A Classy Competition

in 26th Panorama of European Cinema

by Robbie Eksiel

If gore, eccentricity and nostalgia were the main elements of the Panorama of European Film in Athens during its first week of unspooling, the second came… down to earth with films topical and timely. After a rich seven-day program dedicated, among others, to Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky, the Italian ‘giallo’ and emblematic Greek films of the sixties at the screens of the Greek Cinematheque and Capitol 3D, the festival moved more centrally, to Ideal, to focus on the avant premieres, its American Indie Go! section, and mainly its competition program, maintaining the tradition of dividing its varied offerings thematically into two separate weeks in different venues.

Considering the falltime competition from other metropolitan Greek festivals, let alone its own guideline of selecting films with no Greek distribution and primarily from rising talents, it has always been a challenge for the Panorama to keep things interesting within its competition section. And, once again, it rose up to this challenge with a tight, consistently engaging selection of eight entries.

It goes without saying that the unanimous decision of the FIPRESCI jury on awarding ”Class Enemy” (Razredni sovraznik), an acute, penetrating, surprisingly mature exploration of the grey area between educators and pupils from 28-year-old Slovenian director Rok Bicek (see detailed report from Aleksander Huser), does not, in any way, belittle the particular merits of any other competing film.

The Panorama award, presented from the festival itself to ”The Sea” by Aleksandra Strelyanaya, a film that walks the thin line between documentary and fiction in portraying the a-chronistic life in a northern Russian fishing village (see detailed report from Giulia Dobre), is a proof to that.

So is the awarding of ”Withering” (Odumiranje) as the best competing film by a committee comprised of readers of the popular cultural guide “Athinorama” – the Greek equivalent to “Time Out” (the London-based UK guide). The drama, from second time Serbian director Milos Pusic, unfolds the clash between a man returning to his small village and his earthly mother who soon realizes his intentions of selling out family possessions to secure his future elsewhere. And although it can occasionally be too erratic in depicting its ‘loud’ and largely unsympathetic characters, it is convincingly expressive in its bitterness about the narrowing traditions and the shaky future of the Balkan province.

That same bitterness is conveyed in the Turkish film ”Winds” (Rüzgarlar), the slow burning tale of a fortyish sound recorder from Istanbul who befriends an elderly woman during a professional trip to the island of Imvros. A few years later, he discovers that she has died, but he indirectly keeps her memory alive by forming a relationship with her returning granddaughter and through repeated playbacks of her recordings. Though the pacing is sometimes too ploddering for its own good, director Selim Evci uses this dramatic device – the recordings – in a simple but effective manner, intelligently reflecting the social and political history of the former Greek island through the late villager’s sparing narrations.

Drama is handled much more directly in ”Inheritance”, Israeli-born Palestinian actress Hiam Abbass’ first feature, although the intended realism does not necessarily negate some contrivances in this overwrought mosaic of a large Arabic family living in war-torn Galilee. Greed, intolerance, sibling rivalry and a forbidden love with a westerner are in the main agenda, yet the film doesn’t fail to engage the viewer with its depiction of a fragmented and conservative community and the convincing performances of the excellent cast.

Sparer, thus coarser, is the use of realism in Georgian film ”In Bloom” (Grzeli nateli dgeebi) by Nana Ekvtimishvili and Simon Gross, where we witness two teenage girls’ struggle with everyday life in 1992 Georgia, back when the country was trying to adapt to its newly gained independence from the former Soviet Republic. The immediacy of each sequence discloses relevancy to today’s Georgia, still processing the transition, though the absence of a single positive character from this story of sadness and hardship makes the resulting film exceedingly bleak.

In lighter tones, but still socially conscious, were the two films that completed the competition program.

The satire ” Viva la libertà”, by Roberto Andò (based on his own book), is smartly entertaining in the way it imagines the secretly departed opposition party leader in Italy being replaced by his bipolar philosopher twin brother! The ensuing misunderstandings, slickly handled, bring to mind motives from popular farces like ”Being There”, ”Dave”, or ”Habemus Papam”, and chameleon Toni Servillo gives another ultra cool performance.

Hilarious in its utter… absurdity was also Croatian Vinko Bresan’s comedy ”The Priest’s Children” (Svecenikova djeca), chronicling the struggle of a young priest, newly appointed to a small island in the Adriatic, to increase the local birth rate in the most extreme ways – like collecting all the condoms that are being sold through the area and piercing them! A farce, both hysterical in its gags and poignant in its comment on the hypocrisy of the official Catholicism.

Edited by Steven Yates
© FIPRESCI 2013