Brevity is the Soul of Wit

in 22nd Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema

by Jennifer Borrmann

If you try to find a connection among the films of the Short Film Competition of the 22nd Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema – you can’t. The only thing they have in common is their length, or rather, lack of it, which, by the way, doesn’t do them any harm. On the contrary: here, brevity is the soul of wit. Eleven films from eight different Central and Eastern European countries were shown in two ‘Long Night of the Shorts’ programmes in Cottbus. The focus was on young filmmakers. Topics ranged from problematic post-war issues (also a common theme in the Feature Film Competition) to personal and family dramas.

If there was one basic tendency in the Short Film Competition it was the seriousness of the themes. Only two comedies were shown alongside nine very serious and chilling films. ”Try On” (”Pielaikot”) by Aleksandrs Rusevics from Latvia and ”On Wednesdays” (”Treciadieniais)” by Ieva Javaityte from Lithuania both beautifully show women who celebrate their discoveries. ”Try On” centres on a young woman who is working at a railway station when she finds her dream shoes. Though she knows they belong to someone else, she charmingly manages to keep them for herself, even if it means wading through the snow in high heels. ”On Wednesdays” features an elderly woman who treats shopping for everyday groceries as an indulgence; the use of perspective and camera angles make the viewer share in the lady’s pleasure.

The Russian film ”Brotherhood of Men” (”BRATiYA”) by Dmitriy Dyuzhev exposes the viewer to the violent energy within an all-male family consisting of a father and his two sons, who after two years are still trying to cope with the loss of the mother. Another film from Russia (film-wise apparently the most productive country in Eastern Europe), ”Where Does the Sea Flow” (”Kuda techet more?”) by Vitaly Saltykov gives us a subjective and personal insight into the soul of a young woman dealing with her daughter, who was conceived through rape. While the former film made its impression through violence and anger, the latter convinced with its deep tranquility.

The winner of the Short Film Competition was the Polish ”All Soul’s Day” (”Swieto zmarlych”), directed by Aleksandra Terpinska. On ”All Soul’s Day”, the day to remember the dead, Lena celebrates her 18th birthday. Living with her grandmother and brother, she not only remembers her dead mother, but also her father who (she always believed) abandoned their family. It adopts a special perspective on personal loss, but not without a positive outlook on the future. Another birthday girl was the subject of ”Indian Summer” (”Konur kuz”) by Nurlan Abdykadyrov. An old woman, on her birthday, tries to reach her daughter who lives in the city. But in the end, we never set eyes on her. The film offers an intense look at the loss of familiar committed relationships between generations.

The special prize of the Short Film Competition went to ”Home” (”Dom tsah”) by Russian Chechen Ruslan Magomadov, in which a lone man tries to continue with his everyday life in Grozny during the war. The camera accompanies him as he looks for wood, water, gas etc. and its unpretentious approach lets us simply feel the seclusion of the area and the solitude of this man. Everything in this quiet film cries over a loss that cannot be repaired. The director himself has lived in Grozny, where his family’s home was destroyed in the first Chechen War. ”Shkurta”, by Arzana Kraja, deals with war in a different way. Here, we follow a man who tries to prevent children from being killed during the war in Kosovo, but fails. From now on, he will dig graves and make coffins for them. A little girl accompanies him silently. In both films, people are not able to find the words to express their feelings, thoughts, or grief.

All in all, the Short Film Competition this year was rich in every respect, aesthetically and thematically, even as it offered only a glimpse of the potential of Central and Eastern European films.

Edited by Alison Frank