Russell Crowe, Alicia Vikander Wow Karlovy Vary Film Festival Crowds as 57th Edition Kicks Off
Audiences who had to weather a downpour clearly showed no signs of dampened spirits as they cheered the fest’s opening gala dancers on ice skates, then rose to their feet to applaud guests Crowe and Alicia Vikander, both of whom accepted honors for their robust range of film work.
Vikander, in accepting the award of fest president Jiri Bartoska, said she was moved to be celebrated in the Czech Republic, where her international career first took off with the 2012 shoot of “A Royal Affair.”
“I had a flush of amazing memories,” she told the crowd assembled in the grand hall of the 70s-tastic Hotel Thermal. Vikander, who will be presenting “Firebrand,” said the role of Henry VIII’s surviving wife appealed to her because Catherine Parr was a woman who survived an abusive marriage with exceptional courage.
Crowe took the stage a little later to receive a lifetime achievement Crystal Globe for his contribution to film, telling the audience of his relationship to the movies “just gets deeper and deeper.”
He also praised Karlovy Vary for its tight organization, saying it “runs like clockwork” in contrast to other film fests he described as “hellscapes.”
He added a moment later, as much as he appreciated the career honors, “I’m here for the gig!” Crowe’s band, Indoor Garden Party, took to rocking the crowd outside the Thermal following the opening gala.
Rock and pop was in the air, clearly, as the 90s sensation Morcheeba also performed for the spirited Karlovy Vary crowds gathered under umbrellas and rain ponchos.
Despite the inclement skies, the fest seemed to loom large, having just about fully recovered from leaner editions in the wake of COVID lockdowns. Czechs from every corner of the country turned up as usual to catch glimpses of international stars with energy and anticipation that was palpable.
One Karlovy Vary tradition, the dropping of a new promotional trailer (see here) by a star from the previous year, was helped along this time by Johnny Depp. His ironic portrayal of a spaced-out guitarist version of himself filled the screen with a newly minted fest promo short in color.
For the past 16 years, Karlovy Vary trailers, usually directed by Ivan Zacharias, have parodied fest winners from Helen Mirren and Danny DeVito to Jude Law and Milos Forman, invariably with a Crystal Globe fest prize appearing somewhere in the story.
In Depp’s new trailer, when put on the spot by a reporter asking why he hadn’t won Karlovy Vary’s signature statuette, he turns the tables, looking deadpan while producing a glass orb that’s been crudely altered to feature his name. Filmed at the storied Gellert spa hotel in Budapest, where Depp was working last year, the short features comic moments the actor insisted on improvising.
Depp screened two projects he produced while visiting Karlovy Vary in 2021, a rock doc focused on the lead singer of The Pogues, “Crock of Gold: A Few Rounds With Shane MacGowan,” and the drama “Minamata,” in which he played a role based on the life of a daring real-life photojournalist.
Karlovy Vary has long embraced edgy music themes and also announced it will be screening punk rock doc “Scream of My Blood: A Gogol Bordello Story,” based on the antics of Ukrainian-born indie star Eugene Hutz. The singer/songwriter’s energetic tours and rude songs invariably fire up his followers, as seen in the film, produced by Liev Schreiber and directed by Nate Pommer.
Fest host Marek Eben, a Prague-based satirist and TV personality, introduced the international guests with his usual wry commentary while dropping a pointed comment on Russia’s war on Ukraine, explaining to foreigners that Czechs “have never sought to conquer the territory of another state – the small territory that we have is enough for us.”
He added a helpful explanation of the 1989 Velvet Revolution, explaining that Czechs prefer to overthrow governments “without a lot of bloodshed” and appreciate a diet that is “heavy, unhealthy and delicious.”
Honorees Ewan McGregor and Robin Wright are due to appear later in the week, as is indie film producer icon Christine Vachon. Meanwhile retrospectives of Japanese and Iranian films, plus short and medium-length work from emerging directors will screen in the Future Frames section.
Karlovy Vary’s Proxima competition, open to films from around the globe, was launched last year and is back again going strong.
The fest’s main competition, which normally features 12 films, was this year cut to 11 at the last moment because, said Eben, the government of China announced it was forbidding the screening of entry “Clap Your Hands” from director Zhu Jie, which centers on a working-class woman taking care of her daughter who has a rare bone disease.
The ban “just shows the power of film,” Eben said, getting serious for a moment as he returned to the evening’s theme of free expression.