"At the River": A Marvelous Saga of Time and Eternity By Milorad Djokic

in 37th Kiev Molodist-International Film Festival

by Milorad Djokic

Even though the main program of this year’s festival included many mediocre works — some of which did not deserve to be part of this prestigious festival dedicated to films for youth — Molodist can boast excellent discoveries this year as well. The FIPRESCI award-winning film California Dreamin’ (Endless) (California Dreamin’ — Nesfarsit) by the tragically deceased Cristian Nemescu supports the belief in the strength of simple life and natural beauty in the face of a mechanical monster that is reflected in the government and the political establishment. The same can be said about Javier Rebollo’s Lo que sé de Lola. Its imposing style studiously tracks a young man’s alienation, as well as the human need to love until the last breath. The film captures the concept of quiet ordinariness of life while revealing a turbulent abyss of the human soul in its thirst for fulfillment. The Israeli film by Eran Kolirin The Band’s Visit (Bikur Ha-Tizmoret) delighted spectators by its meticulousness in details and specific humor. Gentle, slightly bitter, but solemnly optimistic, it follows an Egyptian band through a day in a small Israeli town, somewhere in the heart of the desert. It reveals the director’s artful style, until the cathartic ending that is embodied in the warm-hearted musical performance.

However, the greatest surprise came from the host country, Ukraine with At the River (U reki), the first feature by the young director Eva Neyman (born in 1974). This wonderful film is a tragic comedy where the inevitability of death teases the beauty of life. The two heroines play their roles so masterfully that they sometimes overshadow the delicate director’s style in telling a marvelous story of the impact that little (and ever so meaningful) things have on everybody’s life. Marina Politsejmako plays the mother, who from the very first scene captures the audience with her charisma, while her daughter is played by Nina Ruslanova, who continuously creates comic effects with her self-absorbed attitude, which in an inexplicable way relieves the bitter cynicism that dominates the mother-daughter relationship.

The director leads us step by step through her fabulous world, in which the phenomenon of time is one of the crucial factors. Time is not only an indicator of transience, since the story is about two elderly ladies; it also has its deeper ontological significance, as it reminds us of and points us to timelessness. Coherence between seemingly unnoticeable and insignificant details in their lives, the revelation of the deepest emotions that such little things may bring, and time that is formally represented by the river flow and all the people around it, represent the fundamental quality of this film.

This is a story about a day in the life of a 90-year-old mother and her daughter, who have already reached a stage in their lives where their age difference has become practically invisible. On this day the two are visited by a young official who, quite unwittingly, inspires them to feel young once more. But it becomes increasingly clear to them that their right to live has already gone by and altogether they make a ludicrous impression wherever they go. But the story is about the real value and meaning of life, whether it be young and old. Through the eyes of both women we observe what the end of life actually means.

The trip to the lake and boat ride represents the culmination of the story which reveals the mother’s never-ending grief, as well as the peace that she found in the face of her misfortune. Life is great; God is great and should be celebrated in silence. Our heroines are left in tears and in the rain, and this may be the only weakness of this otherwise superb work of art.