Europe By Fatih Özgüven
Most of the films in the International Competition at the 55th Mannheim-Heidelberg Film Festival had a strong thematic preoccupation with the Europeans, both on the level of the stories of individuals and of more collective tales. Individual fates and adventures on the physical and emotional map of Europe were first and foremost reflected on female characters in search of themselves. The French grandmother in Stolen Holidays (Les petites vacances) and the young Polish wife in It’s Me, Now (Teraz Ja) were curiously alike in their attempt to break free of the social ties. Both were on physical journeys (the former compulsively driving, the other recklessly hitchhiking) which ended on an ambiguous note. While the young wife’s desire to escape the monotony of a dull relationship ended in obscurity if not death, the grandmother discovered that old age is a very constricted state of mind after all. This was also the subject of the Belgian film The Only One (Vidange Perdue), the winner of the award given by the main jury.
Both journeys also reflected the dissatisfaction with the societies the characters lived in. Idyllic mountain hotels in the heart of Europe were as problematic as turbulent and near fatal as was Poland. On the other hand, the protagonist of Stealth (Comme des voleurs), a young Swiss gay who discovers that he may have Polish roots had multiple concerns; that he may be Polish, that he may not be gay, that he may have to do something about this, etc. Therefore, his journey was rather trans-European in character. He embarked on it with his sympathetic sister and crossed several European nations. Stealth, talking about the personal worries of its main hero, humorously asked what that thing called European Union was after all.
It was a kind of ‘Young Werther’ where the character’s heartaches are not all about the heart. Other films reflected doubts regarding the wholesomeness of family — Thicker than Water (Blodbönd) from Iceland, The Art of Crying (Kunsten at graede i kor) from Denmark — or instances of masculine self-doubt in Sons (Sønnen) from Norway or A Summer Day (Un Jour d’été) from France. On the other hand, films from the Balkans were either high-flown or eulogistic about the Balkan-European past in The Secret Book (Tajnata kniga) or optimistic about present survival and coexistence in Tressette — A Story of an Island.
The German comedy Schroeder’s Wonderful World (Schröders wunderbare Welt) was a contemplative fantasy about the proximity of borders, in this case Germany, Poland and the Czech Republic. Is it comfortable for EU-Europeans to be so close to each other? Not necessarily and not always, the film replied, especially when American money intervenes. Among the films which depicted social scenes or little societies by themselves the most inventive was Ines Rabadan’s dreamlike Belhorizon from Belgium (actually filmed in Luxembourg), an exercise in class-conflict à la Luis Buñuel. One class (urban, well-to-do, refined city folk) visited another (rural people running a modest hotel) and seemed to have a mighty jolly time at the others’ expense. But soon the tables were turned by a young peasant girl who knew nothing of the intricacies of the art of flirting. The film tried to point out that classes and the idea of class was still very much be alive in the heart of a unified Europe.