Fantasporto 2016: Polish mermaids, Irish exorcists, and time circles

Fantasporto 2016: Polish mermaids, Irish exorcists, and time circles

The night in Porto was cold and damp, and I had just left the closing ceremony of the 37th edition of Fantasporto. It was two hours until the first train to Lisbon, the street was deserted, and the station doors were still closed. 

I could use a hot cup of coffee, and the fog that had just started to lift was making me restless – I shall write a handful of horror short stories because of it. 

The mood was set, the environment was perfect; maybe from now on, I’ll write all my posts about Fantasporto like this. A quote from one of the films stuck on the back of my mind – “Time never dies. The circle is not round.”

Fantasporto 2016, "Before the Rain" (1994), Milcho Manchevski, Macedonia
Still from "Before the Rain" (1994), Milcho Manchevski, Macedonia

Fantasporto in numbers

You may recall my last year’s refusal of Fantasporto being a shadow of its formal glory — yes, the festival needed a little push back to life; no, it didn’t mean it was over. And you know what? I was right!

Full disclosure here: I am a fan of “Fantas,” and I will always stand by the festival. In a time when everybody’s trying to do what everybody else is doing (and, people, it is boring), at 36 years of age, Fantasporto keeps fresh. 

Yes, it’s kind of niche and offbeat but, trust me, there is an audience.

In 2014, 34 countries participated in the festival. Then, in 2015, it dropped to 28 countries participating. Clearly, the people who pronounced the festival dead then (if they were basing their claims on these numbers) haven’t watched enough horror movies — it’s damn hard to kill the undead, didn’t you know? That’s why they keep coming back, meaner and stronger. So, this year, just to confirm this horror movie rule, 40 countries participated.

Out of 67 countries submitting their films, the festival selected movies from Germany, Angola, Argentina, Austria, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Cape Verde, Canada, Chile, Colombia, South Korea, Croatia, Denmark, Egypt, UAE, Spain, USA, Philippines, France, Guinea, Greece, Holland, Hungary, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Poland, Portugal, UK, Romania, Russia, Sweden, Venezuela, and Sao Tome and Principe.

Since 2012, the festival supports the new generation of filmmakers in Portugal, screening the student’s short films and awarding the best film school. To acknowledge that, this year I interviewed two students. 

One of them is a member of this year’s winning film school, ESMAE – Escola Superior de Música, Artes e Espectáculo. Liliana Gonçalves (director, writer, and co-producer of “TURP”) and Ricardo Couto (“Terra-Mãe”).

The closing ceremony

This year, my coverage of Fantasporto seemed doomed (yes, doomed is intentional). Nothing was happening according to plan, and I had to squeeze my available time into one day at the festival. Well, more like a couple of hours. I ended up hopping on a train from Lisbon just in time to attend the closing ceremony.

Unsponsored side note: booking train tickets in Portugal online on short notice is as easy as blinking. Extra love points to CP – Comboios de Portugal when you get those last-minute tickets at half-price, which was the case. Score!

Fantasporto 2016, Best Film (Fantasy Section), Best Director (Fantasy Section), and Best Special Effects, "The Lure" (Agnieszka Smoczynska), Poland
Still of "The Lure" (2015), Agnieszka Smoczynska, Poland

The Fantasporto 2016 awards

Fantasy Section

Best Film Award, Best Director Award (Agnieszka Smoczynska), and Best Special Effects Award – “The Lure” (Poland)

Jury’s Special Award – “Queen of Spades: the Dark Rite” (Russia)

Best Actor (Kenichi Matsuyama), Best Screenplay – “Chasuke’s Journey” (Japan)

Best Actress (Laura de Bóer), Special Mention of the Fantasy Jury – “Cord” (France/Colombia/Germany)

Best Short Film – “Blight” (Ireland)

Director's Week

Best Film Award, Best Director Award (Marc Lahore), Best Screenplay Award (Marc Lahore) -“The Open” (France)

Jury’s Special Award – “Just Jim” (UK)

Best Actor Award (Ziyad Bakri) – “Blind Sun” (Greece/France)

