Constant Continuity of Discontinuity

in 38th Molodist International Film Festival

by Dimitar Kabaivanov

Any attempt to define the current situation in the post-socialist countries of Europe with some consistency and logic, and in light of what is commonly described as Modernity, seems generally unconvincing. The views on that development are typically brought to bear on the side of inconsistency than on some form of traditional logic (if any). Modernity is perceived as incomplete or even unrealized tendency, and continuity is regarded as a mosaic of coexistent time fragments that fall or are arranged into patterns according to the unpredictable whims of a usually paranoic mind.              

And yet the cinema of these countries seeks to present at least a partial, if not complete, picture of life. We had the opportunity to see four such attempts at the Molodist-2008 festival:            

Huddersfield / Hadersfild 2007 (Serbia)  Ivan Zivkovic      
Shultes 2008 (Russia)  Bakur Bakuradze        
Snow / Snijeg 2008 (Bosnia and Herzegovina, Germany, France, Iran)  Aida Begic
The Investigator / A Nyomozó 2008 (Hungary)  Attila Gigor      

What characterizes all four films is that they scrutinize changes and phenomena of national significance through the prism of a family history or the life of a single person. And the way out of the lethal reality is always located someplace else. Interestingly, in two of the films, The Investigator and Snow, the coveted “Promised Land” is Sweden – it is to Sweden that one of the widows from the war-ravaged village wants to move to join an ex-lover that has long since forgotten her (Snow). And it is in Sweden that the model clinic where forensic pathologist Tibor wants to send his dying mother is located  (The Investigator). And to achieve that, the characters are ready to sell everything – their property and their souls. Of course, the dream remains unattainable, its absurdity matching the overall absurdity of existence in the region, where any attempt to follow some kind of logic (in terms of causes, effects and results) fails. That is why the young directors do their best to arrange the mosaic of temporal fragments and plot lines in a coherent fashion, following a single direction and tracing the development of regional modernity in compliance with the postulates of traditional logic – a task that is not only ambitious, but also difficult. Here I want to note especially the work of Attila Gigor, also author of the script, who manages to “fit” his story into a film noir genre formula, garnished with quite a few corpses. But that does not prevent us from getting a notion of a reality where concepts such as morality and traditional values have lost their meaning.              

It is interesting to note that the other debutant, Aida Begic, has also scripted her film. By following the community of women in the village of Slavno and their monotonous struggle for survival, the film reflects in a nut-shell life in present-day Bosnia, where time moves not according to some general rules, but along a vector of its own. And perhaps the most interesting fact is that both films have a happy ending of sorts.                

What unites the other two films (Huddersfield and Shultes) is the way they mix reality and fiction, at times completely obliterating the dividing line between the two, mirroring the schizophrenic situation (typical of the region), where the individual is unable to clearly define and situate oneself in one’s environment. That is what happens to 30-year old Raša (Huddersfield), who passively vegetates in a small Serbian town, assuming the pose of an angry intellectual that does nothing, and to 25-year-old Lyosha (Shultes), a marginalized ex-sportsman turned criminal whose only links to the past are his sick mother and his younger brother serving in the army. Everything else is, to him, void of substance and human presence. His drama is played out against the grim background of the outlying districts of the big city where he roams, perhaps in search of his lost Self. In both films, an attempt is made to think about the past in terms of existential support (or the lack thereof) for the present.              

Post-socialist Europe today suffers from an endemic lack of a shared statehood formula, of an ideological doctrine, social and personal ethics, and this collage-like disintegration is obviously present in all spheres, including cinema. In cinema it morphs into a stylistic device, combined with post-modern techniques of play and mystification, of intertwining “Self” with the “Other”, of reality and fiction. And this is perceived most clearly in the change of accents and meaningful implications in these debut films, attempting to examine everyday life from different angles. And the problems they treat – no matter whether by scrutinizing several spheres of human existence or a claustrophobically closed microcosm of a single human being – are problems of survival. Human life is worth less and less nowadays and, unlike raw materials and object yielding a tangible evaluation, nobody seems to be willing to take into account the true human value of knowledge and labor. Abandoned, sliding from one stressful situation into another, the individual from the post-socialist era is infinitely and dramatically “free”. There are no universal moral norms and values that cannot be violated. Therefore s/he must forge a personal survival strategy and protect oneself and one’s relatives from depersonalization and inward erosion by judging, punishing and perfecting oneself.  

Edited by Christina Stojanova