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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

For Public, Chaos Still Spoils Joy of Watching

As the 21st Moscow International Film Festival drew to a close Thursday night, the big question being asked was: Has the festival done enough to salvage its reputation from the controversies that have dogged its past?

Even the most cynical of critics would agree that the overall repertoire of films screened this year was superior to that in the past. But it is the competition that gains a festival prestige, and in this respect the Moscow forum still seems sorely lacking.

Unlike other film festivals, there is only one competition section, and the only criterion for entry is that this be the film's debut. And with Cannes, Berlin, Paris and Rotterdam held earlier in the year, the list of the 16 films vying for the St. George was rather lean on well known names. Heading the handful of well-known directors were the octogenarians Kaneto Shindo ("Will to Live") from Japan and the Italian Mario Monicelli ("Dirty Linen"). Among the younger directors, the American Audrey Wells showed promise with her directorial debut, "Guinevere," with the Russian press going delirious about the young Canadian actress Sarah Polly, who stars as a girl in a relationship with an older photographer.

Characteristically for the Moscow film festival, many of the most interesting films were outside the competition, where movie buffs could enjoy some of the top recent achievements of world cinema under different categories, including many films that have won accolades at earlier festivals, such as Stephen Frear's "The Hi-Lo Country," which won the Silver Bear at the Berlin Film Festival earlier this year.

But sadly, the films screened at the festival were given the same treatment that is meted out to regular Hollywood fare in Moscow, where voice-overs replace the film's dialogue track. The happy exception to this was "Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace," which was professionally dubbed. In the cruder form of dubbing, one voice translates all of the characters - and most often the translation is live. Aesthetically, the film is mutilated because the original dialogues are audible, while if the volume of the original track is lowered to make the translation clearer, the sound effects and background music are lost.

Yes, dubbing is an expensive solution, but subtitling the text, which doesn't distort the original audio track, is reasonable too.

This festival was also plagued by its traditional Achilles' heel: shabby organization. Argentine film director and head of the jury Fernando Solanas failed to arrive in time for the opening ceremony, while film screening times were constantly being changed. Some movies slated to appear on the program never even made it to Russia, such as Wim Wenders' "Buena Vista Social Club." Others were delayed, as in the case of the Australian entry "Passion," which got stuck at customs.

The long-suffering public was, however, treated to moments of comic desperation. One example was the screening of the French film "Pola X," which was delayed for over 45 minutes. When the restless audience began clapping, one of the organizers came onto the stage and announced that the Russian interpreter for the film was on the way. Unsatisfied, the audience started booing, prompting the flustered organizer to ask whether there was anybody in the audience who knew French and might volunteer to interpret!

The lesson for next year? Fewer films, more quality. A festival doesn't make its reputation for showing (or failing to show) more films than anywhere else - and the Moscow Film Festival is clearly proud of its 300 - but for showing the best.