Burning Cables, Loans and Horoscopes

in 15th goEast - Festival of Central and Eastern European Film

by Ingrid Beerbaum

When the 15th edition of Eastern European Cinema “GoEast” in the Hessian capital Wiesbaden came to its end, it had reached a visitors’ record of 11,400 people. The screenings took place not only in the festival city, but also in the nearby cities of Darmstadt and Frankfurt/Main. This year, 16 films – 10 features and 6 documentaries – fought for attention in the main competition, which showed a wide range of Eastern European filmmaking.

Although the films had a very different style, several topics or images appeared in almost every film in the selection: the most important one seemed to be the lack of money and the huge stress to either make ends meet or at least to keep up the status quo.

In Line of Credit (Kreditis limiti) by Georgian director Salomé Alexi we meet Nino, a woman in her forties who tries to do that. During the Soviet era, she had a privileged life with her family: a big apartment and lots of money to spend abroad to buy gifts. Now, the family has to sell or pawn all the family belongings, including their inheritance and antiques, just to get by and fill one financial hole after another. It is an almost senseless fight, but Nino is telling nobody. Only her sister knows what is going on. That story is told in bright images, which contrast with the hopeless situation of the family, who now has to deal with loan sharks, people they’ve never dealt with in the old days. The film’s open ending leaves no hope for the viewer, who really feels for the main character, who will keep on fighting – because there is no alternative.

The main character Nadezhda of The Lesson (Urok), the feature debut of Bulgarian directors Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov, is also a strong woman who has to struggle with deep financial straits. As a teacher, she tries to set a moral example for the pupils. At home, she is the only driving force in the family, as the husband is a drinking dreamer who only occasionally earns money. Now life is giving her a hard lesson: as it turns out, her husband failed to pay the interest for the family loan, now there are only three days to repay the bank, or they will lose their house. We watch her now hopelessly trying every legal way to obtain the whole sum, until she finally ends up not only in a moral dilemma but has to use the most unusual means to get the money.

Kebab & Horoscope (Kebab i horoskop) by Polish director Grzegorz Jaroszuk tells about two self-made “marketing experts” (a former kebab chef, the other a horoscope writer), monitoring the senseless work in a carpet store, since no one really works there and apparently doesn’t earn money. Nevertheless, they show up every day, sit and wait, discuss their private lives and daily horoscopes, or they simulate activity. The counsellors themselves are no professionals and practically as helpless as their incapable clients. Sooner or later they become part of the desperate team that one has to like in a way. The film also tells about the seemingly meaningless efforts that people make, where in the end they can only rely on themselves and sometimes on each other in a very dark-humoured way with obvious influences of the strange Scandinavian cinema by Aki Kaurismäki or Roy Andersson. It is only befitting that the cinematographer John Magnus Borge is from Norway.

The sad hero Peter (known as Koza, “The Goat”) of Koza by the Slovak director Ivan Ostrochovský also keeps on fighting. He is a former box champion and semi-professional boxer with Roma background. He tries hard to earn money, either by collecting scrap metal or burning cables. His girlfriend is pregnant and he wants to talk her out of an abortion. Despite the doctor’s advice, he risks his life for as a human punching ball every night in the pit. He only gets paid if he loses and is beaten up, for the amusement of the betting crowd. His only real friend is his manager, who really tries to keep professional distance. But in the end, they are both alone and can rely only on each other. That story is told through rough and mainly steady pictures with a mix of professional actors and non-professionals, such as the main character played impressively by the Slovak ex-boser Peter Baláž.

Edited by Birgit Beumers