Gérardmer Festival 2023: Memory of Water, La Montagne, Irati and general assessment | LeMagduCine

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On the menu for this end of the 30th edition of the Gérardmer International Fantastic Film Festival, Memory of Water and its Nordic dystopia, The mountaintrue metaphysical meditation, and Irati, a Spanish adventure film that wants to want. We will end with a brief summary of the event.

Competition – Memory of Water

Directed by Saara Saarela (Finland, Estonia, Norway, Germany, 2022)

Here we are in the future, in the heart of the tundra. Water has become a scarce resource which is therefore rationed by local authorities. Noria, whose father has just died, is tasked with taking her place as tea mistress, a traditional and ancestral figure.

The movie basically looks like Divergent among the Nordics. It’s naive, full of good feelings and Manichaean characters, with that futuristic “chekos” aesthetic that’s supposed to represent a fascist state. The photo looks a bit like blade runner 2049, with its reflections of blue and its treatment of dust as an element of life of the population. The rendering is however not at all as impactful as the magnificent photography of Roger Deakins was able to be.

Finland also doesn’t seem like the best place for a post-apo movie dealing with a water shortage, (SPOILER) even if it’s a government plot: at the same time it it would be a question of asking questions when you are told that the water is lacking but that you see grass 100m from your home.

The film seems to carry an ecological message, even if it doesn’t seem to know what it means. The cause of this crisis is indeed a premeditated action, and not the fault of the lack of consideration linked to human activity. No one destroys nature for fun. Yet there is palpable love in this project, which does not make it hateful, just soft and hermetic.

Competition – The mountain

Directed by Thomas Salvador (France, 2023)

Pierre, a Parisian engineer, travels to the Alps to present one of his projects when he feels a sudden attraction to the peaks he sees. From then on, he decided not to return and left to set up a bivouac at altitude. Up there, he meets Léa and discovers mysterious lights.

Let’s start by stating that The mountain is a crush, as if the festival had saved the best for last. The film does not offer anything extravagant, with a rather classic introduction, even approaching the report, before the story performs a kind of farewell to language, leaving Pierre alone with this landscape that surrounds him.

And then, when the lights appear, the film plunges Pierre along with the spectator into a metaphysical reflection, touching on what words cannot describe, but poetry can. It is the third world of Tsvetaïeva, the one where the angels live, that of the beauty of reality that only poetic souls can see. It is a materialization of the splendor of the landscapes at the same time as a return to oneself, on the part of this engineer who dumps everything for this mountain, without even knowing why.

With this moment touched by grace, the film offers the most beautiful sequence of the festival. On his return to the world of reason, Pierre has changed. This change is marked by his hand which shines with a thousand lights, like a light guiding him in the darkness of doubt that was his existence. He finds Léa, and seems to begin a new chapter of his life, now at peace with his being.

A superb conclusion therefore, of an average or even poor selection compared to other editions according to a general opinion.

Out of competition – Irati

Directed by Paul Urkijo Alijo (Spain, 2023)

We are in the eighth century. The Franks of Charlemagne are on their way to pacify the Pyrenees and submit them to Christianity. In order to stop him, the local chief asks the ancestral goddess, Mari, for help in exchange for her life. Before dying, he makes his son Eneko promise to protect the valley at all costs. Years later, and after a Christian education, Eneko comes to honor the promise made to his father, in this world mixing History and mythology.

A very promising synopsis, therefore, on the transition from Europe to Christianity. The result is however not the most satisfactory with a shovelful of defects, starting with the scenario. His interest is to convey the message of oblivion as the real cause of change in the world. Indeed, the old gods who have become pagans literally die if no one remembers their name. The problem is that if a film recalls its principle verbally every ten minutes, it’s just long and very laborious. The opportunity to remember that cinema is the media of “don’t say it, show it”.

The actors are not left out either, with a game that is either bad or excessive, in a film that surfs between The Witcher 3 and Vikingdom. Because yes, to the scenario and the actors is added the atmosphere which could have been very nice with this mix between History and mythology, but which ends up looking like an episode of Xena, the warrior. Lastly, the decors, pleasant but reused twenty times because it has to be profitable, are sweetened with effects of light and smoke, as if Jesus were back.

It is all the same small to type on such a film, which obviously did not have the means of these ambitions. The costumes are nice and the visual audacity is really there. The film tries to be a European heroic fantasy adventure with panache. But you might as well do something more intimate if you can’t afford something so complex, because the digital effects are frankly filthy. It is therefore a pity that this film which was a real personal expectation is in reality only a flop.

Awards: Gérardmer Festival 2023

Grand Prize: The Pieta by Eduardo Casanova

See as well

Jury Prize: The mountain by Thomas Salvador and Piaffe by Ann Oren

Prizes of the 30th Gérardmer Festival: Watcher by Chloe Okuno

Critics’ Prize: The mountain by Thomas Salvador

Public Prize: The Pieta by Eduardo Casanova

Grand Est Region Youth Jury Prize: The Pieta by Eduardo Casanova

Short Film Grand Prize: There’s a lot of light here by Gonzague Legout


With an average selection and a catastrophic organization, this 30th edition of the Gérardmer festival leaves a bitter taste, although I am delighted to have been able to participate. The festival offers a relaxed atmosphere with a very pleasant particular atmosphere which contributes to the immersion during this week of viewing.

I’m a little disappointed with the success of The Pietawhich I still find just as mediocre, but am satisfied with that of The mountain, which in my opinion is the best experience of the whole festival. I couldn’t see the short films, for lack of time but also of a ridiculous reservation system.

Because it is here that the black point of the organization is: impossible to go to see films without prior reservation. This is unheard of and the organizers must react and plan for next year. People who have paid must be able to take advantage of it, otherwise what’s the point. To be done again on my side, but not for the city which must do something and not abandon this festival, a real treasure of French cinematographic heritage.

Gérardmer Festival 2023: Memory of Water, La Montagne, Irati and general assessment | LeMagduCine