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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Feature: The curse of a lost suitcase and formal dresses of Karlovy Vary

by 

- Stolen luggage, the nudity of Patrick and the bewitched attire of In Fabric

GoCritic! Feature: The curse of a lost suitcase and formal dresses of Karlovy Vary
Tim Mielants' Patrick

Three days after my thirtieth birthday I boarded the night bus from my country's small capital Ljubljana to attend Eastern Europe's leading film-event, in the prestigious spa town of Karlovy Vary. It's a place of expensive boutique shops, healing hot springs, casinos, Russian oligarchs and esteemed guests such as, this year, Julianne Moore and Patricia Clarkson. Going further down the town’s history, it is also where the striking Grandhotel Pupp – one of the main inspirations for Wes Anderson’s Grand Hotel Budapest, during the festival partly serving as a film theatre  –  once accommodated cultural giants such as Bach, Beethoven, Goethe and Kafka.

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The pressure of attending such an event – including the opening ceremony, where Moore was to receive a lifetime-achievement Crystal Globe – was real. Not accustomed to taking part in luxurious affairs involving strict dress codes, I packed all my finest clothes and even bought a new pair of high heels (my very first since prom). Yet when I arrived in Prague after a particularly uncomfortable and sleep-deprived night ride, my suitcase was missing from the bus’s undercarriage compartment. With no proper luggage system in place, this international company (very appropriately rhyming with “Hicksbus”) dealt with our belongings like an open Russian buffet: take what you want, with absolutely no repercussions or guarantee of ever getting your things back. Hey, fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!

Arriving in Karlovy Vary with nothing but my laptop and travel clothes on me, I was in for a turbulent week of borrowing garments and hand-washing my underwear. This also included relying on the kindness of fellow Slovenians who – somewhere mid-festival – brought me a long-awaited proper attire (with some fresh underclothes) that at last granted me the entrance into a ritzy closing party... where I still felt somewhat out of place.

While other festival attendees walked and drove around (in the festival’s black BMWs with darkened windows, usually suggesting to the celebrity status of a person sitting inside) all good-looking, elegant and fresh, it was hard not feel like the unfortunate underclass family in Bong Joon-ho’s outstanding Palm d’Or winner Parasite. Someone who – among lavishly well-dressed, high-class people – smells like a person who rides the underground and looks like a commoner crashing the film-world equivalent of Jay Gatsby’s extravagant invitation-only party.

This is where the festival’s program, carrying some well-hidden hints and implications, came into play. Walking into the press screening of Tim MielantsPatrick [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: GoCritic! Interview: Tim Mi…
interview: Tim Mielants
film profile
]
– a thrilling hybrid of genres spiced up with some peculiar dark humour and lots of nudity – little did I know it would play out almost like a parody of my personal situation. In the film, people are simply walking around naked, unburdened by our society’s insatiable materialism and strict social norms driving the current trends of fast fashion and mass consumption. It almost felt as if the film was (indeed somewhat sarcastically) trying to deliver a message: stop obsessing over superficial material things – and perhaps just start walking around naked.

That the program itself was sending me some unusual messages became even more apparent when I caught a late-night screening of In Fabric [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Peter Strickland
film profile
]
, a masterful homage to Italian horror by Peter Strickland (The Duke of Burgundy [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, Berberian Sound Studio [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
). The film evokes a sense of 1970s giallo films through its ultra-stylized, colourful visuals in what ultimately comes across as a wickedly humorous hybrid of Dario Argento’s Suspiria (1977) and a British sitcom Are You Being Served? (1972-1985) – a reference which will be lost to most fellow non-Brits born during or after the 80s. 

Marianne Jean-Baptiste in In Fabric

Set in a somewhat fictitious town of "Thames Valley on Thames," it follows a divorced bank-worker Sheila (Marianne Jean-Baptiste) as she resumes dating. As a recent divorcee, whose ex-husband has apparently already moved on, she feels completely desexualised and devalued – something the presence of her son’s much older, extremely sexual girlfriend (Gwendoline Christie) does not particularly help with. A quick glimpse through the closet makes it apparent that her wardrobe is filled with dresses which are falling apart – and that a trip to the department store, where she is to buy something new and attractive, is most necessary.

Shelia is far from a compulsive shopper or religious consumerist who fills the void of feeling unwanted by buying things she does not need. While consumerism being a means of mass hypnosis certainly is one of the messages found in Strickland’s newest film, he never makes things transparent enough for us to fully understand why Sheila, of all people, is the one wearing the consequences of our society’s transgressions.

When Sheila buys a beautiful red dress that seems to come in only one size – yet perfectly fits anyone who wears it – from a Victorian-looking shop-assistant speaking in weird Alice in Wonderland riddles (Fatma Mohamed), it almost comes across like she is making a deal with the devil. But aren't we all? Buying clothes without a second thought about where these garments come from, how much sweat, blood and injustice was done behind the closed doors, before reaching our bodies. The only worry on our mind seems to be: does it fit, do we look good in it?

Dentley & Soper’s department store, not unlike the dance school in Suspiria, thus reveals itself to be some kind of a ritualistic coven, led by a Nosferatu-esque store manager Mr. Lundy (Richard Bremmer). Orgiastic séances with red-nailed mannequin dolls seem to be a frequent occurrence, with Mr. Lundy creepily masturbating in the corner, all while the accursed dress is getting a life of its own bringing destruction and eventual death to anyone who wears it – or dares to wash it, as the brilliant sequence of a washing-machine breaking apart demonstrates.

My suitcase, while not containing a mysterious red dress that would bring havoc upon anyone who owns it, nevertheless seemed to have a curse of its own. Disappearing into thin air somewhere in Austria, one is left to wonder what kind of a witch-coven this particular bus company is running… and whether I too have signed a deal with the devil when buying the ticket and stepping onboard. For someone who travels a lot, generally without a second thought of what low-price airlines and bus companies mean for the environment (or their overworked, underpaid employees), this could very well have been a Strickland-worthy lesson I had to pay. Or maybe all of this are just signs that after turning thirty, I should finally learn how to drive – at least this way, it would be near impossible to lose a suitcase while travelling.

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