Conflict and the Family

in 46th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Alberto Castellano

The 46th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival showed a large number of films sharing a common theme, which has become something of a cultural trend in contemporary cinema — that of the generational conflict between parents and children as a source of universal embarrassment the world over.

The official competition alone featured a few films from different countries, which treated aspects of this theme, in light of the difficulty of communication in disintegrated families. And we find exemplary narrative patterns in works that are far from excellent on stylistic and formal level. In the Russian Bedouin, for example, we witness the odyssey of an Ukrainian woman in search of a large sum of money to pay for her daughter’s leukaemia treatments. The melodrama here is also a pretext for a realistic look at modern Russia. The protagonist of the Israeli Restoration (Boker tov adon Fidelman), is an antique furniture restorer who faces hard time after the death of his partner, complicated by the problematic relationship with his son. The film is also a psychological study about characters in contemporary Israeli society. The Czech/Slovak Gypsy (Cigán) tells the story of the 14-year-old Adam who, after his father’s death, is forced to take over his responsibility as head of the family. A problem, typically affecting adolescents from poor background who, like Adam, support their families at the cost of personal sacrifice. Similarly, the young hero of the Polish film Heritage (Ksiestwo) gets in trouble when, despite of his determination to escape from his father and the little village where he comes from, the boy is expelled from the law school and remains without money.

A similar issue is tackled from a quite different angle in the Spanish film Don’t Be Afraid (No tengas miedo), where the director asks the candid question whether Silvia’s father is a monster. After the separation of her parents, the child lives with the father who often abuses her till Silvia tries to claim back her life as an adult woman. The Canadian film Romeo Eleven (Roméo Onze), on the other hand, is a dramatic portrait of a young man, living with a severe handicap after losing both of his legs in early childhood. In edition to his hard life, he has to cope with his father’s expectations and the indifference of relatives and friends. The only alternative for him is the identity he creates for himself on internet. This is where he could find a pause between the pangs of his physical affliction and social exclusion.

Exemplary for the analysis of the family microcosm with its divisions and cruelties is the Russian film Elena, presented in the section Horizons, and winner of the Special Jury Prize at last Festival of Cannes programme Un Certain Regard. The eponymous heroine of this drama is a victim of the social contradictions in contemporary Russian society. She is a timid, submissive woman of humble origins with a son, re-married to a rich man with a daughter, who lives separately. When her husband dies, Elena does not hesitate to hide his will in order to get the whole inheritance and guarantee the future of her son and grandson who struggle in poverty.