Closed off, Locked in

in 48th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Mike Naafs

When does a social encounter become an intrusion? A lot of films in the official programme of this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival dealed with intruders, which from a dramatic point of view is understandable: One needs something to disrupt the order, otherwise one can’t have drama. The order being: A perfectly happy life.

In the Czech film Honeymoon (Libanky) the order is the epiphany of a perfectly happy life, namely the day of your greatest joy. But unfortunately some glasses get broken and the broom has to visit a nearby optician to fix it. And that is the moment when the intrusion starts. The shopowner is a ghost from the past, and he will haunt the groom, invade him, for the rest of the day. Until all is revealed and everything has changed…

Intrusions usually have a disastrous effect in films. In Papusza, the first ever film spoken in Roma language, the intruder is a none-Gypsy, who lives with them for two years, and then becomes a literary agent who also wants to write a book. So he decides to ‘give the gypsies a history’, thereby revealing all their secrets, destroying their wanderness, resulting in being an outcast forever. Intrusions by outcasts.

In the Greek September a young woman lives with her dog Manu, works for IKEA and… nothing else. When the dog dies, she starts to intrude on the lives of Sofia and Stanthis, beginning by burying the dog in their garden. While Stanthis is quickly annoyed by her, Sofia sees a lonely woman and tries to deal with the social encounters by sympathizing. The result is discomforting. As a viewer you feel the awkwardness of Anna’s presence in this family. She is out of place, but doesn’t want to realise it.

And then there is blue coated Lena, in Yusup Razykovs FIPRESCI prize winner Shame (Styd). Also out of place in the Northern peninsula of Russia, but on a whole different level. Her intrusion is much more complicated. She only married her husband a month ago, so as a newlywed she doesn’t quite fit in the community of naval wives, who are trying to cope with the disaster of a submarine full of their husbands, lying on the bottom of the ocean. On first glance, Lena doesn’t seem to care too much about the tragedy. She drives around town in her new car, which she calls her castle, screws a fisherman and looks overall cold and aloof of the dramatic situation that arises. Even roses, offered to her every day on the instructions of her husband, can’t make her smile. Lena seems to be having problems of her own.

By creating such a chararcter, Razykov deliberately chooses to use the Kursk submarine drama — on which the film is loosely based — only as a backdrop. It would have been so much easier to just follow someone amidst the tragedy, coping with their grieve and mourning; but by creating Lena, the director has done something much more complex, in more or less the same way as Aleksandr Mindadze did with the Chernobyl accident in Innocent Saturday. The locked-up situation of the men in the submarine is penetrating every scene in the film, and its soundtrack. In one way or another, everyone is locked-up and secluded: There is a dog who keeps on crying because his boss hasn’t returned, there is a young woman who can’t cope anymore and kills herself and her two children in the closed off environment of a fume-filled garage and there are fishes in a tank, just waiting to be caught.

And amidst all of this is blue-coated Lena herself, standing out against a white background. She, as later is revealed, came from a locked-up situation herself, before coming to the peninsula, taking care of her sick mother for four years in a St Petersburg apartment. She initially can’t share the grief of the community, because she has grieved enough. She can’t give any sympathy, because she has given enough. That’s why her arrival and behaviour seems so alien to the villagers, that’s why she is called a bitch and an outcast and that’s why every social encounter for her, becomes an intrusion.

Edited by Richard Mowe