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THESSALONIKI 2020

Thessaloniki pays tribute to Anja Breien and Věra Chytilová

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- The two leading female voices of European cinema will be under the festival’s spotlight this year

Thessaloniki pays tribute to Anja Breien and Věra Chytilová
Directors Anja Breien and Věra Chytilová

As the 61st Thessaloniki International Film Festival prepares to unspool online from 5-15 November (see the news), a special spotlight on the female voices of European cinema is being introduced. This time, the festival will pay tribute to pioneering Norwegian filmmaker Anja Breien and to that innovative auteur of the Czech New Wave, Věra Chytilová.

One of the earliest feminist voices in Scandinavian cinema, Breien has been awarded and honoured at countless international festivals and arts venues around the world, and has been a true inspiration for the younger generation of filmmakers. Dealing with issues of gender, identity, love and loneliness, Breien’s cinema has often been compared to the works of Chantal Akerman or Ingmar Bergman.

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To mark the celebration of her 80th birthday this year, Thessaloniki will screen seven fiction films and one documentary directed by Breien. Her debut feature, Rape, criticises the Norwegian judicial system and also initiated the Norwegian New Wave. Her Wives trilogy, with the first film being released in 1975 and the sequels coming ten and 20 years later, follows three women who, in the first film, quit their jobs, and abandon their husbands and children for a fun week alone.

In Games of Love and Loneliness, Breien adapts Hjalmar Söderberg’s novel, a story of missed opportunities and unfulfilled love between a journalist and a younger woman. The next title in Breien’s filmography, Next of Kin, is considered one of the best in her career and takes a satirical look at a family conflict over an inheritance. In The Witch Hunt, the director criticises patriarchal society through the story of a woman who has been accused of witchcraft in 17th-century Norway. Finally, in her documentary Yezidi, Breien observes the persecution of the Kurdish religious minority.

One of the most unconventional voices in Czech cinema, Věra Chytilová used her work to delve into major issues in society, as seen through her unique, almost anarchic point of view. She was also one of the leading female directors in Eastern Europe.

In her debut feature, Something Different, she merges documentary with fiction as the film narrates both the fictional story of a bored and frustrated housewife, Vera, and also follows Eva, a Czechoslovakian gymnast played by real-life Olympic gold medallist Eva Bosáková. Her best-known film, Daisies, observes two young girls who decide that, since the world is bad anyway, they should be bad, too, and subsequently cause chaos in Prague.

Officially classified as blacklisted, her last film before the Soviet Union invasion of 1968 was Fruit of Paradise, an avant-garde, colourful adaptation of the biblical story of Adam and Eve. After being on the receiving end of an eight-year ban from the Czechoslovak government, Chytilová returned with The Apple Game, a comedy about the battle of the sexes, filmed from her feminist and revolutionary perspective. The final film that is featured in the retrospective is the late-1980s title A Hoof Here, a Hoof There, one of the first movies to talk openly about AIDS.

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