A Russian View on Central Europe: Long Live the King? By Julia Khomiakova

in 3rd Moveast International Film Festival Pécs

by Julia Khomiakova

If a Russian tourist asks: “What is a Hungarian for ‘socialist camp’, as we used to call the countries of the Warsaw Treaty, including Yugoslavia?” The local guy’s answer will arouse a burst of laughter. It sounds like “szocialista tabor”, in Russian the word “tabor” means only “Gypsy encampment”. Well, Eastern Europe nowadays doesn’t look like a military camp, but sometimes — like a gypsy camp reigned over by gypsy barons, to be exact — by mobs wearing heavy golden chains yet dirty and, unlike patriarchal Don Vito Corleone, absolutely alien to any family values. Just see the Bosnian Grbavica by Jasmila Zbanic, the Romanian East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?) by Corneliu Porumboiu, the Polish Chaos by Xawery Zulawski and Hyena (Hiena) by Grzegorz Lewandowski, the Bulgarian Christmas Tree Upside Down (Obarnata elha) by Vasil Zhivkov and Ivan Tscherkelov… Even the titles of the two last films reveal it.

By the way, one couldn’t but notice that in the competition program of the Moveast International Film Festival in Pécs there were no films from Russia, Byelorussia, Moldavia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Is this because none of these countries had ever been a part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy? All the countries — participants had been there — the whole or a part of their present territories. Well, since there was a geopolitical basis for that South-Germanic kingdom populated mostly by non-Germanic people, this selection may seem rather reasonable. Why not, really? Hungarian tourist companies propose tours to Vienna called “Nostalgia” — yes, in this very country! Here in every town there are streets named after Sándor Petöfi, or Lajos Kossuth, or Aradi Vertanuk (13 high rank officers were executed in 1849 for participation in the revolution of 1848), and after all — a nostalgic feeling to the Habsburgs? Is this just because actually none of the Hungarians remembers the Austro-Hungarian lifestyle? “Le roi est mort, vive le roi!” (The King is dead, long live the [next] King!) As they said in Royal France.

Well, there was an Austrian film in the program, too — Friendship (Freundschaft) by Rupert Henning, a movie which an ex-Soviet would enjoy being shown on TV and dubbed (reading the subtitles in this talkative movie makes it impossible to feel the atmosphere of male debates between father and son — one an Austrian socialist, another an outsider with some sympathies for Greenpeace. The debates sometimes sound very similar to family scenes in many ex-Soviet houses where parents have their reasons to accuse their hedonist children of escapism, conformism, lack of moral values while the disappointed young generation also has certain reasons in response. Father and son are united only by a common fear of the next Fuehrer — actually, their debates stop when the subject touches Jörg Haider. What if the grandson says that the Fuehrer is the only alternative to gypsy barons?

There was a lot of interest in the Ukrainian film Orangelove by Alan Badoyev from which everybody expected something concerning the so-called “Orange revolution”. Those people should be disappointed: a love story between a Russian-speaking photographer Roman and a Ukrainian-speaking musician Katya (this character, unlike Romeo-Roman, couldn’t be called Juliet-Yulya because in the Ukraine this name nowadays means Mrs. Timoshenko) splits not because one of them votes for Yutschenko while another for Yanukovich. They prefer not even to go out of their apartment, a strange loft proposed by an old gay dying of AIDS (a character also speaking Ukrainian which relates to Gogol’s wizards in his early stories inspired by Ukrainian life). This shelter, in spite of Roman’s and Katya’s attempts to make it cool, is perhaps a metaphor of Kiev reality: full of a desire to live like (in civilized Europe) people still find themselves in a Bulgakov-like evil apartment from which people disappear forever. All these reminiscences together with rather banal images of emotional explosions don’t improve this, sometimes rather boring, film although it has an unexpected story turn.

