Culture, Identity, Immigration

in 8th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Gyözö Mátyás

Supposedly it was not by accident that during the 8th Festival del Cinema Europeo in Lecce we could see films which strongly aspired to show the problem of the coexistence of different cultures, their collision and their impacts on each other. These films attempted to represent the problem of immigration, the difficulties with which someone has to face when trying to adapt to a foreign culture, and the ethnic and existential conflicts that newcomers have to undergo when trying to settle in a foreign country.

In Monkeys in Winter (Maimuni prez zimata) by Milena Andonova and Suzanne by Viviane Candas, the question of cultural identity emerged rather as an emphatic sign which drew our attention to the fact that even most of the national cultures – which seem homogeneous on the surface – are fermented by other different cultural effects. But there were four other films which directly focused on the problem of immigration, on the question of cultural and ethnic identity.

Branko Schmidt’s film The Melon Route (Put Lubenica) is a merciless, rough indictment upon human cruelty and misunderstanding. Bosnia as such embodies for the European mind the failure and defeat of trying to solve national conflicts in a humanistic way. It represents the insolubility of antagonistic conflicts which flow into bloodshed and massacre. It always reminds us what could happen if we let animalistic instincts and uncontrolled passions free. Bosnia in itself is, and will be for a long time, a symbolic aspect of the dark side of human nature. If you stage the film’s plot in Bosnia this shadow of meaning will inevitably adhere to the work of art. But the director of The Melon Route goes even further making his film’s message more enigmatic. Because in The Melon Route he describes Bosnia — for what after the war vast majority of European citizens thought of as hell — as a desirable place for some Chinese refugees, a transit station via their destination. But because of the overloaded smuggler’s boat the Chinese people drown in the water, with only one girl managing to stay alive. The film represents how two lonely, humiliated creatures get close to each other among the rude, inhuman conditions of life. The consequences of which Mirko — overstepping his ethnical bindings — avenges his friend’s death and the Chinese girl executes the cruel local mafia members.

It almost seemed as if the director of Warchild (Balkan Blues Trilogy II) would have tried to enlighten this problem from another angle. This film describes the fate of a Bosnian girl who was saved from a Bosnian city during the war when she was just two years old. Many years later her mother learns that she is alive and not only sets off on a search but also ends up finding her daughter who is not her child anymore, but an adolescent girl adopted by a well to do German family. Here arises the Brechtian question: when does the real mother serve her daughter’s interest better, if she wants to restore the original parental condition, or if she lets her grow up in a pleasant new home? The mother will realize that, in this case, Aida-Kristina will gain a new identity and not know anything of her origin at all.

In Trance (Transe) Sonia, a girl from Russia, chooses to flee from home cherishing the illusion of a better new life. Making her journey across Europe she suffers humiliation, degradation, violence and the exploitation of her body. And her story does not even end up with redemption. Trance is a very poetic film about the cruel delusion of our desires.

Probably Riparo tells us the most common story which is strongly characteristic of our contemporary life in Europe. Anis, a young boy from Morocco , hides in the boot of two women’s car to get into Italy. He not only wants to have worked in Europe but, as it is turning out slowly during the story, he would also like to find a family, home, and probably a new identity. The film follows his struggle, his aspirations and how he tries to fit in to a foreign and alien culture and society. Showing up his fate also gives a good opportunity for the director to describe the changing relations of the Italian women-couple as well.

These films are very important examples of how artists in Europe try to think over the problem of immigration, the question of identity, and the relationship between different cultures living closer and closer to each other.