie schedule, I got into almost all movie projections.
Except for one time, when I underestimated the popularity of a well-reviewed Korean movie Gisaengchung (2019) projected at Grand Hall and came 1hour and 20minutes before the start.
Sad to say, more than 60 people were waiting in line in front of me.
They let in only the first 40.
All I can say about the program for the public is that it is generic and boring.
You can still kill some time when you pass by for few minutes though.
Unless you are interested in the topic, want to win a contest at all cost, or are curious about what is gonna happen next.
About nightlife, the best parties are held in private.
I missed the opening part fo the festival and I am neither an actor nor press staff so I cannot comment on that.
Public parties are pointless.
DJs play commercial electronic music and it is a sausage fest most of the time.
Still, if you see a cute girl on her own, she is here scouting for celebrities or hopes to catch someone from show business.
Every year, I try to go to Kviff open-minded.
I just hope to see movies, that can enrich me in some way, that I would not watch myself ever at home.
There are only two things on my checklist.
- see a midnight projection
- to see a movie in Thermal Hotel’s Grand Hall.
Without further ado, let’s look at movies I managed to see.
Just beware of the spoilers below. You have been warned ????
Let’s All Sing Around (1990)
Right after arrival, I went directly to the ticket booth and asked for free available tickets.
The closest projection in Thermal Hotel’s Small hall was a comedy, so I took the chance without even reading the synopsis.
It caught me by surprise, that Let’s All Sing Around is an old Czechoslovak movie.
You know, I have this bias about Czechoslovak movies, which is hard to explain.
Let’s just say I don’t enjoy them the same way as Czechs do.
When I was a small kid, I watched almost every Czech movie on TV.
Because unlike other kids, I had a pretty lonely childhood.
I spent almost all of my free time watching TV.
To this day, I remember I couldn’t understand what are all Czech movies about.
They seemed dull and heavily conversational.
All dialogues were full of urban slang, that required profound knowledge of Czech history and customs.
I expected Let’s All Sing Around to be the same.
Fortunately, It turned out to be a lightweight comedy about things, that anyone can relate to.
The story follows a young adolescent Ondra, who just arrived at a pioneer camp as a supervisor.
You might probably experience it yourself.
As a teenager, you go to the camp.
You meet really hot girls there.
And for the first time, you discover there can be an attraction between men and women.
You then take every opportunity and excuse, to be close to the girl.
At the end of the camp, everyone is hooking up with everybody.
No girls stay alone.
But the catch is, you are not always attracted to the person, that is attracted to you, so you are not aware of your options.
With trial and error, You eventually end up with someone, who was not on your radar.
There are three hot girls in the movie, a blond nurse Vendy, an older cougar, and a barely legal teen.
All have different wishes and dreams.
The nurse is taken but fights with her lover right at the beginning.
Others see this as an opportunity to be her rebound, so she becomes the main target.
Cougar is not always present on the screen, but quickly take advantage of the situation over younger suiters at the end.
They always do.
Finally, the teen is madly in love with the main character right off the bat, but she gets friend-zoned.
Ondrej ditches her for the hotter and more experienced blond nurse.
As for the male competition, Ondrej does not have to even try.
The only rival is a gym teacher on steroids, who is neither book smart or street smart.
Something tells me he won’t get lucky.
The movie is for the old generation, that went through similar pioneer camps.
90% of the audience were older people in their 50-60 and they had a blast.
For me, it was a light start of the whole Karlovy Vary international film festival.
To The Stars (2019)
The second movie I saw was projected at Thermal Hotel’s Grand Hall.
Any movie projected at Grand Hall can be considered above average.
Even though the synopsis sounded dull like any other festival movie, it turned out to be a bearable experience thanks to good acting.
An introverted teenager Iris has a hard time surviving her childhood in 1960s Oklahoma countryside.
Everything changes with the arrival of a new reckless classmate Maggy, who breaks every imaginable custom set by local society.
After starting an intimate bisexual friendship with Maggy, Iris becomes influenced by Maggy’s rebellious traits.
She then slowly come out of her shell and eventually find her place in this hostile environment.
The movie is directed by a woman and almost all main casts are women, so there is a huge emphasis on the inner feelings and troubles, that women faced in the sixties.
An age, when women still played their traditional roles.
Yes, domestic violence was more frequent, bullying in schools was tolerated and lack of options led to suppressed desires.
But the sixties raised a generation of women, who shared traits today’s generation lacks.
