“Life is Not a Walk Across a Field”: the 43rd International Film Festival Rotterdam Daniel Fairfax March 2014 Festival Reports Issue 70 | March 2014 If there was a dominant theme to come out of the critical coverage of this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam (IIFR), it was one of cinematic glut. Report-backs on the festival from two of the most influential online organs that grease the wheels of the festival circuit both exhibited the same sense of cantankerous jadedness at the enormity of the program, and the relative paucity of decent films lying therein. Writing for MUBI, Michael Pattison starts off his account with the thought-bubble that “Too many films are being made, and too many festivals are showing them,” proceeds to equate the festival to a “laborious trudge through a swamp of works ranging from the unremarkable to the better-avoided” and concludes that “too many films here have resulted in walk-outs, unwanted guffaws and those ominous glances people share upon emerging from the theatre.” (1) In IndieWIRE, meanwhile, critic Neil Young echoed these sentiments in his overview, unsubtly titled “How Many Bad Movies Does It Take to Ruin a Film Festival? This Year’s Rotterdam Has the Answer” (although I’ve been assured that this headline was the work of a hyperbolic sub-editor rather than the writer himself). (2) In fact, the “too many films, too many festivals” discourse is far from being of recent vintage. In his new report, Young himself is content to repeat verbatim what he wrote about the IFFR five years ago – namely: “Simply put, there are now far too many film-festivals, and most of them show far, far too many films. World cinema has been guilty of severe over-production for quite some time… outstanding movies are becoming increasingly hard to find within avalanches of mediocre fare” – adding merely that the tendency has become even more exacerbated in the intervening years. Similar statements, whether in relation to festivals, or global film production and distribution more generally, have been bandied about with unerring regularity in the last few years. The argument is one that I am an a priori tempted to assent with. I, too, am no stranger to nagging feelings that the dross outweighs the films of value, sometimes by several orders of magnitude, and that attending a film festival in the hope of discovering an unheralded chef d’œuvre can be as unavailing as panning for gold in the Californian foothills. But before we start to have too much sympathy for film critics (whose livelihood, let’s remember, revolves around travelling to festivals and watching movies for free), a little perspective is surely in order. Even André Bazin registered similar concerns about the inflation of the film festival circuit, worrying that the proliferation of festivals had resulted in an unacceptable dilution in the quality of films shown. (3) This was in 1958, when the cinema was at one of its creative apexes, and when there were perhaps a dozen film festivals in the entire world. It is undeniably true that Rotterdam’s program is dizzyingly vast, and that the merit of the fare on offer can be maddeningly uneven. Yes, the impetus behind its curation can often be mystifying, and sometimes seems more to adhere to a regional quota system than any principles based on quality or taste. Some point to festival director Rutger Wolfson (replaced on an interim basis by Mart Dominicus as a result of illness) or turf battles between different programmers as being responsible for this situation, but it should also be remembered that Rotterdam is situated in an unenviable position in the festival calendar; in the ever more frantic tug-of-war over highly prized films, the festival is increasingly losing out to its nearly-simultaneous rivals at Sundance and Berlin. But while Rotterdam (both the festival and the rapidly gentrifying city) may have lost some of the grunge factor it had in earlier times, the IFFR is still pleasantly devoid of the obsession over celebrities that dominates the yearned-for imago of the Berlinale, or the excitable hype that is the default mood in Park City. And in the midst of negotiating a path through the mundane and the mediocre, it happens that, every now and then, a masterpiece will unfurl before our eyes. Such was the case with this year’s festival, and in this instance the cinematic monument was so awe-inspiring that it made everything else shown at the festival – if not virtually everything made for a screen since the turn of the century – seem decidedly, well, secondary. Alexei German’s Trudno byt bogom (Hard to be a God) did not, strictly speaking, premiere at Rotterdam. However its only previous screening (if we except its screenings at the simultaneously-held Göteborg film festival) was in an out-of-competition berth a couple of months earlier at the Rome film festival, which, despite the coup of landing Marco Müller as artistic director, is far from having firmly implanted itself on the must-visit list of the festival-goer’s itinerary. For the vast majority of the critics amassed in the Lantaren Venster press screening, then, this was their first opportunity to see German’s final work. Hard to be a God To say that Hard to be a