The October sun is sparkling all around; it is the most beautiful Indian Summer in Pécs, one of the nicest Hungarian cities. The open cafés and restaurants are packed with happy people. You can hear the best music, the city offers exhibitions, performances, good books, etc. more than ever before. You can see the well-designed, trendy logo of Moveast Filmfestival everywhere, its stark color scheme of red and black attracts audiences, filling up movie houses to the brim.
In spite of all this one feels depressed, even unsatisfied and a tad scared. Watching the films, made by the youngest generation of filmmakers from Central-Eastern Europe, you ask yourself, what is our reality? Take Belgrade for example where the October sun shines just as bright on chic-looking people sitting in cafés; where theatres and movie houses are also packed, supermarkets offer everything, streets are busy with consumers, etc. etc. or any of the Macedonian cities, for that matter. The same is probably true for Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine or Croatia. Nevertheless, on the first three or four days of the festival, we saw films about the most unhappy, worst looking, and bitterly disappointed people, hating the world around them, hating each other, hating life, but most of all — hating themselves. The Macedonian film Upside Down (Prevrteno) by Igor Ivanov Izy, a filmmaker in his thirties, gives you a picture of the most senseless life ever. Never ending misery, youth without a future. Our young protagonist apparently believes that the only way to feel a bit better is to hang as an acrobat between heaven and earth – and joins a circus.
The Hungarian movie Girls (Lányok) by Anna Faur, shows in sordid details the terrible murder committed by two very young girls. They kill a taxi-driver out of boredom and just “for fun”, their connection to the grown up world being of the most foul sort imaginable. Their parents don’t care, their studies bear no importance, their lives are meaningless. Sex itself is listless and tiring, without a sip of joy. The world around them seems to teem with equally faceless men and women, driving them to conclude that life is not worth anything.
This weltanschauung informs also films that contain some elements of humor as the Polish film, Reserve (Rezerwat ) by Lukasz Palkowski. The charming homeless lot in the ugly, rotten, dangerous neighborhood provides at least some joy to our young photographer, who is offered to document life at his old makeshift residence. At first he believes it’s just a game, but soon he is faced with a series of heartbreaking experiences, bringing him ever closer to Warsaw’s disenfranchised population.
The darkest side of life becomes also the focus of the Croatian film The Living and the Dead (Zivi i mrtvi) by Kristijan Milic. The war between Croats and Bosnians is shown as a parallel to WWII fighting. The summation is of course meaningfully and objectively formed: there is no such thing as a humane war and people with guns will never behave as humans. Yet, despite the well-shot scenes, solid directing, political correctness, this film offers no ray of hope. Killing is an everyday technique of war, and lives are not worth a penny.
Fortunately, as the days went by, the festival films began to brighten a little, at least featuring now and then protagonists who are not chain smokers or alcoholics. We saw some smiles and a tiny ray of hope for the future. As we moved forward in time and westward and northward in space, sunshine became more abundant, as well as humor and delight, while murder and prisons receded along with blood and tears. The last movie the jury got to see was actually the best: the Ukrainian film At the River (U reki), by Eva Neymann. Of course, the basic brooding mood was still there and yet, at last, the tale about two women — a mother and her daughter, played by two wonderful actresses — was truly nice and moving. The autumn paysage, the solemn sunshine, the beautiful river and all the actors in that film proved that even amidst the harshest of living conditions a good filmmaker could always find beauty.
In our former life — some 20 odd years ago — we, Eastern-Europeans wanted to move to the West. Our lives were sort of boring, empty and devoid of colors the West was supposed to offer. At least this is what we believed, even though it probably was not entirely true. Then the big change for Eastern and parts of Central Europe came. And things did change — boring lives became hectic, sometimes dramatic, the colors we had been pining for turned out to be exciting, but they were far from what we had imagined and wanted. I wouldn’t generalize, but it seems to me, that in our new world, nothing really has its place. Poverty, disappointment, lost illusions, unemployment, not to mention the new wars, the bad connections in this region… And I could go on and on.
Therefore, it is not surprising at all that a film festival of Eastern-European filmmaking would bring less happiness, glamour or good mood, as the worst side of life in this region gets in the limelight. So: let’s not move too far East!