Meanwhile, Zhengfan Yang’s ambitious project Stranger, co-produced by Hilde Berg for Norwegian outfit Norsk Filmproduksjon, snagged the Proxima competition Grand Prix.

The 2024 edition of Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Central and Eastern Europe’s leading cinematic gathering, ran from 28 June to 6 July. As always, the picturesque Czech spa town hosted a number of new European and international titles, welcoming packed delegations of industry professionals and film enthusiasts.

This year’s Crystal Globe went to Mark Cousins’ latest doc A Sudden Glimpse to Deeper Things (UK), which explores the life and work of 20th-century British painter Wilhelmina Barns-Graham. The second most prestigious accolade, however, was bestowed upon Lilja Ingolfsdottir’s Loveable (Elskling), which snagged the Special Jury Prize along with four more awards – Best Actress (received by talented lead Helga Guren), the Grand Prize of the Ecumenical Jury, the Europa Cinemas Label, and the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in the Crystal Globe Competition.

Ingolfsdottir’s debut feature follows 40-year-old Maria (Guren), a mother of four, who must come to terms with herself when her husband Sigmund (Oddgeir Thune) says he wants a divorce. Denmark’s TrustNordisk, the firm in charge of its global sales, labels it as “an interpersonal film about a break-up, but also about a woman’s opportunity for self-knowledge and growth, and having to deal with subconscious and dysfunctional patterns in herself”.

“The first idea for this film came about in 2018. I made a short film in which I invited a group of people taken from the street to sit in front of the camera. I asked each one of them to look into the lens and say the sentence ‘I love myself’ as if they really could feel the truth of it. This became the short film Show Me Your Original Face Before Your Mother and Father Were Born, which was screened widely at festivals nationally and internationally,” Ingolfsdottir reveals to NFTVF.

“At the same time, I started developing the foundation for a drama based on a woman who had to spend days alone in a rented apartment owing to her husband wanting a divorce. As part of the development phase, I made a short film titled What We Fear (Det vi frykter). After many rejections, the feature-length project finally got financing from the Neo programme of the Norwegian Film Institute in 2022.”

Zooming in on the creative process, Ingolfsdottir admits that shooting the film with her husband Øystein Mamen (who served as the picture’s DoP) “put quite some pressure” on her family while their kids remained at home. Besides, the helmer worked on a shoestring budget with a skeleton crew, shooting it over the course of 30 days.

“Of course, it was also an artistic choice, but looking back I would say it was extremely ambitious to shoot it this way, and this put an enormous responsibility and pressure on the few people involved. We had very few technical challenges, as we made our production workflow flexible, and this made it easier to navigate through troubled waters. We based many decisions on intuition, which helped us reduce unnecessary work,” she underscores.

Budgeted at €900,000, Loveable was staged by The Worst Person in the World (Verdens verste menneske) producer Thomas Robsahm for Nordisk Film Production A/S and Amarcord, with backing from the Norwegian Film Institute. The executive producers are Sveinung Golimo and Henrik Zein. Nordisk Film Distribution is in charge of its domestic distribution.

Meanwhile, another production Nordic involvement, Zhengfan Yang’s Stranger (Ju wai ren), was the big winner of this year’s Proxima competition, scooping the section’s Grand Prix.

The feature is produced by Shengze Zhu for Burn the Film (USA/China) with Frank Hoeve for Baldr Film (the Netherlands), Hilde Berg for Norsk Filmproduksjon (Norway) and François d’Artemare for Les Films de l'Après-Midi (France). It unfolds in a hotel, described as “a place where everyone is a stranger” and “that is yours for just a moment”.

“Each episode of Stranger is set in such a place, and each is captured in one long take. Weaving together a series of episodic stories – some humorous and absurd, some poignant and mysterious – which all unfold within a seemingly confined space, Stranger explores the idea of home while being away from it, and sheds light on the distinctive yet universal experiences of isolation and loneliness,” states the official synopsis.