God has been long-anticipated – at least among the circles of German-cognoscenti, whose numbers have thankfully been swelling of late due to a spate of retrospective screenings – is a major understatement. His first release since 1999’s imperious Khrustalyov, machinu! (Khrustalyov, My Car!, which met with a largely bewildered response at its presentation at Cannes), shooting on the film dates back to 2000, while German had reportedly been nurturing the idea since 1964, the year the science fiction-cum-political allegory novel written by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky on which Hard to be a God is based was published. Six years of filming were followed by a protracted post-production process, whose distension increasingly infuriated the Lenfilm bosses who had given backing to the project. Each year, in the build-up to the announcement of a major festival’s line-up, speculation would mount as to whether German’s film would finally surface. Word travelled of secret screenings of rough cuts of the work to privileged insiders, while rumours equally abounded that the project had morphed into German’s own chef-d’œuvre inconnu, with a maniacal will-to-perfection driving the filmmaker to so ceaselessly re-shape his creation that it had been transformed into a state of indiscernible chaos. German’s death in April 2013 only provided further grist to the rumour-mill: how close was the film to completion? Would it ever be screened in a form that conformed to the filmmaker’s intentions? Or would his perishing actually expedite the film’s release, now that he could no longer delay its completion with an endless array of revisions? Indeed, was this his plan all along: to adopt stalling techniques for as long as it took for the film to officially be unveiled as a posthumous work? In the end, German’s widow and co-screenwriter Svetlana Karmalita, and his son, Aleksei German Jr (a filmmaker in his own right), assumed the task of completing Hard to be a God – according to them there was only some minor work on the sound mix and grading that needed to be wrapped up. In its final state, the film comes in at an at once arduous and invigorating 177 minutes. Opening with a slow camera movement panning up across an archaic village filtered through a steady snowfall, the film gives an explicatory voice-over to situate the scene: we are in Arkanar, an Earth-like planet whose civilisation is roughly 800 years behind its terrestrial counterparts. In order to goad the planet into embarking on the Renaissance it never had, Earth has sent a team of 30 scientists and intellectuals, but they have met with violent repression from the planet’s tyrannical rulers (the Greys, led by Don Reba), who are hell-bent on maintaining their realm’s barbaric status quo. Passing through the muddy town square, battered by a permanent downpour, the camera soon encounters the towering Don Rumata, and will essentially stay with him for the rest of the film. But it is also at this moment that the spectator is plunged into the film’s near-total inscrutability. Attempting to make out a plot in Hard to be a God is an unabating Sisyphean task: even after two viewings, I could not say with confidence whether or not Don Rumata is one of the 30 scientists sent from Earth, and the many plot descriptions of the film I have consulted all contradict each other on numerous points. Instead, for three hours we are dragged through a cinematic pigswill of mud, blood, spit, vomit, faeces and intestines – and the result is exhilarating. The sprawling long-take aesthetic, crowded compositions and ashen black-and-white photography will inevitably draw comparisons with the work of Béla Tarr (especially Satantango), while the historico-thematic concerns and allegorical overtones of the film will no doubt have critics highlighting affinities with Tarkovsky – a move that would seemingly be encouraged by the fact that the Strugatsky brothers were also responsible for the script of Stalker. In truth, however, German is one of those rare filmmakers whose only real aesthetic frame of reference is his own past work. Up till now, it has been possible to trace an upwards curve in the prowess of his œuvre, from the promising early films Sedmoy sputnki (The Seventh Companion, 1967) and Proverka na dorogakh (Trial on the Road, 1971), through the mesmerising Dvadtast dney bez voyny (Twenty Days Without War, 1976) and Moy drug Ivan Lapshin (My Friend Ivan Lapshin, 1984), to the insuperable Khrustalyov. It is difficult, and ultimately fruitless, for me to judge whether Hard to be a God continues this trend, but there is no doubt that it represents a radical purification of German’s formal system, and a veritable revolution in the lost art of mise en scène. There are indeed cuts in the film, but it doesn’t feel like it, so imperceptibly do they punctuate the series of prowling camera movements, which endlessly weave circles around the sets such that forming any sense of spatial orientation is nigh impossible. Moreover, the film is truly groundbreaking in its use of multiple planes of vision. Whereas Renoir and Welles are rightly noted for pioneering deep-focus composition in the 1940s, German, seven decades later, heads in the opposite