You will rarely meet a woman like the main character Iris on the streets.
And if you do, you better to wife her upright on the spot.
Another classic scene on a large screen.
It is an entirely different experience to watch movies in the cinema vs on TV.
And since Alien is a dated movie, this was a great opportunity to cross it off the list.
Lillian is a type of movie, that will either bore you or enrich you.
If you are a seasoned traveler, who likes to walk a lot, who likes the thrill of going to unknown places, who likes to improvise on the road, and who has never been in the US.
Then you should see Lillian.
This was a great chance to be in the front seat and experience, what is it like to travel across the USA on foot without any money.
We watch a story about a Russian immigrant, who tries to break into the porn industry, but fails due to having an expired visa and her over-artistic photo book.
She then decides to return to Russia.
But instead of getting a plane ticket, she plans to go all the way from the east coast to Alaska and cross the Bering strait to reach her motherland Russia.
An impossible task, if you have no money, you don’t speak a word of English and stubbornly insist on traveling by foot.
It is even more breathtaking when you consider, that Lillian is based on real-life events.
We don’t know much about her true story.
Director admitted, that he was doing research based on the confession of a journalist, who met her on her way in Alaska for a brief moment.
She did a good job staying low key and avoiding any human contact during her journey.
So there was no script whatsoever, just some few high-level ideas.
Everything else was originated right on set.
Director assumed, what would be a typical route she went through, and based on those locations, they tried to imagine the things she needed to do to survive.
The actress, Patrycja Planik, did a great job coming up with raw scenes, that highlight the survival mode she was experiencing.
Most of the scenes I found a bit unrealistic, but you know, it’s a movie, not a documentary.
Are you hungry?
Then break into someone’s house and clear up the conveniently filled fridge.
Or deep dive into a garbage container and find some tasty pizza leftovers.
Are you thirsty in the middle of the desert?
Just find the nearest settlement and steal some ice from the local grocery store.
Want to sleep under the bridge, but nights are cold?
Walk into a second-hand shop and just grab that warm jacket without paying.
What I liked more about Lillian is the realistic display of a typical US countryside.
You will see a characteristic mix of beautiful nature, abandoned villages, and over-involved rednecks, who just try to honestly help you.
Lillian can be boring at times because Patrycja Planik won’t speak a single word for 2 hours and all narrative is put together by random radio-show snippets, that comments actual location and weather conditions.
Overall I enjoyed Lillian because the topic just resonates with me.
I even took some lessons from the movie.
- Don’t travel without money.
- Always have plan B, C, D.
- Always carry a lot of drinkable water.
- Walking long distances along the highway is safe, but not fun.
- Don’t try to walk over the mountains or deserts, just don’t.
- Chilling in a portable toilet for hours, while waiting for a hailstorm to stop can save your life.
If you want to see detective Colombo in a nontraditional role and can endure a 5-minute long vomiting scene with extra detailed audiovisual effects, then go ahead and watch Husbands.
Else skip the movie and do something more productive.
According to the number of people, who left the cinema during the vomiting scene, I guess only about 75% of the spectators will stick to the end.
Ok. Well, Husbands is a bromance about middle life crisis.
A group of middle-aged married men goes nuts after the death of their common friend.
The only way to deal with such a tragedy is to get drunk and contemplate their unfulfilled lives.
They conclude that life is too short to stay in broken marriages.
So they leave their family lives behind and hop on a plane to London to find freedom and pleasure far away from home.
Too bad this “Hangover” part starts almost at the end of the movie.
Before that, we are forced to watch endless dull conversations, that go nowhere.
I can only recommend this movie to detective Colombo’s hardcore fans.
Everyone else will have a bad time.
Wherever You Are (2018)
The last movie I saw, Ovunque proteggimi, is a movie about Alessandro, a local event singer in his fifties, who sing for living by day and drinking and gambling by night.
After a YOLO incident involving lots of alcohol, slots machines, club whores, and demolition of his mom’s apartment in a berserk, he ends up in a rehab facility.
There he meets Francesca, a similarly damaged junkie, who lost custody of her son.
They bond together and decide to hit the road and visit her son at 200km away orphanage.
From that point forward, the movie changes its genre from raw existential drama to a more exciting road movie.
I always had a hard time watching movies with anti-heroes, who behave in a nonsensical way and hurt others with their stupidity.
This movie was no exception.
Fortunately, the creators opted for a happy ending and allowed Alessandro to redeem himself.
Not a movie to be seen at home after a hard day at work.