MOSCOW -- French actress Emmanuelle Beart is one of the stars making their way to Moscow as the city's 2010 international film festival opens today.
The actress will be showcasing her latest film, "It Begins With The End," as part of the competitive program. The film was controversially barred from the Cannes film festival last month, reportedly because of objections to explicit sex scenes between her and her real-life husband, Michael Cohen, who is also the film's director.
Russia is midway through its "Year of France" cultural exchange, and the weeklong film festival duly dedicates much of its screen time to the works of French directors, including Claude Chabrol and Luc Besson, who is also heading the competition jury.
But the rest of the competition has a decidedly Eastern European edge to it, says Andrei Plakhov, a film critic and one of the experts responsible for selecting the festival lineup.
"There are many movies in the Moscow Film Festival competition program that deal with the not-so-distant past of Europe, when it was divided by the Iron Curtain,” Plakhov says. “The film 'Boxhagener Platz' shows life in East Germany in 1968. The Czech film 'An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes
' is also devoted to the events of 1968, when Soviet tanks went into Prague and what happened to Czechoslovakia after that -- the development of the dissident movement, etc."
Plakhov notes that the Polish film 'Little Rose' also takes place in the communist era, with a story of dissidents and the secret services, while 'The Last Report on Anna' by Hungarian director Marta Meszaros focuses on the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956.
“All these pictures are united by what I would call the 'post-Katyn syndrome,' a new generation of directors trying to make sense of the situation we went through together with the satellite countries," Plakhov says.
Some have complained that there being only one Russian film in the competition -- "Sparrow," by director Yury Shiller -- as compared to last year, when there were three. Plakhov says the main reason is simply that there were fewer eligible films made in Russia in the past year.
"There were simply no strong candidates for taking part in the festival competition,” he says. “Aleksei Balabanov's new film was supposed to take part according to a preliminary agreement, but Balabanov did not finish in time and the place was left vacant."
Shiller is a documentary filmmaker who is making his feature-film debut at the Moscow festival. Plakhov says the transition is part of a larger trend, pointing to Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, another documentary filmmaker whose first feature film, "My Joy," was selected for the competition section at Cannes this year.
Moscow hosted its first film festival in 1935, with a jury headed by the preeminent Russian director Sergei Eisenstein. But the festival only became a regular fixture in 1959, when it began to be held biannually.
In the 1960s, the festival attracted some of the greats of world cinema. Federico Fellini, Akira Kurosawa, Krzysztof Zanussi and Sergei Bondarchuk were among those who received awards at the festival in those years.
More recently, the festival -- now under the guidance of controversial Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov -- has attracted many stars, including Harvey Keitel, Jack Nicholson, and Jeanne Moreau, who have all made the trip to Moscow to accept the Stanislavsky award for contribution to cinema.
Despite the presence of such cinematic superstars, Moscow has never reached the ranks of the world's top film festivals, still falling short of the glamour of Cannes, Venice, and other major festivals.
Some critics say that the festival has failed to create its own identity. Film director Aleksei German Jr. said recently that the festival should aspire to become one of the most influential in the world by competing for world-class stars and world premieres to include among its offerings.
Plakhov, however, said the festival is unlikely to reach the level of its established competitors. "The big three -- Cannes, Venice, Berlin -- sweep up the interesting films in world cinema that are produced each year. Getting into that group is practically impossible for any other festival."
Instead, he says, the festival needs to strengthen its position within the second tier of festivals. Even that, he says, is difficult, because with hundreds of film festivals worldwide, the competition gets stronger each year.
Even more important, Plakhov says, is strengthening the links between the cinema industry and Russian movie-going culture. Few Russians ever get to see the films that win at the Moscow festival, as they are rarely distributed to Russian cinemas.
Away from the competition there are 26 other programs, including retrospectives of Kurosawa, Aleksandr Sokurov, Sergio Leone, and jury head Besson.
There are also programs devoted to modern Chilean cinema and the much-anticipated Asian Extreme program, which includes "Poetry
," a film written and directed by South Korea's Lee Changdong that won the best screenplay award this year in Cannes.
Last year more than 200,000 people attended the festival and numbers are expected to rise this year.
The festival will close June 26 with a showing of Besson's adventure tale, "The Extraordinary Adventures of Adele Blanc-Sec" -- already dubbed by some moviegoers as "Indiana Jones in a skirt."