direction. Hard to be a God is formally marked, above all, by an extreme use of foregrounding – at any given moment, large portions of the screen may be dominated by the face of a curious onlooker (often gazing directly into the camera), the blade of a sword as it swoops past the lens, or, in one hilarious moment, a waggling pair of chicken feet dangled by a mischievous bystander. On a more fundamental level, the filmmaker resolves, in his own inimitable way, one of the key lines of division in the cinema, that between what Bazin called the “cinema of the image” and the “cinema of reality”. German is a painter, undeniably – but rather than using colours or hues, he “paints” with the natural elements: the fog, rain, snow and mud, the diverse array of bodily fluids, and the archaic man-made implements (creaking wooden carts, flutes made out of bone, armour and weaponry fresh from a blacksmith’s smelter) that cram into the densely-layered screen. As for providing a hermeneutical interpretation of German’s celluloid obelisk, that task seems best left to a team of researchers who can probably spend the next century poring over its intricacies. While reading the planet Arkanar as a direct allegory for the Soviet Union is certainly an option – and is authorised both by the original novel and by the tenor of German’s earlier work – I can not help but feel that the filmmaker is shooting higher, aiming for a more universal statement about the nature of power and the innate violence of humanity. Superficial similarities with Tarkovsky aside, Hard to be a God is absent the angst-laden mysticism of German’s elder. Rumata is treated as a god by many of the townsfolk he encounters, but if he is divine, it is in the most paganistic sense possible. If he can be compared to any other figure in Western culture, it would, to my mind, be Nietzsche’s Zarathustra. Beyond these rudimentary comments, I will content myself with highlighting a potential clue to unlocking this work, which so far none of the other glosses of the film I have read have picked up on. At one point, Rumata takes a mental step back from the cruelty that surrounds him, and, with a vocal timbre at odds with the mode of address prevailing in the rest of the film, recites the following lines of verse: The murmurs ebb; onto the stage I enter. I am trying, standing in the door, To discover in the distant echoes What the coming years may hold in store. The nocturnal darkness with a thousand Binoculars is focused onto me. The passage comes from the start of Boris Pasternak’s poem “Hamlet”, appended to the end of his novel Doctor Zhivago, one of the most vexing works of literature in Soviet history. But its appearance in German’s film may also be a nod to his mentor in film school, Grigori Kozintsev, whose adaptation of Pasternak’s translation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet in 1970 itself bears noticeable visual resemblances to Hard to be a God. May the investigation continue. While nothing could possibly compete with German’s grisly swansong, the nearest rival, for me, came from another old hand, Júlio Bressane. If there was one film that has unjustly slipped under the festival radar in the past year, it is the Brazilian master’s Educação sentimental (Sentimental Education). With only the slightest of resemblances to Flaubert’s novel, Bressane’s film instead relates more closely to the mythical Greek figure Endymion, a shepherd who was condemned to an eternal sleep by Zeus after attracting the infatuation of Selene, goddess of the moon. This story forms part of a long monologue by the middle-aged Áurea to her decidedly younger near-namesake Áureo in a secluded Rio de Janeiro villa, after a chance encounter brings them together. The flirtatious Áurea captivates her interlocutor with hypnotising dance and stories of her past, her life, loves and writing (“visse scrisse amo” – Stendhal’s wished-for tombstone inscription, could well apply to our heroine), before receiving a come-uppance from Áureo’s overweening mother. Throughout the film, the lulling cadences of the actors’ Portuguese are a perfect complement to the mesmeric rhythms that underpin the work’s structural composition. More than this, however, Educação sentimental is a truly cinematic artefact: shot and insistently projected on 35mm, the film plays with iris effects and other devices, while at one point, as Áurea reminisces about the ciné-club of her youth, she even manually passes a translucent strip of celluloid in front of the camera, producing a magnificent double exposure effect through beguilingly simple means. Best of all, a coda to the film includes a prolonged sequence of outtakes, along the lines of the blooper reels that often concluded US sitcoms in the 1990s, but which in Bressane’s hands is transformed into a compact lesson on filmmaking more edifying than anything else I saw at the festival. All this was superbly augmented by the filmmaker’s post-screening Q-and-A. Initially confessing to only speaking “38, perhaps 39” words of English, Bressane launched into an uninterrupted 30-minute-long disquisition, denouncing the dominance of narrative in the cinema (he helpfully specified that the plot comprises “four, maybe