Eye For An Eye

in 13th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Catalin Olaru

At first sight Anna Odell’s The Reunion (Återträffen) doesn’t appear to be much of a revenge movie. In the first segment, we are witness to a 20 year class reunion which the heroine does everything she can to sabotage. Her challenge of the version all her former schoolmates seem to adhere to is more and more fierce, and therefore gets a response that is also more and more violent — in the end, she is hit, wine is thrown in her face, she is taken by force and thrown out of the party. However in the second part of the film it turns out that this was nothing but unreliable narration: the reunion didn’t really take place (not the way Odell depicts it, at least), and it was all just a film-within-a-film that she starts showing her colleagues, who didn’t even bother to invite her at the real reunion. In this second segment, the same scenario is followed: Anna confronts her classmates with a reality they fail to acknowledge, the only surprise stemming, to some extent, from the ending.

One can say Anna Odell’s experiment has therapeutic value, but it is no less true that, with her film, she becomes a bully herself. In it, she can say whatever she wants about her colleagues and there is no way they can defend themselves. From this point of view the film is, in fact, three times a revenge movie. Anna tells her story, then she shows her colleagues’ either unconvincing, or aggressive and therefore all the more blamable probable reaction, but first and foremost the fact that the movie simply exists makes it fit into the category. The ending, with its aerial shot of modern, urban still life, is more pretentious than a tuxedo at a rock concert, yet the fact remains that, 20 years after graduation, Anna finally has the last word in what must have been a great personal victory for the actress, director, artist and person Anna Odell. A shame it fails to provide the setting for a great cinematic victory as well.

I Know What You Did 15 Summers Ago: Honeymoon (Líbánky)

The reason why Jan Hrebejk’s film is such an efficient revenge movie is the fact that it doesn’t only bend the conventions of the genre: it exploits them as well. Throughout the movie we keep waiting for the initial act that later needs to be avenged. Until very late into the movie, we think we know who the baddie is: Benda (Jirí Cerny) is the only one dressed in black, while almost all the other people at the wedding are wearing white. Benda offers to hold the child of a stranger one minute after having met her and is always surrounded later in the movie by children, who are never under the supervision of another adult. At the same time, several guests believe he is a member of the LGBT minority, which makes him not only what they consider to be a pervert, but also a subject of ridicule (at least in their eyes, but Hrebejk surely doesn’t mind if the public agrees). Most importantly, amidst all these families, gay or not gay, Benda is a suspicious character because he arrives alone — outside the good old fashioned couple, there is little, if any, happiness to be found… Finally, late in the night, the orchestra departs, leaving the guests all the more vulnerable, since the wedding takes place in a cabin in the woods near a lake, yet another genre trademark.

In the end, our suspicions are confirmed: Benda really does have a go at Family, something that is sacred in films in general, and in this film in particular, but for the purpose, he doesn’t use a knife shining in the dark of the night, an axe of the length of an utility pole or some other object found in the tool shed, but the revelation of injustice that took place many years before when Benda and Radim (Stanislav Majer) were schoolmates. His attack, all the more vicious because it is of a moral nature, is aimed at the very foundation of Radim and Tereza’s marriage. Yet, the status quo prevails, which is certainly not one and the same thing as a happy end.

No Students Were Harmed In the Making of This Film: Harmony Lessons

Winner of the Silver Berlin Bear for Outstanding Artistic Contribution at the Berlin International Film Festival in 2013, this first project by director, writer and editor Emir Baigazin is surprising both because of its astute observation of the milieu it is dedicated to, that of the students at a country school in Kazakhstan, and for its mistrust of the cognitive and associative capabilities of its audience. After Aslan (Timur Aidaberkov) has a rather unfortunate drink as a result of a vicious prank, glasses repulse him. In an early scene, when the protagonist is eating in the school cafeteria, a nurse carrying a tray full of glasses comes in. There’s no one else in the room, so there’s no way we won’t notice her (which is the safest, and at the same time the laziest choice — Baigazin is not much of a gambler, and doesn’t care much about complicated mise en scène), while the tray carries only glasses, and a lot of them, so there’s no reason to fear we might believe Aslan is regurgitating his food for some other, mysterious reason. Furthermore, it’s a dog eat dog world in Aslan’s village: the stronger kids beat their schoolmates, police officers beat both the strong and the weak, while stronger insects… well, you get the point. Also, when Aslan goes to prison as a murder suspect and his cell mate tells him again about the joy he finds at Happylon, some arcade bar in the city, I found it quite curious that Baigazin refrained from shooting a bright neon-coloured daydream scene. I was soon to be proven wrong: it comes very late into the movie, but the dream sequence is there, all right.

A lot of movie goers remember von Trier’s Antichrist for its speaking fox, so Harmony Lessons should claim its place in movie history for at least two things: the wonderful parts played by the child actors and the white sheep walking on water.

Edited by Sheila Johnston