European Stories By Olga Surkova

in 29th Moscow International Film Festival

by Olga Surkova

The 29th Moscow International Film Festival gave us a wide panorama of modern film, with interesting echoing themes, worked out in different cultural traditions.

For instance, Yin Lichuan’s The Park (Gongyuan) tells a psychologically truthful, complex story about the relationship between a modern-thinking young Chinese woman and her traditionalist father. In Eva Neymann’s visually poetic Russian entry At the River (U Reki), two wonderful actresses play out the dramatic relationship of an elderly mother and the middle-aged daughter who’s tended to her all her life, tainting their interactions with an inevitable mixture of love and hate.

Giuseppe Tornatore’s professionally sound, extremely commercial film The Unknown (La Sconuciuta), about the dramatic life of a young Ukraine woman who goes to Italy to make her money as a prostitute, contrasts very clearly with the rough realism of Ulrich Seidl’s non-competition film Import—Export. Here, we also witness the typical life of a Ukraine woman, who is forced to make her living abroad so she can take care of her family. Austria — a clean, neat country — is presented without any consolatory illusions, with its own problems and suffocating unemployment.

The difficult interrelation of “old” and “new” Europe were also illustrated in Angeliki Antoniou’s virtuous Greek film Eduart, with the more prosperous nation proving unwilling to incorporate a young ambitious Albanian, also looking for his happiness across the border, into its environment.

Of great interest to me were two Scandinavian films — Finnish director Aleksi Salmenpera’s A Man’s Job (Miehen Työ) and Erik Clausen’s Danish Temporary Release (Ledsaget Ungang), which deservedly won the Russian critics’ award. But where the Finnish film was filled with the specific atmosphere of the life inside a Finnish village, Temporary Release demonstrated the motionless and endlessly boring life of the working class, as seen through the eyes of their rioting antagonist, who chooses to spend his time as a womanizer, junkie and harmless dreamer as opposed to being a member of this boring society. His short-lived escape to his son’s wedding just confirms his total incompatibility with the sickening so-called “virtuous” life, opening his eyes to the behind-the-scenes success of cynical, modern-day slave traders.

A Man’s Job follows the dead-end life of a Finnish worker and exemplary family man who must struggle to feed his wife and kids when finds himself unemployed. His attempts to support his family lead him into male prostitution. The whole story is acted out by true-to-life Finnish actors in the specific atmosphere of apparent “cold” realms of Finnish life — filled, however, with hidden but very hot dramatic passions.

The festival also nicely diversified its programme with diametrically opposed choices: After the immediacy of Janos Szász’ uncompromisingly Freudian analysis film Opium, for instance, one could watch the elegant French historical comedy Molière, with its wonderful actors.