Children from Nowhere By Salome Kikaleishvili
“I would like to return cinematography to its starting point when it used to reflect the real life”
They sit face to face — the 12 years-old girl and the doctor of the children’s shelter. The camera zooms in on the girl’s face.
— You are not lying to me, are you?
— No, I just went to the sea-side. It was just once. I went away secretly.
— With whom did you go?
— Pinocchio, Alex and me.
— Where are they now?
— They are grounded.
— Yes, but where?
— People grounded them, they locked them up somewhere.
— Don’t you want to be there with them?
— Where do you want to be then?
— I don’t know.
— You should want to be somewhere.
— Yes, probably where we live.
— Where is that?
— Somewhere at home…
This is the episode from the interview that I heard in the film of Hungarian director Csaba Bollok´s Iska´s Journey (Iszka utazasa). I thought it was one of the most honest dialogues between an adult and a little girl that I’ve ever heard from the movie screen. Due to its honesty, this is also the strongest episode in the film. From my perspective, this dialogue was worthy of a whole film; Iska´s Journey certainly left a huge mark on the viewers of the International Film Festival Festroia.
This is a film based on a true story and the true heroes of this story play the roles of themselves. They play and they show us all the little things that their life consists of; their real everyday life. Maybe this is the reason why you get a feeling that this is a documentary-feature film; the reason why you get a feeling that you are actually peering at somebody’s life from a secret hidden corner. This is a story that could happen anywhere. This is a story that astonishes you with its honesty and realism. This is a story that will impress you with its dramatics like no other film ever. In this story the ugly humans and their grey reality make one whole as if engulfing you too in its merciless whirl-pool; in the river of harsh, unpolished life.
It’s morning. It’s quite cold out. In the background of a sad and grey sky, the hills of garbage are erected everywhere. And there, in this trashy heap, surrounding children – all in mud and dirt – are walking watchfully, taking each step carefully, and while looking for scrap metal they are attentively searching and examining the hills of garbage here and there. This is an everyday morning ritual for Iska. Every morning along with her younger sister she comes here and with other children is searching the scrap metal that she will be paid for. With her little hands she is examining the garbage hills attentively. Iska is a 12 to13-year-old girl; however for a viewer it is hard to tell if she is a girl or a boy. Short hair, dressed badly, all in mud and dirt, with boy’s manners… With her little cart she carries the scrap metal everyday and whenever she gets money for it, she is supposed to take it home and give everything to her parents. But we said home, right? Home? Is this home, really? This little dirty hut where her parents – tired with waiting for money – are living? Their only problem is to buy alcohol on time and if no… Only Iska knows how harsh mother can be while beating her, if Iska comes back with no money. That’s why she’d be better sleeping somewhere else, wherever she finds a little spot – at the factory or even at the garbage site. She puts her oversize coat on, curls up her worn-out legs and sleeps peacefully. She even feeds herself there in the factory. She goes through the rows of cafeteria tables where the workers are eating and she is asking each of them separately: “Are you done? May I take your plate?”…
The adults confiscated childhood from Iska and the others. They are children from nowhere, and you can see smiles on their faces only when Iska and her younger sister will find themselves in the homeless children’s shelter. This is the place where no one asks them if they earned enough money for that day; the place where no one asks them if they brought vodka back home or not… In the shelter the girls start a totally new life – at least for a short period of time. In the shelter they start to play games: they lie on the chairs and learn how to swim. Then they go down on their knees and walk about rooms as if they are diving. The girls do their doll’s hair and have the happiest faces while doing this. And at night when Iska goes to sleep, her face reflects the rain drops from the opened window. This pure rain washes off all the pain and dirt from the face of a sleepy girl. But Iska doesn’t believe in humans anymore. That’s why she goes to the shelter’s personnel angrily: “and how much are you paid for taking care of me? You are paid for doing this and if not, you wouldn’t…” It’s just unbelievable for her that humans can care for each other without money, that they can sincerely love each other.
Iska is happy when she finds herself at the market along with her friend; when she eats stolen grapes and a piece of bread and when she plans to secretly run to the sea. She had never been to sea, but it had always been in her thoughts. Sea – as a great symbol of freedom – will shelter Iska in its endless waves, in its grasp and limitless space. And Iska – hoping for better days – sits in a car heading towards the station. There in the train her friend from shelter is waiting for her and of course the sea also – Iska’s dream that never came true… Instead of the sea-side she found herself in the huge machine of under-age girls’ prostitution… She stands there watching with eyes wide-open how some men are raping a girl that she had just got to know. That’s where the movie ends and where Iska’s true journey starts. This is a journey in a painful world that has no borders, where no place is left for childhood. This is a journey that no one knows where and how will end…
As a first impression the viewer might say that there is nothing new in this film. In the history of cinematography there are dozens of films with similar plot outlines. There are dozens of films about a homeless girl that is drawn into trafficking. The subject itself is already very dramatic, but it is a great work by a director who is free from filming false and exaggerated emotions. The director focuses solely on his little hero and with minimal use of music and along with close captures of the subjects, as if peering at their actions – he tells a story brilliantly.
This film – standing very close to the documentary genre – will probably make you think of the film The Passion of Joan of Arc by well-known Danish director Carl Theodor Dreyer. Both films are dramas constructed solely with huge silence and close captures of subjects. That’s why both of the films make me think of Dryer’s phrase: “A human being can only explore his own self in the total silence”. These words suit the story of Iska quite well. With each of the homeless children from the movie, a viewer thinks of his own self, since Iska is not alone in this universe; since there are lots of Iska’s in our reality; and since the director’s point of view is quite clear in the film and in real life also: As soon as the film-shooting was over, Csaba Bollok adopted one of the homeless girls…
This film is loaded with messages towards the public, with symbols and quotes. The viewer can read and feel them in every other sequence. That is why, when the film is over we, the viewers, continue our journey along with Iska. That’s why we are trying to find answers to questions that the director raises in the very opening episode: Where did we – human beings – lose our human, noble nature and the feeling of love? Did we truly lose the ability to love others? Has our universe truly become so merciless?