European cinema, screeched to a halt

Article published on Feb. 7, 2007
Article published on Feb. 7, 2007
Of the 26 films that the Berlin Film Festival is showing from February 8 - 18, 12 are European. A lack of fresh faces?

It's that time of year again. Well-known faces are returning to the Berlinale; critically acclaimed directors who have been in the business for years and who make up the patchwork of the European cinema scene at the moment. The impressive scroll of directors includes Jirí Menzel (Czech), François Ozon, Jacques Rivette, Olivier Dahan and André Techiné (French), David Mackenzie and Richard Eyre (British), Christian Petzold and Sam Garbarski (German), Stefan Ruzowitzky (Austrian), and Bille August (Danish). Not forgetting the Italian Saverio Costanzo, the only new face at the festival, and son of famous Italian journalist Maurizio Costanzo, who monopolises the main Italian channel of ex-Premier Berlusconi, Canale 5.

So where are the breaths of fresh air, the young talent and hot innovation which has characterised European cinema and kept it at the forefront of cinema over the course of history? The way things are going, there is no room for new contributions and approaches. Now, it’s all about big productions, including German Tom Twyker’s Perfume: Story of a Murderer or the Spaniard Agustín Díaz Yanes's Alatriste. Sentimental biopics are also stealing the spotlight; most notably the Brit Stephen Frears’s The Queen, Frenchman Olivier Dahan’s La vie en rose, and Bille August’s Goodbye Bafana. With a lack of ideas, a cash-machine ringing box-office name always works.

Forgotten shorts

The future of fresh new European cinema, as is the case around the world, is found in short films. They need support to be able to grow and give upcoming talent a chance, and a new lease of life to cinema. This year three short European films have been nominated for an Oscar: Søren Pilmark and Kim Magnusson’s Helmer and Son, from Denmark, Javier Fesser and Luis Manso’s 'Binta y la Gran Idea'Binta and the Great Idea, from Spain, and fellow countryman Borja Cobeaga’s 'One too Many' (Éramos Pocos). Lets hope that a winner is amongst them; European cinema is stagnating due to the lack of investment in ideas and talent, caused, in turn, by the fall in numbers of cinemagoers.

We are going to the cinema less and less, and European productions are concentrating more and more on what is profitable: adaptations of books which have become bestsellers, biographies of historic and famous figures, period dramas… cinemagoers complain about the price of tickets and invest in more powerful computers so that they can download films and create cinemas in their own homes. This vicious cycle means that investment in cinema is gradually being restricted to acclaimed directors who go from festival to festival, and it doesn’t allow European cinema to renew itself.

Broadening horizons

However, TV station departments of culture in each country grant subsidies which aid some young talents to make their way through the maze of the big screen industry. The Catalan Marc Recha (Pau and His Brother, August Days) was a hot name tripping off people's lips in certain festivals a few years ago. His is a different type of cinema which often ends up being documentary, dreamlike, and sometimes, too real. It’s here that we see one of the other problems of cinema, or rather, art. New trends struggle to achieve success, new ideas are an inconvenience. In short, either someone makes a stand and decides to embark on another project, or European cinema will keep repeating the same formula which it has assumed for years in order to please the cinema-going public.

Directors in Recha's mould don’t receive the public support that they should. Many producers and viewers prefer the same old films, and the novelty that European cinema so badly needs never break through. Making changes within art is not easy, met as they are with reluctance. Young short-filmmakers have it tough.

Cinema is evolving, in Europe and throughout the world, and cinemagoers play a very important role in this process. Without an audience, there is no film. The safe option is chosen - that will rake in the most Euros. If big productions continue to pull in the crowds and new initiatives don’t fill the theatres, nothing will change. Without an audience in the seats, there is no money for a European cinema which is different and groundbreaking.