A Festival With A Young Audience's Joy By Atilla Dorsay

in 12nd Sarajevo Film Festival

by Atilla Dorsay

The 14th festival of Sarajevo was defined mostly by the huge participation of very young audiences. Not only the cinemas, but all the streets, squares, meeting points, cafes and bars were full day and night with enthusiastic young people discussing and exchanging opinions. Therefore, the future of this event will surely be in good hands.

The ten films in the regional narrative competition made a package of interesting works with cinematic qualities. Turkey dominated the selection with three films, all basically different. My Marlon and Brando (Gitmek) was the one the masses liked most, I believe. The documentarist Hüseyin Karabey departed from a real story. A Turkish theatre actress, Ayca Damgaci, had gone, some years ago, to northern Iraq to shoot a film and had a relationship with a Kurdish actor, Hama Ali. Both returned home. But Ayça, who could not give it up, tried to return to Iraq just as the American invasion started. The film is half documentary, half fiction, almost unique in its genre. A story of impossible love very much melds with the harsh realities of this part of the world. The film could not be a contender for our jury, because it had already two FIPRESCI prizes.

Dot (“Nokta”) by the well-known director Dervis Zaim (“Somersault in a Coffin”, “Elephants and Grass”, “Waiting for Heaven”) was a real “exercise de style” in the best sense of the term. Zaim gives us basically a film noir situation ? but shot in the desert! People chasing or eventually killing one another in the pursuit of an old Koran reminds us of all kinds of stories of the genre, but the director’s genius is to locate this intrigue, with its potential darkness, within the unique, white decor of a huge salt lake. But this visual success is not equaled by a message. And it is not clear if this film, so beautiful to watch, is a metaphor for the importance of the detail (a missing dot of calligraphy can change the whole meaning), another parable on human greed, or simply the chronicle of the loss of an innocent soul.

The third Turkish film, Autumn (“Sonbahar”), has been quite a discovery for me personally. This first film was far from being perfect, but its first-time director, Özcan Alper, has already shown some of the punch of the great visual masters, from Tarkovsky to Angelopoulos. An impossible love story set in the blues and greens of the Black Sea region, it depicts the relationship between a young Turkish man just released after ten years in prison and a Georgian hooker. Though obviously dragging towards the middle, the film has a number of unforgettable shots, mostly concentrated in the beginning and the last part of the film. The story deals with existential melancholy, and it has a feeling of poetic gloom. Accompanied by the music of a Slavic composer, it is an essentially romantic film, in the noblest meaning of this overused word. An experience.

My main discovery has been the Croatian cinema. The two films in the competition, plus another one in the Focus section (Behind the Glass), gave us a good idea of the vitality of this national cinema. Kino Lika by Dalibor Matanic was interesting, though not wholly persuasive. The interwoven stories of a bunch of ordinary, yet somehow eccentric, people flirts with pathos, but sometimes reaches the grotesque. And if you succeed to forget some forced scenes, like the fat woman looking for satisfaction in a muddy pigsty with two of those creatures, you can still witness a first-hand observation of Croatia on the eve of the EU.

The other competition film, Buick Riviera by Goran Rusinovic, was far more successful. A Bosniak and a Serb, years after the Bosnia war, meet in the middle of the USA and spend a long day together. This film says something maybe primary, but still important: A war does not really end when it’s ended, rather it continues in the minds of the people who made it. Thus, the meeting of those two characters miles and years away from their war does not stop them from entering again into a fatal struggle. This is a sharp, bitter observation, a very humanistic film made to near perfection on every level. Both the grand jury and the FIPRESCI prizes, in addition to a common acting prize for its two main actors, are largely deserved.

From the Balkans, also came a very good genre movie, the Serbian The Fourth Man (Cetvrti Covjek) by Dejan Zecevic. A film noir sufficiently baroque, with a modern touch of violence, it has many assets: a wonderful leading actor, a stylish narration, exciting intrigue – and a politically correct message, as it shows the killing of a group of Bosnians by secret agents of the Serbian state organizations. But, being a genre movie, it was not a FIPRESCI prize contender.

The Slovenian film We’ve Never Been to Venice (Mi Nikada Mismo Bili u Veneciji) by Blaz Kutin is another film about that disease of our times: the impossibility of communication. The victims this time are a young couple, and the main reason for their long silences and lack of words seems to be the child they lost. All very sad and gloomy, often near to boredom, but the finale adds a melancholic touch not easy to forget, with the help of a romantic score.

And two films from Hungary. Unlike most people, my personal favorite is not Delta by Kornel Mundruczo, an incest story between two siblings in the deep country. Already possessor of the prestigious Cannes FIPRESCI Prize among the competition films and the CICAE award in Sarajevo, I personally found it a post- Zvyagintsev film, with the same aesthetic camera work, emphasis on family problems and flawless acting, but with less soul and originality. The second film from Hungary, Girls (Djevojke) by Anna Faur, seemed much more engaging. Aesthetically close to a student movie, it was nevertheless very touching and had a certain urgency of introducing its unusual heroes, namely, two adrift girls, from the present-day generations of almost any country, grown up in a wild world, ignoring all of the essential rules of morality, using sex not even as a past time but as a means like any other to an end. And the fatal relation they have with a taxi driver. The film succeeds in giving us a visual world as wild as its subject. Maybe a bit ‘déjà-vu’, but with a power of its own.

And finally, the Austrian film March (Mart) by Klaus Handl. Three youngsters commit a group suicide. The film takes this moment as a point of departure and turns the tragedy all around. It follows their parents and friends in the aftermath. A very somber film, pretty confusing and mostly hard to watch, it delivers a message: In present-day societies (maybe even more in Austria, but that I don’t know), parents and their children have lost all possible chance of communication. Thus, nothing new!