Family Traumas

in 45th Karlovy Vary Film Festival

by Jan Foll

Several films screened in this year’s Official Selection at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival showed the fall of traditional family structures. The films pointed to one of the central problems of both traditional and post-communist consumer societies where advertising enjoyments, financial profit and maximum efficiency are crucial. The films described in this article also note that happiness and harmony go hand in hand with dealing with one’s aging and the ability to handle tricky temptations.

Polish director Pawel Sala found inspiration for his film debut Mother Theresa of Cats in a true event. The film starts with police action taken against two youngsters and the whole plot, which could be described as para-documental anamnesis, is told from its very end. Two brothers — Arthur and Martin — killed their mother and hid her body in a closet in their room. The director focuses on the growing family exertion which resulted in this brutal crime. An important character in the story is the rutted twenty-two-year-old Arthur who experiments with psychotronics. The film doesn’t answer the question whether he truly has paranormal abilities (which sometimes enable him to see the future) or if he only suggests these extraordinary powers. The film portrays Arthur as the evil demon who disqualifies his authoritative father from a normal family life; raises fear in his devoted mother; totally manipulates his younger brother.

“I personally believe that in many families a symbolic murder of one of the parents takes place, even though it of course does not lead to physical destruction. In my film, murder is a symbol of something worse, something invisible”, said the director. The film, which allows many interpretations, speaks of the fall of Christian mercy which is based on the respect towards weaker ones (including animals). It warns against the horrific effects of the cult of psychic and physical forces against presumptive ‘enemies’ and ‘trespassers’. The protagonists Mateusz Kosciukiewicz and Filip Garbacz were awarded for their acting performances here.

Just Between Us is a bitter comedy which was shot by Rajko Grlic in a Croatian-Serbian-Slovenian co-production; the film is set around erotic exploits in contemporary Zagreb. The main characters of this Woody Allen-like mosaic, shot in the typically Balkan sensuous rhythm, are two married couples trapped in delusions and sexual affairs. Wealthy Nicola, whose young wife wishes for a baby, has a stable lover who he visits by claiming he is going on business trips. The wife of Nicolas’ plebeian brother Braco sustains a young lover and because of him defrauds money. In the end we get to know that the children (Marta’s teenage daughter and the artificially conceived new born) have different fathers and that the brothers simply switched.

This sharp kaleidoscope, recipient of the Best Director Award given by the Grand Jury, is a collective portrait of protagonists living the world of ‘deluxe love fair’ where traditional family ties are replaced by the attempt to live the life to its’ best. Both men and women eagerly show one another that they’re not aging yet. The director points to the fact that they tend to hurt their closest relatives, often the more liable ones.

The Spanish film The Mosquito Net featured in this year’s Official Selection and was awarded the Crystal Globe. It portrays the story of a middle-aged woman who finds herself a young lover not much older than her juvenile son. It is her way of dealing with the growing family vacancy which is the cause of misunderstandings with her husband. He on the other hand is interested in their exotic servant whose goodwill he buys for money, putting her in the position of a prostitute… A drama with satiric fragments, which was shot by Catalan director Augustí Vila (also the author of the script), it speaks about failing communication and of failing parenthood, partnership and teenage roles in society; abnormal relationships penetrate not only through the family of three but also other family members. The younger sister of the mother physically brutalizes her daughter, claiming she is doing so to teach her obedience. The cankered parents of the rutted father (his mother played by Geraldine Chaplin suffers from Alzheimer’s disease) don’t really communicate with their close ones anymore at all.

Eloquently symbolic is the closing scene referencing the famous parable by Buñuel — The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie (1972). The protagonists of this inconsistent mosaic meet at a dinner and don’t react to the unknown visitor ringing the doorbell… That crowns their estrangement and liberated imprisonment under the imaginary mosquito net… “Some misunderstandings lead to tragedies. One mother raises her son as if he was a baby. Her sister treats her baby girl as if she was an adult. The father expresses his feelings only through money because he cannot do better. The son unreasonably loves his home pets. Little love is as bad as too much love” says the director about the winning film.