An Old Formula for the New East European Cinema By Ingeborg Bratoeva
in 16th Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema
Tomorrow Morning (Sutra ujutru) is definitely the most awarded film at the 16th Cottbus Film Festival. A picture from the already non-existing state of Serbia and Montenegro, the movie is supposed to meet at once the artistic criteria of the international jury (Main Prize for Best Film), the accessibility standards of the distributors (Distribution Support Prize) and the originality requirements of the critics (FIPRESCI Prize). Tomorrow Morning is not strikingly innovative. On the contrary – its theme, its story line, its characters and its style belong to a well-elaborated model, a trademark of the post-communist East European cinema. The film is set up after a recognisable formula, a combination of local colour and Western references, a mix of romance and anecdote, a fusion of expressive acting and hand shooting camera. Pour a lot of hard alcohol on this blend, animate it musically, and mix the ingredients together to attain the unmistakable sense of post-Yugoslav cinema.
The Serb director Oleg Novkovic has chosen grape brandy and rock-and-roll music to shape his film’s situations, relationships and storylines. Drinking, listening to old Deep Purple vinyls and fooling around, Marko, Ceca and Sale celebrate their friend’s Nele homecoming after twelve years in Canada. Sima, the fifth from the bunch, re-appears from the past as the hero of a “self-shot video”, a “documentary” about his desperation and his suicide. While making his dying confession in front of the camera, Sima is playing the guitar, singing a song called Tomorrow Morning and talking about his dream “to shoot a movie, which is made like a song.” Likewise, the director Oleg Novkovic is all out for achieving a rock-and-roll effect with his film. Shot by hand-held camera on location on a dull housing estate, at first sight, the film reminds one of a belated Dogma replication. Nevertheless, the intensive manner in which storylines run over and characters collide with each other creates an extensive closeness to the main figures. The four friends are not just depicted from a detached standpoint. Quite the contrary – Novkovic, drawing the portrait of an entire generation, has let the desolation of the heroes overwhelm the screen with the power of the rock-and-roll rhythm. Tomorrow morning, the morning after the big drunkenness, has come for the generation, which advances to their forties. The two men – Nele and Marko, and the two women – Sale and Ceca, stay for the Eastern Europe lost generation, helpless to anaesthetize them any more with the slogan “sex, drugs and rock-end-roll” and facing disillusion and gloom on the morning after their first youth. The Serb director has consciously avoided pointing to Yugoslav wars and state disintegration as valid reasons for the doom of his heroes, refusing to localize the message of his film. Seeking out an international significance in his work, he has reflected on the general mental state of his contemporaries, on their failures and on their defeats. Thus, the director has taken up the globally modern theme of an identity search, only to depict the dramatic results of an identity loss.
The Cottbus Festival is considered a forum, which offers a distinctive overview over recent East European cinema. From this point of view, Tomorrow Morning, this year’s festival favourite, should give answers to the most important problems of East European cinema. How innovative must an East European work be to get international recognition? Which means of expression should an East European director choose to allow international audiences to identify with the story he is telling? What style of representation would impress the spectators across all national boundaries? Tomorrow Morning crosses the borders sticking to a well worked out formula and answers all these questions at once – it presents a universal significance of a theme in an internationally renowned national style.