There were some films without details exactly indicating any historic or geographic reality. If it weren’t for the languages of these films, one could hardly feel that the action takes place in Hungary, as in Happy New Life (Boldog új élet) by Árpád Bogdán or Croatian The Ghost in the Swamp (Duh u mocvari) by Branko Istvancic. The funniest of them was Aporia by Aris Movsesijan: a film produced by the Serbian Ministry of Culture, played by Serbian actors in Serbian, this film represented Slovenia! There was also a Slovenian co-producer, but has this film got anything to do with Slovenian national cinema, if it does exist as something national in the way of filmmaking? Therefore, does the Serbian Sheitan’s Warrior (Sejtanov ratnik) by Stevan Filipovic have anything to do with the national cinema, as an art? Is Czech Experts (Experti) by Karel Coma anything better than a bad parody of the so-called Czech comedy?

“Happy New Life” made by Hungarian ethnic gypsy Árpád Bogdán tells about a badly known aspect of Hungarian society. The story of an 18-year-old boy, after leaving the orphanage, eager to find out his real identity, while the information about the orphan’s parents is a secret, was probably felt by the audience as a metaphor of a Western European torn away from his socio-historic roots and trying to adopt oneself to a new life which in the orphanage promised to be happy. The ex-tutors do their best not to tell the truth in order to make their pupil feel a Hungarian like other Hungarians, but some sub-conscious memory tells him that he had been torn away from his Gypsy parents. And this is why he fails to integrate, either in average Hungarian social life or in “tabor” where one should have real parents, brothers, sisters. Where to go, after all? And if all the scientific social theories came out to be wrong, where does one look for the real ones?

In the Macedonian The Secret Book (Tajnata kniga) by Vlado Cvetanovski, one can easily recognize the influences of historical, archeological and anti-scientifical media publications concerning the researches in pre-Slavonic languages and ancient history. Well, there is also a Bulgarian scientist ready to oppose all this “Macedonian mini-imperialism”. My Russian heart was really touched by one of the characters: he had become an Orthodox monk but still likes to read, together with “The Holy Bible”, Alexander Pushkin’s “The Prophet” — a well-known poem in which a poet is compared with the prophet: his sinful tongue, torn away by a Seraph, was changed by a wise snake’s sting in order to burn the hearts of people by “glago” (a poet’s word). This character speaks only Russian, the closest to Sanscrit, the sacred language of the Eastern religions, and glagolitsa (a pre-historic alphabet, still alive in Macedonia, Croatia and Bulgaria) in this film is a kind of Divine code, nice to feel. But do these Balkanians and Carpathians really think that the only lifestyle model which Russian culture can propose is a monastery and nothing more attractive for an average or intellectual European? Thank you for your sincerity, Slavonic brothers, since I can’t thank anybody for a really good script, dialogue, actors’ images, or cameras, the latter sometimes really awful.

Am I angry? Well, the program for our jury was composed of films never awarded FIPRESCI prizes, and so it came out. We had to award Grbavica which objectively was the best in its art quality, although you can not deny that 51-year old Mirjana Karanovic playing a 34-35 years old woman is definitely the wrong age for this movie. Was Mirjana Karanovic’s decision to play in this bright movie her definite or desperate choice? Grbavica may seem strongly anti-Serbian to those who hate Bosniaks (the Bosnians had accepted the Osmanic occupants’ religion, and now Kusturica who had returned to Orthodoxy is a kind of political refugee from his native Sarajevo which he had made famous!) For this reason Grbavica was distributed in Russia only on DVD, in Greece only at the festival latest screenings, in Serbia, no need to comment. Well, every actor has a right to make something scandalous in order to attract the public’s attention. There’s no business like show-business! But for what sake as regards the art? If the 31-year-old film director didn’t feel a difference between these ages — 50 and 35 — could this idea cross the producers’ mind? The character’s relations with her fatherless daughter and her man who could probably become her husband are tense just because she is a relatively young woman, and she theoretically may get married, have other kids … and at the same time she can’t. This is the point of this story.

Well, about any of the movies proposed this year for the first FIPRESCI jury in the history of Hungary you could say that their authors probably deserved better producers. For example, the Romanian East of Bucharest by Corneliu Porumboiu — a bitter satire at the end — is terribly boring and talkative during the first two-thirds of the film. It looks like nobody wanted to improve the script since the film had been shot as quickly as possible, at a minimal price. Shooting at cheap price was obviously more important to the producer than shooting at higher quality.

And this is maybe the most serious problem in all of these former Austro-Hungarian provinces, now independent European countries. Those who should be kings — I mean the producers — are sooner something like gypsy barons.