Balkan Films Showcase – New and Old Traditions By Maja Dimitrova

in 10th Sofia International Film Festival

by Maja Dimitrova

The Sofia International Film Festival has been able to hold to one of its good traditions for a decade now – the Balkan Films showcase. The majority of the 20-odd films in this year’s programme were productions by young filmmakers. Their more recent films took part into the international competition if they were the first or the second films for the auteur. All of them were eligible to compete for the FIPRESCI – International Critics – Award. And this year’s prize went to the Bulgarian film Lady Zee(Lady Z). The film took the opportunity of not indulging in clichés, but dealt with themes traditional for the region such as human trafficking, the criminal underground, parentless children and the danger of them falling into the prostitution net. Lady Z is a film about love as salvation even after death.

Almost all of the Balkan films deal with intimate feelings. They cover the whole genre spectrum – from thriller to absurd comedy. Seldom is the theme interpreted with such emotional delicacy and devotion than in Kontakt (Contact), the film of the first-time director Sergei Stanojkovski – a Macedonian-German co-production. The film uses love to lighten the harsh reality in which the characters exist.

At the opposite emotional pole, young Balkan directors are tempted by the possibility of entertaining their spectators rather than imposing the gloomy history of the Balkan peninsular upon them. Evidently, the new generation of filmmakers prefers to express the absurdity of the present instead of referring to the bloodstained memory of the past. Notable in this collection of films is Sto Je Muskarac Bez Brkova? (What is a Man Without a Moustache?) with the suggestive presence of the local colour and the charismatic actors’ ensemble. The film could have been in the competition were it not for the fact that this is the third film of the director Hrvoje Hribar from Zagreb. Odgrobadogroba (Gravehopping), a Slovenian–Croatian co-production of the director Jan Cvitkovic, received the prize of the Bulgarian Film Critics’ Guild. The film confirms that black humour is plentiful in the region. A French girl falls with her parachute into the mountains of Bosnia and Herzegovina, finding only a local shepherd with whom she cannot communicate – this is the absurd situation from which Nebo Iznad Krajolika (Skies Above The Landscape), the film by Nenad Djuric, develops into hilarious escapades showcasing the beautiful landscape and local sounds.

In all of these films, the characters are always on the move, looking for the fun among the misery. They are returning from foreign lands or are travelling in the opposite direction. The friendly borders of the new Europe are transforming into insuperable hurdles for the contact between people and their intimate relations. There are similar problems for the characters in the other films from Western Europe, Asia or America, which were included into the competition programme of the Sofia International Film Festival.

Among them was the award-winning French film Doo Wopwhich explores the reflexes of the audience to the myths of the Nouvelle Vague. While the young Western European cineastes indulge in film mythology, their colleagues from the Balkans are launching their own myths into European cinema.