“A hotel room implies comings and goings; people reside in a hotel for a period of time – a fragment of their lives – while the rest of their stories are left untold. Hotel rooms provide those away from home a private space to nestle temporarily in a strange place, allowing them to release emotions they have held back during their journeys. A hotel room is generic and idiosyncratic at the same time – all the hotel rooms in the world are distinct in kind, yet similar in nature. In a broader sense, they are a miniature representation of the rootlessness of urban life. Every time I wake up in a hotel room, I’m gripped by a fleeting confusion – a momentary disorientation about the surroundings, the time, and occasionally, my sense of belonging,” Yang explains in his Director’s Notes.

A second Nordic production, Victoria Verseau’s Trans Memoria, did not receive any prizes, but was very well received by the press in attendance. Cineuropa billed it as “a precious gift,” whilst the International Cinephile Society website defined it “honest and heartfelt.”

The film is an intimate documentary diary wherein the director and conceptual artist looks back in time in order to understand her transition and what defines her as a woman. Having lost a close friend, she shares her pain and embodied experience with Athena and Aamina, who are both on their own journeys of transition. Together, they explore who they were back then and who they are today, listening to the ghosts of the past, the laughs of the present, and the whispers of the future.

The Czech fest catalogue describes the feature as a “deeply felt debut” in which Verseau “reveals the joyful aspects and also the dark recesses of transition and, bringing other testimonies into play as well, she critically examines what defines women as women”.

Key creatives include DoP Daniel Takács, sound designer Arno Ledoux, editor Neil Wigardt, and composers Arno Ledoux and Isak B Sundström.

The doc is produced by Malin Hüber of Sweden’s HER Film and co-produced by French firms Les Films du Bilboquet, Gotlands Filmfond, Pictanovo and Les Fresnoy. Paris-based outfit Outplay is selling the film worldwide.

Finally, the Bohemian event showcased Nordic festival hits such as Magnus von Horn’s The Girl with the Needle (Pigen med nålen), Rúnar Rúnarsson’s When the Light Breaks (Ljósbrot), and Levan Akin’s Crossing in the Horizon strand, along with other Nordic titles and productions with Nordic involvement such as William Sehested Høeg’s The Complaint (Sammen er du mere) (Denmark), Hilke Rönnfeldt’s A Study of Empathy (En undersøgelse af empati) (Germany/Denmark), Viggo Mortensen’s The Dead Don’t Hurt (Canada/Mexico/Denmark), Shuchi Talati’s Girls Will Be Girls (India/France/USA/Norway), Meryam Joobeur’s Who Do I Belong To (Mé el Aïn) (Tunisia/France/Canada/Norway/Qatar/Saudi Arabia), Basel Adra, Hamdan Ballal, Yuval Abraham and Rachel Szor’s No Other Land (Palestine/Norway), Min Bahadur Bham’s Shambhala (Nepal, France, Norway, Hong Kong, China, Turkey, Taiwan, USA, Qatar), Anna Maria Jóakimsdóttir-Hutri’s Who Stands Up for Alvar (Vem ropar för Alvar) (Sweden), Leonardo Van Dijl’s Julie Keeps Quiet (Julie zwijgt) (Belgium/Sweden), Maryam Moghaddam’s My Favourite Cake (Keyke mahboobe man) (Iran/France/Sweden/Germany), Juho Kuosmanen’s Silent Trilogy(Mykkätrilogia) (Finland), and Aura Satz’s Preemptive Listening (UK/Finland).

Notably, this year’s Crystal Globe jury saw the participation of Icelandic writer, novelist and screenwriter Sjón, known for Lamb (Dýrið) and The Northman, who served in the role alongside prominent producer Christine Vachon, legendary actor Geoffrey Rush, Hungarian director Gábor Reisz (best known for his Venice-bound hit Explanation for Everything(Magyarázat mindenre)), and local star Eliška Křenková.