European cinema rewarded at Portugal's Fantasporto film festival
If life begins at 40 then Portugal's international film festival, Fantasporto, has not only found its feet - it is also confident of its place and purpose for the years ahead.
Although it's often associated with horror and fantasy, the generalist event played out at this year at a new venue in Porto. Indeed, the 43rd edition of one Europe's oldest celebrations of celluloid was dedicated to European cinema, perhaps unlike previous editions where the organisers have been accused of favouring Asian films, but more of that in a moment...
The big award in the Fantastic Movies section went to Megalomaniac (Belgium), the Dutch film Narcosis triumphed in the Directors Week - a category with growing importance at the festival that's dedicated to cinema of all genres - and there was home-grown success for the Portuguese film Incubus, by Tito Fernandes, which collected the short film and the Portuguese film gong, an unusual achievement for a national production.
It also marked a victory for European cinematography at a festival that has become a public platform for productions from various horizons.
One of its co-founders, Beatriz Pacheco Pereira, alongside Mário Dorminsky, notes: "It's curious that practically only European films have triumphed in this edition, when we are often accused of privileging Asian cinema."
But it's a remark that isn't totally far-fetched, considering the place the festival has given to Asian cinematography (Japan, China, South Korea, Philippines...) in recent years and the amount of winners in the main categories coming from these countries.
This refocusing on Europe comes with a disturbing film, heir to a tradition of cinema on societal themes from Belgium. Lawrence Trott, member of the jury and former director of Scotland Yard's audiovisual department, told Euronews Culture he both pleased and proud about Megalomaniac's win: "I've spent most of my life fighting racism and misogyny, so it was important for me to award this film”.
But this is far from being a simple manifesto against misogyny, as the film's director, Karim Ouelhaj, explained to Euronews Culture. If the main character, Martha, is a victim of rape in her job as a cleaning lady in a factory, she also becomes an executioner by helping her brother, a serial killer, in his macabre mission: "I refuse Manichaeism or the way of portraying the characters only as good or bad," says the director. "It is common for the victim to become violent and there is a boomerang effect."
In addition to the Best Film award, Megalomaniac left Porto with the awards for Best Actress (Eline Schumacher) and Best Director.
If "Megalomaniac" brings us this brutal spiral of violence, Narcosis by Martijn de Jong, winner of the Directors Week, is about loneliness and the pain of losing someone.
In the jury's opinion, what makes this a special film "is the way in which the fluctuations of a grieving woman's scattered mind interrelate with the hectic autumn landscape outside and with the overall rhythm of the story's atmosphere."
As for the Orient Express section, dedicated to Asian cinema, the first prize went to Kargo, by Filipino TM Malones, which beat several competitors from Japan.
This was a special edition of Fantas, the first to be held in one of the most emblematic venues of the seventh art in the city of Porto, the Batalha cinema, now reopened as Batalha Cinema Center.
Closed and abandoned for years, this top place of Porto cinephilia has been returned to the city in all its splendour.
It is akin to a place of worship for film-lovers while also being a landmark for art and the work of Júlio Pomar's frescoes that decorate the walls of the cinema and make it an important monument in the city.
Conceived during the 1940s and covered with several layers of plaster by the Salazar dictatorship, the frescos have almost miraculously managed to be recovered. Several generations are now discovering them for the first time, after they were thought to be lost for nearly seven decades.
"It was in Batalha that I started attending film sessions, this is a place with an enormous importance for my development as a film lover. Rediscovering this place, again dedicated to what it was created for - cinema - and discovering these frescoes for the first time, being able to work near them, is a huge thrill," said Beatriz Pacheco Pereira.
Fantasporto 2024 is already firmly in Euronews Culture's diary for next March, at the same time, at the same place.