Films by Theo Angelopoulos and Fatih Akin: The Balkan Exiles

in 54th Berlinale - Berlin International Film Festival

by Milan Vlajcic

The important film auteurs and potential festival winners of the highest prizes are usually placed in the last days of the official festival programs. Sometimes you find unpleasant surprises there, but in the case of the Greek director and one of classics of New European cinema, Theo Angelopoulos, we saw that the Berlinale and the auteur were on the right track. The greater surprise was the young Turkish director Fatih Akin with his “Head On” (a German production), a violent and funny love story of two Turkish immigrants and losers. This film made a great impact on the festival audience. Both auteurs belong to the Balkan cultural space and despite their films being totally different concerning film language and visual style, they have something in common: the destinies of exiles, and the migrations of individuals and parts of nations, the mixture of cultural traditions and challenges of the modern world.

The Angelopoulos film “Trilogy: The Weeping Meadow” was discreetly expected for last year’s Cannes film festival, then for Venice. But during the shooting Angelopulos changed the initial concept, deciding that film be part of a trilogy (eventuall a tetralogy?), the first part lasting three hours.

As usual with Angelopoulos’ films, there will be controversial opinions, but my feeling is that this new film is a fascinating and amazing work. Using elements of his recognizable poetics (long shots-sequences, sometimes they last almost ten minutes, Brechtian stylization and choreographic (musical) setting of many film scenes, with references to his previous films and classical Greek dramas such as “Seven Against Thebes”), the auteur creates a poetical vision of a tragic history during the 20th century in the south Balkans. With the help of his old collaborators such as the composer Eleni Karaindrou and the director of photography Andreas Sinanos, he begins with the story about a great group of Greeks who escaped from Odessa in 1919, from fear of the Soviet Red army. These people arrive on the Greek shore singing some Russian song and at this new place we follow what happened to them until the end of the Second World War. In the background of village life there are echoes of large historical happenings and changes, told in a slow and highly stylized narration, with the mythic and historical times constantly interchanging. The village lives under some kind of damnation, from time to time they live under the threat of floods. We see that these people live as constant exiles and victims of history. The scenes of huge methaphorical power, mixed with elements of the musical, give this film a hypnotic attraction. Using pictures of great visual beauty and pure cinematic poetry, Angelopoulos creates a universal poetic story about the clash of small joys and Great Mechanism (the expression is by Ian Cott) of history.

On the other side, in the case of “Head On” directed by young Turkish auteur Fatih Akin, we encounter an extraordinary love affair between two immigrants of Turkish origin, living on the edge of a modern German city. The girl Sibel lives under great pressure from her traditional Turkish family, and after an unsuccessful suicide she meets, in the hospital, the charming rocker, drunkard and loser Cahim who almost killed himself driving his car into a wall. Sibel proposes formal marriage to him, just to escape her rigid and archaic family, but he does not take her seriously. Finally, Camil accepts formal marriage, but during the times he noticed a beautiful girl beside him. After many stormy and funny accidents (Cahil spent some time in prison because he accidentaly killed one of Sibel’s admirers), Sibel is back in Istanbul in the second marriage), at the end they are together again, but for how long? It could be only a colourful love story, but the director puts this affair inside the recognizable environment of German and Turkish cities, giving to these surroundings and his characters a very sharp critical comment, with a lot of humour. The naration of this movie is charged with elements of the musical. As in a famous Yugoslav film by Slobodan Sijan “Who is singing there?” we have here a traditional Turkish orchestra with an incredible female singer theatrically placed in front of the Bosfor Gate, and these passionate and sensuous musical numbers are really an ironic comment on the plot.

These two films, together with a very good Ken Loach film “Ae Fond Kiss” were, for me, the peak of the 54th Berlinale.