The Italian city of Trieste has always had its own particular history. From its Austro-Hungarian and Slovenian influences, to its proximity to the Croatian border, the people of Trieste have enjoyed a special status. At the end of the 19th Century, Trieste had more Slovenian inhabitants than Slovenia's capital of Ljubljana and at the start of the 20th Century, great luminaries and intellectuals like James Joyce, Italo Svevo, Sigmund Freud, Zofka Kveder, Dragotin Kette, Ivan Cankar, Scipio Slataper, and Umberto Saba frequented often the bustling cosmopolitan city.
To me, Trieste has always been a city with a foot deeply planted in its Italian roots yet the other striding towards its undeniable Eastern European culture. A bridge city overlooking a port, filled with people of different ethnicities and speaking several languages and dialects. A utopia for the perfect world, a place where everyone truly, and mostly could get along. And have gotten along throughout the ages.
We have so much to learn from the city of Trieste these days.
As it so happens, the city has also been host to an elegantly boutique film festival for the past thirty years. Now at a momentous crossroads, the Trieste Film Festival turns 30 with a spectacular edition this year, kicking off on Friday, January 18th and running through to the 25th.
The festival mandate concentrates on cinema from Central Eastern Europe and will kick off this edition with ‘Meeting Gorbachev’ the film by Werner Herzog and co-director André Singer — who will introduce the screening — featuring the three meetings in six months that Herzog and the former leader of the Soviet Union Michail Gorbačëv enjoyed. Two exceptional men who put into prospective for us, the audience, the events of the 20th Century, but also the current political climate of populism and beyond. It promises to be a haunting, touching look at our beloved Europe through the eyes of someone who represents the best of our history. And another who has filmed some of the best images of our collective cinematic heritage.
The closing night film, which actually will screen on the 22nd, the night the awards are to be handed out at TsFF, is one near and dear to my heart. Ralph Fiennes’ ‘The White Crow’ captured my imagination and Mr. Fiennes himself was the stuff this journalist’s dreams are made of at this year’s Cairo International Film Festival — where I was so lucky to get to moderate a public chat with the actor. The early years of Rudolf Nureyev are masterfully told on the big screen by Fiennes the filmmaker and although I find him one of the most hauntingly great actors of our generation, I think his directing skills may even surpass his acting prowess. Yes, he’s that good and ‘The White Crow’ is that great!
In between, there will be films like Andrzej Żuławski’s 1981 oeuvre ‘Possession’ and Radu Muntean’s ‘Alice T.’, but also Sergej Loznica’s ‘Donbass’ which premiered at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and garnered the filmmaker a Best Director award in Un Certain Regard.
Also, Matteo Garrone’s ‘Dogman’ will receive an award as Best Italian Film during the festival, handed out by the Sindacato Nazionale Critici Cinematografici Italiani (SNCCI), with leading man Marcello Fonte in attendance to receive the accolades. The same organization has also chosen Paul Thomas Anderson’s ‘Phantom Thread’ as best international film.
There are too many events to list, too much bounty of cinematic masterpieces to put in one piece, but I will leave you with a couple of words about the image chosen for the poster of this edition of TsFF — pictured above. It’s a shot by the iconic Dominique Issermann during the filming of ‘Possession’ di Andrzej Żuławski, in front of the Berlin Wall, which comes up as a leitmotif so often during this 30th edition of the festival. And featuring the film’s protagonist, Isabelle Adjani — who would go on to win as Best Actress in Cannes in 1981 for her interpretation — while she jumped rope in front of the wall.
A final question to ponder now. With so many walls being built, or threatened upon us, shouldn’t we perhaps learn to jump rope too?