Russian Films Rule Roost at Moscow Film Festival

MiffDirector Nikolai Dostal, right, and producer Fyodor Popov showing off their St. George trophy after the ceremony.
There was a distinctly patriotic mood to the closing ceremony of the 31st Moscow International Film Festival, or MIFF, at the central Pushkinsky Cinema, with Russian films dominating the main competition awards.

In fact, none of the four local films in a competition of 16 works came away without prizes, and only the prize for Best Director went abroad, to Mexican debut director Mariana Chenillo for her "Five Days Without Nora."

The main Gold St. George Award for Best Film went to director Nikolai Dostal for his "Pete on the Way to Heaven," a human drama set in a remote military town before and after the death of Stalin.

Alexander Proshkin took the Special Jury Prize for "The Miracle," a historical story from the same decade: the film adapts a true-life story from Samara in 1956, known as the "Standing of Zoya," in which the heroine stands gripping an icon without moving for almost 120 days.

In contrast, Mosfilm director Karen Shakhnazarov updated Anton Chekhov's short story "Ward Number Six" to the present day, using scenes and real characters from a provincial lunatic asylum. Vladimir Ilyin, playing the central character Doctor Ragin, took the prize for Best Actor.

Kira Muratova, the veteran director who is Ukrainian but strongly claimed by the Russian film community, saw the Best Actress award go to Lena Kostyuk, the child heroine of her "Melody for the Barrel-Organ," a bleak parable on the callousness and consumerism of contemporary society combined with her traditional aspect of lunacy in characters.

A long-term favorite of critics, Muratova's film also took the FIPRESCI international critics' prize.

Such generous acclaim for local work didn't raise many hackles among critics. Jury president Pavel Lungin, whose new film "The Tsar" opened the festival, said from stage that "our Russian films were just better this year."

Festival president Nikita Mikhalkov, whose stage presence at the closing seemed more modest than in previous years, stressed the same note, urging Russian directors not to be afraid of entering their films for the MIFF competition. That reflects a perceived reluctance among some, especially after a run of years in which Russian works have indeed not come away with many prizes.

If the results were a patriotic endorsement of the local film industry, they were accompanied by a very generous tribute to Georgia, a country that hardly ranks today as a favorite on political and official levels here.

The second "Perspectives" competition prize, accompanied by 10,000 meters of Kodak film stock, went to Georgian director Vano Burduli for his debut feature "The Conflict Zone," a bleak, somewhat absurdist drama catching the chaos of military conflicts in the region of the early 1990s, from Abkhazia to Nagorno-Karabakh.

The concluding highlight of the ceremony struck a similar tone, with the Lifetime Achievement Award presented to classic Georgian director Rezo Chkheidze, accompanied by a standing ovation.

"I have an optimistic prediction for the future," the 82-year-old director said collecting the award. "Politics is not the business of filmmakers -- but love is." Culture Minister Alexander Avdeyev in answer spoke of a "peace message to Georgia."

The festival's other main honorary award, the Konstantin Stanislavsky: I Believe Prize was presented posthumously a week earlier at the festival opening ceremony to Russian actor Oleg Yankovsky, whose last role was in Lungin's "The Tsar."

The closing film was the world premiere of American director Michael Mann's "Public Enemies" -- which opens in the United States in the next few days. Mikhalkov noted that it showed the importance the world film community attached to the Russian market. Mann, in turn, paid tribute to the impact of early Russian cinema around the world and also spoke of his own family roots in the country.