A Web of European Cinema

in 27th Panorama of European Cinema Festival

by Dragan Jurak

There were eight films in the International Competition Section of the 27th edition of Panorama of European Cinema in Athens, Greece. Festival director Ninos Feneck Mikelides stretched the webof European cinema from England to Georgia, from France to Serbia, and from Hungary to Italy. There is a lot of going on today with the continent with European cinema at an alltime high. The Panorama was a window into the exciting continental, multinational stirrings that are currently happening all across Europe.

The competition started with the Misunderstood (Incompresa) by Italian actress and film director Asia Argento. Misunderstood is a story about childhood in a dysfunctional show business family inItaly during the middle of the 1980s. Interesting, isn’t it? Leftist culture is out, consumer culture isin, and the red star is only a decoration on the wall of welltodo family. There is a lot of happening in Asia Argento’s film but, unfortunately, little is really happening.

Amongst the films that were talking about the past was also a new John Boorman film Queen and Country, Boorman’s follow up to his biographical Hope and Glory (1987). We are in the early fifties, in the small army barracks in England. The soldiers are divided between officers and NCOofficers, old and young, those who still believe in flag, king and country, and those who are fed up with this ideology. The old generation, winners of WW2, saviors of the empire, are on the top ofthe world, but this world, with war in Korea, with the atomic threat and Cold War, is already past. It is not often one can see a British film which is mocking the army, king and empire – but Queen and Country does just that.

A preoccupation with the past was also what Serbian film No One’s Child (Nicije dete) by Vuk Ršumovic was about. No One’s Child is a true story about a boy found in the Bosnian woods in the late 1980s. An administrator gave him a name, Haris, and the local authorities send him to an orphanage in Belgrade. “Nome est omen”. When war broke out in 1992, Haris found himself with the wrong name on the wrong side. Boy is returned to Bosnia on the demand of Bosnian authorities, and soon he his is back in the woods – this time with gun and army boots… A personal and historical drama, No One’s Child is bigger than life. This is the story that has to be made. And it is made with much delicacy and artistic expression. No One’s Child is one of the best West Balkan films of this year.

Back to the present, American director Larry Clark, ‘notorious’ for his fascination with teenage sexuality, came with a film about a subculture of teenage skaters in contemporary Paris. In a nutshell, The Smell of Us is a film about Larry Clark being Larry Clark. He is getting older but his fascination is still the same. Actually, the film has nothing to do with kids in Paris, only with kids in Larry Clark movies.

In some way, Czech film Angels (Andele) by Alice Nellis was also disappointing. Angels is the story of group of angels on their usual, intermediating work on earth (this time in Prague). Well, it’s not a brand new concept. It has been used so many times, mainly in comedies. Angels does have some popular appeal – but little or nothing more than that.

Much funnier was the Hungarian Afterlife (Utoelet) by Virag Zomboracz, some kind of Hamlet in modern Hungary. A neurotic young man is seeing the ghost of his dead father. The father needs something to do on the earth. But also the son has much to do, here and now, with his life. Afterlife is a bizarre film, with a weird but also excellent humor. Although at its core a ‘boy meets girl movie’, Afterlife is interesting in many ways. For instance, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet the son must avenge his father. In Virag Zomboracz’s Hamlet the son must find a girl.

Finally we have two exceptional films. A very good French film Eat Your Bones (Mange tes morts) by Jean-Charles Hue, and the extraordinary Georgian film Corn Island (Simindis kundzuli) by George Ovashvili.

Eat Your Bones covers a day in the life of Gypsies from a trailer park in provincial France. Jean-Charles Hue has made a realistic film, spoken in real gypsy slang, and played by actual Gypsies.

Eat Your Bones has some elements of both the crime movie and action movie (even road movie and car movie), but this is an authentic, honest and full blooded piece, which has nothing to do with stereotypes of exotic, singing and dancing, Gypsies.

At last, we have Corn Island, a descriptive tale about the trouble in growing corn on a piece of flooded river island. Corn Island is something like Hemingway’s Old Man and the Sea. An old Abkhaz farmer is trying, with help from his granddaughter, to make a living in a harsh, war torn land. The film has only one setting (a river island and forest on its bank), few characters, and very little spoken lines, but it is huge, almost biblical, in its story about the struggle with soil and river, borders and conflicts; in its story about the ripening of corn and blossoming of the woman.

All in all, the international competition of Panorama of European Cinema was a good, solid selection, with at least three films to remember: Corn Island, Eat Your Bones, and No One’s Child.

Edited by Steven Yates