four-and-a-half percent of a film”), and giving his thoughts on the analogue/digital divide that has cleaved the recent history of filmmaking. For Bressane, the issue was simple: the cinema is transparency, while digital is opacity, and he is on the side of the former. I can only agree, but the disappointment was that in the vast, gaping auditorium that is the Rotterdam film festival, his passionate, eloquent words simply disappeared into the breeze. Sentimental Education The other real standout of the festival, for me, was Sergio Caballero’s La Distancia. Caballero, whose background is largely in visual art and experimental music (he co-organises the Sonar sound festival), swooped the Tiger Award in 2011 with his sui generis feature debut Finisterrae. With its absurdist bent, picaresque and ultimately nonsensical narrative and sublime views of atypical Spanish topography, La Distancia follows nimbly in the earlier film’s footsteps. Three dwarves – who communicate to each other telepathically in Russian and spend their spare moments listening to recordings of Lenin speeches – are hired by a German installation artist to recover an artwork that has been illegally sequestered by a Russian oligarch in an abandoned Siberian factory. We follow their efforts (spread out over the course of seven days), but in reality the improvised, free-wheeling narrative is merely a pretext for Caballero to delve into more fundamental concerns: the relationship of image and sound, the role of language in the cinema, and its connections with the other arts (in which the director is amply versed). If there is a “star” of the film, it is the decrepit industrial plant nestled in splendid isolation within a black, volcanic landscape. Indeed, perhaps one of the subterranean political meanings of the film lies precisely in this barren, desolate setting: the fact that a location that was actually filmed near the town of Teruel in inland Spain could so convincingly stand in for post-Soviet Siberia suggests, it does not seem too much of a stretch to claim, a broader parallel between the social collapse in the Eastern bloc in the early 1990s and the tumultuous economic crisis presently buffeting southern Europe. It was perhaps no surprise, then, that La Distancia did not figure in the sprawling, incoherent sidebar dedicated to the “State of Europe”. Although couched in vaguely critical terms by the festival organisers, the overarching purpose of the section as a propaganda tool for EU expansion, if not already abundantly clear merely from its financing sources, was hammered home by a noxiously vacuous “information kit” given to journalists as part of their festival packs. In spite of all its gleeful esotericism, the “civilisation in decay” overtones of Caballero’s film could not but jolt against the Pollyanna-ish picture so earnestly yearned for by the Brussels apparatchiks pulling the purse strings for this programme. La Distancia Let us depart, then, for other cinematic continents. Typically, for Rotterdam, Asia was strongly represented; curiously, however, the films from this part of the world that stood out for me were of wildly contrasting natures. Wang Bing’s four-hour documentation of a Chinese mental asylum ‘Til Madness Do Us Part sounds, on paper, like a gruelling proposition, even for those unfamiliar with the taxing nature of the filmmaker’s prior work. Indeed, much of the film is emotionally tough, and its visual palette is spare and relentlessly gloomy – well over 90% of it is shot on the upper floor of the asylum, overlooking a grey, fetid courtyard, with the only respite taking the ironic shape of the glistening corporate skyscrapers occasionally visible in the background. But the film is far from the minimalist exercise that could have been expected, and in the end becomes something closer to Frederick Wiseman than many of Wang’s earlier films. In the end, it is actually not so tough to sit through: Wang allows the spectator to enter into the lives of the various in-patients and identify with their travails, while their gallows humour substantially leavens the film. ‘Til Madnes Does Us Part does allow for one truly devastating moment, however. One detainee is finally granted leave to go home, but his new surrounds (complete with nagging parents) are every bit as depressing as the asylum. There is simply no way out, Wang seems to tell us. ‘Til Madness Do Us Part It is difficult to conceive of a film that would be more stylistically opposed to Wang Bing’s documentary than Takashi Miike’s comic-book cop-film Mogura no uta (The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji). In order to keep his job, the feckless police officer Reiji must go undercover and infiltrate a yakuza clan planning to smuggle MDMA tablets from Russia in dog food tins. After being put through a convoluted initiation process by his superiors, Reiji has to win the trust of his yakuza brothers, while fending off attacks from rival gangs and figuring out how to lose his virginity to his sweetheart (and fellow cop) Junna. After the relatively conservative Shield of Straw, Mole Song is, with its extreme violence, hectic pace (especially in the opening 10 minutes), incomprehensible storyline and surreal comic