Reality More Creative Than Fiction: Films Based on True Stories

‘Kidnapped’ by Marco Bellocchi, ‘Power’ by Mátyás Prikler, ‘Guardians of the Formula’ by Dragan Bjelogrlić, ‘Radical’ by Christopher Zalla, and ‘Priscilla’ by Sofia Coppola


Sometimes reality is more creative than fiction and proof of that are films from several different programs of this year’s ZFF whose authors found inspiration in real events, either historical or somewhat recent.

Marco Bellochio is a giant of Italian cinema and one of the most recognizable representatives of the political film genre. His latest film Kidnapped deals with a famous case of anti-semitism from the 19th century, when the Catholic Church kidnapped a Jewish boy. Some critics labeled the film a classic in the making (The Guardian). It premiered in Cannes and Toronto, and we’ll be screening it at ZFF in The Great 5 program. The Italian master documents history with theatrical extravagance, discovering layers of unbelievable maleficence, while telling a bloody story about the establishment of the Italian secular state.

An important place in the Network of Festivals in the Adriatic Region is reserved for a dark political thriller Power by Mátyás Prikler, which premiered in Rotterdam and was inspired by a real event which shook Slovakia in 2009. When a stray bullet kills a young hunting scout at the informal gathering of prominent politicians, the intelligence agency sends agent Marus Steiner to help them cover up the scandal. In the film which is aesthetically very similar to the best of Scandinavian noir-crime films, Power asks the ultimate moral questions – is there a person who in certain circumstances isn’t susceptible to corruption? The answer given by a Slovak director of Hungarian descent is bleak because it fearlessly stares into the malevolent nature of power which, even when it is in the hands of conscionable individuals, has the sole goal of self-preservation, and usually truth is its first victim.

The new film by famed Serbian actor, screenwriter, director, and producer Dragan Bjelogrlić, Guardians of the Formula, was described by Variety as a superbly mounted period thriller. Comparing it with Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, Variety described Guardians of the Formula as “a far more classical, but no less gripping take on a little-known episode marking a historical intersection between the medical and nuclear sciences”. Based on a true story about an accident many call the Yugoslav Chernobil, the film follows a secret group of scientists whom the government sends to Paris for treatment after being accidentally exposed to a massive dose of radiation. The film premiered at Locarno, where it won two awards – the Variety Piazza Grande Award and the Green Leopard. One of the screenwriters is Vuk Ršumović, director of No One’s Child, which won the Audience Award at ZFF 2014. The film is screened out of competition in the main program.

Arriving with the audience award from this year’s Sundance festival, we have Radical, a contagiously optimistic film by Mexican director Christopher Zalla and starring Eugenia Derbeza (CODA). Based on a true story of a frustrated teacher who tries to make a difference in the lives of primary schoolers in a remote part of Mexico, Radical is a touching, contagiously optimistic story in which a local teacher, similar to Robin Williams in the cult classic Dead Poets Society, uses radical methods to pique interest in his students to help them unleash their potential. But can lessons based on curiosity and freedom really help students to overcome the realities of a poor and violent region where they live?

Sofia Coppola’s new film, Priscilla, takes us to a real dreamworld, the world of the mythical Graceland. However, this is not another Elvis biography. Inspired by Priscilla Presley’s memoirs, the film follows her relationship with the king of rock and roll ever since she met him as a 14-year-old teenager. A few years later, she moved to his lavish estate, but as every dream comes to an end, by entering Elvis’ mansion, Priscilla found herself in a golden cage. The film, which premiered at Venice, where actress Cailee Spaeny won the Coppa Volpi Award for Best Actress for her role of Priscilla, will be shown in the Together Again program.