Best Actress Award (Barbie Forteza) – “Laut” (Philippines)

Orient Express Section

Best Film Award – “Deep Trap” (South Korea)

Special Award – “I Am Hero” (Japan)

Portuguese Film Section

Best Film Award – “Quarto em Lisboa”, Francisco Carvalho

Best Film School Award – ESMAE- Escola Superior de Música , Artes e Espectáculo

Special Mention for Creativity – “Cinema Dom Dinis”, Tiago Basílio, Tiago Fonseca, Tiago Costa

Fantasporto 2016, Best Short Film (Fantasy Section) "Blight" (2015), Brian Deane, Ireland

Fantasporto 2016 closing night films

"Before the Rain", Milcho Manchevski (Macedonia)

Never has a screening been so relevant as the one of “Before the Rain” that night. History has a funny tendency to repeat itself. Men kill in the name of race, religion, beliefs. The film was released in 1994, and yet it felt so current. Frighteningly current. “Time never dies. The circle is not round”.

The illusion of division in chapters makes us think the three stories are separate. But when they begin to overlap, they become so entangled we can’t remember what happened first or what event caused what event.

But does it matter? Does it even matter who started what?

If you step out of all the information you are given (in this film, in the daily news, in your social media feed), when you look at the big picture, all conflicts seem like a sickening child’s play. No one remembers the purpose anymore; then they try to legitimate it through matters of pride, of heritage, of us versus them, of race.

"Blight", Brian Deane (Ireland)

Cue the chilling fog, the dark night, the priest looking half-frightened, half-determined. Add an odd-looking and silent rower whose task is to take the priest across the river/lake/sea/swamp. Come on! Haven’t we all seen this exorcist-type of movie before? Surely the jury was out of their minds when they voted this the best Fantasy short film?

Well, yes, it is just another exorcist story. A teenage girl gets pregnant. When asked who did it, she glances suspiciously at her own father (confirmed by the mother’s I-know-but-I-won’t-tell look). The priest skips this potentially dramatic moment in the family and moves straight to the exorcism.

Upside: the twist did surprise me (I won’t reveal what it was, sorry), and I’m glad it did because I was so close to calling out the bullshitting jury on this one.

“Meh” moment: the score. Do you know what would be really frightening? A score that doesn’t imply that all horror stories/satanic tales are linked to heavy metal music.

Extra points for the originality: was that an exorcism bong? No, seriously, was it? Love the technique, by the way; sprinkling holy water on the possessed is so last century. Instead, let’s get some blood from the victim, mix it with holy water inside a bong, heat it up (the process is pretty much self-explanatory here), and give it a stir. 

Perform exorcism successfully, pause for a moment of general relief, move forward to the ending of the film, cue the surprising twist, roll credits.

"The Lure", Agnieszka Smoczynska (Poland)

A tale of love and pain, fear and survival, starring two mermaids (Golden and Silver), sung and danced away to the sound of 1980s pop music.

If you expect glitter-colored, Disney-cartoon-style fishtails, you’ll be disappointed. These are mythical creatures, and the tails are… well… fishtails; as authentic as giant fishtails could be.

Although the romance and lust are there, this isn’t a sweet love story. The story didn’t excite me — it is what it is, love, passion, deceit, heartbreak, smart girl vs. naive girl (why are the blondes always portrayed as naive?).

I enjoyed, what I call, the coloring book approach. The lines are there (you know, the old legend where the mermaid falls in love with the human, compromises everything for him, and then he bails out on her?). But then Agnieszka skips coloring inside those lines and turns it into a 1980s pop musical, stirs it up with subtle special effects and award-deserving cinematography.

On top of an already brilliant movie is how she tells part of the story with a sort of wildlife TV show flair. There are some moments in the story where you quickly forget these are mythical beasts.

The way she portraits mermaids as an actual species is so disturbingly subtle: how they mate, what they eat, how the environment affects them, how they adapt to survive. And then *snap* they’re behaving like bratty teenagers again, choosing between love, wild parties, or swimming all the way to the United States.

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