touches, a welcome return to the lurid delirium that has now been firmly implanted as the prolific Miike’s trademark. The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji Filmed in Cambodia on a microscopic budget, Ruin (co-directed by the Australians Amiel Courtin-Wilson and Michael Cody) was a return to Rotterdam for Courtin-Wilson after his Hail had reached the Netherlands’ shores in 2012. A prostitute and a factory worker in Phnom Penh both use violent means to break free from their respective states of bondage, but their attempts to avoid being sucked into the vortexes that had held them so long are repeatedly frustrated. The resulting story of love-on-the-run is elliptically told, but – some gruesome moments aside, most notably a scene involving the bludgeoning of an odious English sex tourist – ends up acquiring a genuinely fairytale-like quality. Most notably, the strikingly individual stylistics that Courtin-Wilson had established with his earlier work are unabashedly continued with this outing, as he and Cody lace the film with minimalist music and bouts of abstract imagery (including prodigious use of the super-slow-motion Phantom Cam). As a finished film, Ruin might not be quite at the level of a German or a Caballero, but the fact that I can even talk of the film in the same context is evidence enough that Courtin-Wilson has established a position for himself that is distinct from virtually every other Australian filmmaker working today, as evinced by the backing given to him from both Rotterdam and Venice for his last two efforts. If he is capable of continuing to work in this vein – that is, if he is able to stave off the numerous pressures that so often suffocate independently-minded filmmaking in his (and my) home country – Courtin-Wilson has the potential to create something that has been desperately lacking in Australian filmmaking for a long time; namely, an œuvre. Ruin Whereas my last venture to Rotterdam, in a long-lost innocent past (2012), saw me studiously avoid the Tiger Awards, this year I felt a strange compulsion to delve into the competition screenings. Rotterdam’s approach to a competition is relatively unusual among festivals: in showcasing only first- or second-time filmmakers, it eschews entirely with the auteurism that is the hardy glue of film festival curation, and cements this gesture by giving out the final prize as a three-way tie. After viewing nearly all of the 15 films on show, however, my only conclusion (and this will hardly be a unique view) is that the competition is not in the best of health. Too many of the films flattered to deceive, either through their unrelenting dullness (War Story [Mark Jackson], Arwad [Samer Najari and Dominique Chila] and Vergiss mein Ich [Lose My Self, Jan Schoumburg]) or their over-reliance on cloying autobiography (Nånting måste gå sönder [Something Must Break, Ester Martin Bergsmark], Mein blindes Herz [My Blind Heart, Peter Brunner], and, most flagrantly, the irritatingly self-absorbed Tatjana Bozic’s relationship-essay Happily Ever After). Even the films which promised to be a departure from standard festival fare did not quite live up to their promise. Billed as a wry, absurdist comedy, Yamamori clip koujo no atari (Anatomy of a Paper Clip, Ikeda Akira) failed to elicit a single laugh from this curmudgeonly critic (the rest of the audience, I have to admit, seemed to be in better spirits), while Maya Vitkova’s Viktoria gained attention for turning in a 155-minute-long debut, and her links to the Romanian new wave suggested the possible exportation of this movement to neighbouring Bulgaria, which, in contrast to most other Eastern European countries, has had an uninterrupted record of cinematic mediocrity. But the result was one of the major flops of the festival: starting promisingly with a chronicle of a girl who, born without an umbilical cord, is taken under wing by the country’s avuncular communist leader Todor Zhivkov (to the disgust of her desperate-to-escape-to-the-West mother), the film loses direction after Zhivkov’s overthrow. If this is an elaborate metastructural metaphor for the fate of the nation, then it only comes at the expense of the hapless viewer, and the last hour or so of the film is utterly superfluous. In the end, Viktoria is a film with a premise, but not a logic. The real outlier of the competition, however, was the 64-year-old Catalonian Luis Miñarro’s Stella cadente (Falling Star), a period film charting the brief reign of Amadeo of Savoy, played with meticulous poise by Alex Brendemühl. Frustrated in his attemps to modernise the prevailing social order when made king of Spain, Amadeo retreats to a life of insular palace debauchery, which notably includes an aid having sex with a melon (shades of Tsai Ming-Liang’s The Wayward Cloud here). Despite – or because of – the saturated colours of its lavish sets and costumes, and Miñarro’s exuberant relish in mixing up genres, registers and historical periods, the film lacks the substance that the subject matter should have called for, and ends up coming across primarily as a grand exercise in style, with its winking attitude to the audience epitomised by the soap-opera style final credits (which were admittedly