The 58th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival Opens With A Nostalgic Look Back To The ’90s

The 58th Karlovy Vary Film International Film Festival kicked off with a very personal milestone, commemorating 30 years since the event was taken over by the programming team of Jiří Bartoška and the late journalist Eva Zaoralová. The veteran actor, now 77, gave the festival cause for concern last year when health problems threatened to keep him away from the event. This year, however, Bartoška was the main focus of the traditionally baroque opening ceremony, taking us back to 1994 with memories of Nelson Mandela, TV’s Friends, cinema’s Pulp Fiction, and the first iterations of PlayStation and Bluetooth technology.

There followed a lengthy tribute to Bartoška at work, welcoming a veritable cavalcade of stars; names so famous that for a few minutes, it was possible to forget the festival’s unfortunate tendency to stick with Hollywood stars a tad too long into their wilderness periods (Mel Gibson and Johnny Depp spring to mind). The ensuing dance number was a disappointment, however, seemingly a hasty recap of previous delights that saw a grinning man with a squid’s head and another with a chainsaw stalking a woman through a frantically hoofing cavalcade of women on rollerskates and men in luminous polyester leisurewear.

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Karlovy Vary has a very tongue-in-cheek way of handling itself and likes to balance the sincere with the humorous. In his speech, Bartoška expressed his gratitude to the institutions that have supported him. “Without our partners,” he said, “the festival would not exist today. They believed in us when we came up with the idea of saving the festival, and that was crucial support. Later, all the partners stayed with us during the Covid-19 pandemics.” Moments later, charismatic host Marek Eben credited the sponsors in slightly more detail, while standing in front of a sign saying, “Thanks for your money.”

Special guest of the night was Viggo Mortensen, the writer/director/star and composer of the opening night film The Dead Don’t Hurt, a feminist western that launched last year at TIFF. After an exhaustive clip reel that showed the actor’s incredible longevity and versatility (as deep dives go, you can’t get much deeper than 1995’s Black Velvet Pantsuit), the modest actor took to the stage.

Occasionally dipping into rudimentary Czech, which pleased the crowd no end, Mortensen thanked his co-star Vicky Krieps and also took the time to enthuse about Solly McLeod, an up-and-coming young actor who plays the film’s bad guy. “We are very fortunate that he’s here tonight,” he said, “and I would like you to meet him in person. You’re going to be seeing and hearing him a lot in the coming years. He’s very talented.”

The British McLeod, just 24, joined Mortensen — “An annoyingly talented individual” — onstage to further applause. “Enjoy the film, and we’ll see you afterwards,” McLeod said. “I’m a very, very bad person in this movie, but I promise I’m nice in real life…”

Several more Karlovy Vary‘s Honorary President’s Awards will also be handed out, later in the festival, including two to actors Clive Owen and Daniel Brühl. To celebrate their honors Owen will show his 2004 film Closer while Brühl will screen his directorial debut Next Door.

High-profile names also set for the Czech spa town include veteran filmmaker Steven Soderbergh, who will be in town to present his 1991 feature Kafka and its 2021 re-edited reissue Mr. Kneff. The two films are being shown as part of the festival’s Kafka retrospective, “The Wish to Be a Red Indian: Kafka and Cinema.” The retrospective will examine the influential Czech writer’s impact on filmmakers like Orson Welles, Martin Scorsese, Ousmane Sembene, Jan Nemec, and Soderbergh. This month marks the centenary of Kafka’s death.

Karlovy Vary will also be honoring casting director Francine Maisler, who has worked with directors such as Denis Villeneuve, Terrence Malick, and Alejandro González Iñárritu and whose credits include The Revenant, The Big Short, Creed, As Good As It Gets, Little Women and both of the latest installments of Dune. The festival will hold a special screening of Maisler’s latest feature credit, The Bikeriders by Jeff Nichols, starring Jodie Comer, Austin Butler, and Tom Hardy.

Elsewhere, Nicole Holofcener will travel to Karlovy Vary to screen three of her films, Please Give, Enough Said, and 2023’s You Hurt My Feelings. Mexico-born filmmaker Michel Franco will screen his 2023 drama Memory, starring Jessica Chastain and Peter Sarsgaard. And Ti West will be in Karlovy Vary to introduce MaXXXine, the final installment in his X trilogy, produced by A24.

Away from this year’s Karlovy Vary honorees, Benicio del Toro served as the main protagonist of the 2024 festival trailer, which debuted at this evening’s opening ceremony. Each year the festival produces a satirical ‘festival trailer’. This year’s trailer was written and directed by long-time creator of KVIFF trailers Ivan Zachariáš.

The final President’s Award at this year’s ceremony will be handed to Czech actor Ivan Trojan at the closing ceremony. Trojan is one of the most frequently cast Czech actors in the film, television, and theater spheres in the last 25 years, with credits including Seducer, In The Shadow, Charlatan, and Agnieszka Holland’s Burning Bush.

The jury for this year’s main Crystal Globe competition will feature producer Christine Vachon, actor Geoffrey Rush, director Gábor Reisz, poet and screenwriter Sjón and actress Eliška Křenková. All the titles in the Crystal Globe competition are world premieres. Titles playing in competition include A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things, the latest film from prolific documentary filmmaker Mark Cousin; The Hungarian Dressmaker by Iveta Grófová; and Our Lovely Pig Slaughter by Czech filmmaker Adam Martinec.

The Karlovy Vary Film Festival runs from June 28 to July 6.

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