a loopy highlight). Falling Star Those Tiger films which, by contrast, were firmly ensconced in realism fared comparatively better, but none of them are likely to linger in the viewer’s mind. Natalia Meschaninova ably depicts desolate despair of teenage life in the remote northern Russian city of Norilsk in her Kombinat Nadezhda (The Hope Factory), while the deft emotional touches of Lee Chatametikool’s take on the effects of the 1997 Asian financial crisis on a Thai family in Pavang rak (Concrete Clouds) occasionally recalls Edward Yang’s Yi Yi. Felipe Barbosa’s Casa Grande, a dissection of a bourgeois Brazilian family in the face of similarly gloomy economic prospects, is often razor-sharp. To my mind, it was probably the best film of the competition, but Barbosa was unjustly overlooked by the jury, whose prizes went to Bergsmark, Ikeda and Lee Su-Jin’s Han Gong-Ju. Apart from giving succour to the arguments against the present inflation in global film production, the underwhelming fare on offer in the Tigers raises questions about the very merit of dedicating a competition to film debutants. For a start, “first- or second-time feature” is becoming an increasingly meaningless category, given that novice filmmakers are now working in a range of different formats and institutional settings that depart from the traditional short-to-feature transition pattern. And it should be remembered that, historically, a stand-out debut film is actually quite a rare phenomenon, and usually only attributable either to a craftsman rising through the ranks of the studio system (a career path that is now virtually obsolete) or a maverick genius who alters the course of film history, in the mould of an Eisenstein or a Welles. But there are no geniuses any more – certainly not fifteen of them a year – and I can’t help but feel that, rather than give them a leg-up, putting directorial beginners in the high-pressure environment of a festival competition rather does them a disservice. Certainly, looking through the list of past Tiger Award winners over the last twenty years does not reveal the names of a great many figures who have gone on to be notable filmmakers (Christopher Nolan being one curious exception). That said, there were intriguing feature debuts screening at Rotterdam – but they had come here after making their bows at other festivals. With Mouton, Marianne Pistone and Gilles Derroo use a fait divers from tightly knit a Normandy fishing town for the film’s wafer-thin plot – a likeable young kitchen hand, estranged from his mother, is brutally attacked with a chainsaw by a jealous townsman, and has to leave his newfound friends – and in doing so craft a subtle film that distinctly works in the tradition of the 1970s “neo-naturalism” of Pialat, Doillon and Goretta. One of the oddest films at Rotterdam, meanwhile, was also made by a pair of first-timers. Lev Kalman and Whitney Horn’s L for Leisure, filmed on 16mm, follows a group of grad students at “Laguna Beach University” in Orange County, circa 1993. With its episodic narrative, dialogue filled with puzzling non sequiturs (including shout-outs to Snapple and Crystal Pepsi), dayglo opening credits and deliberately stilted, even amateurish acting from a cast featuring several festival circuit filmmakers (Mati Diop, Gabriel Abrantes), L for Leisure ultimately comes over as an unlikely cross between a Linklater film and an episode of Saved by the Bell: The College Years. Mouton I want to end my report, however, with a selection of images: frame-grabs from the “scorpion” sequence of Buñuel’s L’âge d’or. As chance would have it, excerpts from this sequence – one of the most beautiful in all cinema – popped up twice in films at Rotterdam this year. The contexts were markedly different: in one, they were screened to a classroom of bored students by a womanising university professor played by Mathieu Amalric in the Larrieu brothers’ uninspiring psychological thriller L’amour est un crime parfait (Love is a Perfect Crime). In the other, by contrast, they formed part of a rich montage woven around a philosophical conversation about music carried out by Clément Rosset and his pupil Santiago Espinosa in a hilltop garden, in Jean-Charles Fitoussi’s intriguing essay-film De la musique ou La jota de Rosset (On Music, or the Dance of Joy). The fact that precisely the same images could turn up in such divergent films was precisely the kind of serendipitous coincidence that makes film festivals such unique environments for watching films, and it is moments like this that can provide a sensation of pure joy for even the most world-weary of festival reporters. International Film Festival Rotterdam 22 January – 2 February 2014 Festival website: http://www.filmfestivalrotterdam.com/en/ Endnotes Michael Pattison, “Rotterdam 2014. Europe Utopia”, https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/rotterdam-2014-europa-utopia. Neil Young, “How Many Bad Movies Does It Take to Ruin a Film Festival? This Year’s Rotterdam Has the Answer”, http://www.indiewire.com/article/how-many-bad-movies-does-it-take-to-ruin-a-film-festival-this-years-rotterdam-has-the-answer. See André Bazin, “Cannes a rendu son verdict.” Le Parisien libéré, May 19, 1958.