Films on Relationships: Fathers and Sons By Tonci Valentic

in 23rd Warsaw International Film Festival

by Tonci Valentic

“Films are not made for festivals but for the audience,” asserted one of the organizers of the 23rd Warsaw International Film Festival. And indeed, this statement proved accurate during the screenings, where festival audiences had an opportunity to enjoy almost two hundred films, most of them in competition for several prizes. The Warsaw festival is predominately focused on Eastern and Central European cinema, presenting new movies, trends and directors from the region. In that sense it differs from other festivals which tend to concentrate on only one subject, such as conventional narrative features, documentaries or a particular artistic approach. With that in mind, there were no surprises: the main aim of the festival is to foster new artistic initiatives and to present current directions of Eastern European cinema, rather than to advocate certain politics that might exclude movies which do not fit into the given aesthetical framework.

Since there is no common political, social or aesthetic viewpoint, it is hard to find one unique characteristic of the movies shown in the competition. However, there were some movies that stood out — demonstrating creative aesthetic innovation, social relevance and artistic performance — and were thus worth noting. At least three of them deal with the same issue: Father-son relationship. Ognjen Svilicic’s Armin presents the story of a 14-year-old boy who sets off with his father from their small Bosnian town to Zagreb to audition for a movie. His father sees it as their only opportunity to earn some money and make them happier and financially secure, due to his family’s poor living conditions in the depressive atmosphere of post-war Bosnia. Combining documentary realism and humorous elements, director Ognjen Svilicic nicely and neatly develops the story in a very succinct way, relying mostly on the outstanding performances of his actors. Oscillating between subtle comedy and understated tragedy, the movie transcends social context and transforms into a warm, universal story about relationships between fathers and sons.

Andrzej Jakimowski’s Tricks (Sztuczki) also turns on a story about childhood and father-son interaction. Young Stefek grows up in a dysfunctional family, his father having left his mother for another woman. Stefek uses different tricks in order to bring his father back in the family. Living in a small Polish town and in a poor family, Stefek’s sister is eager to succeed and to find a career to avoid spending the rest of her life as a waitress, also neglecting the youngster who desperately needs family love and care. Though it might look like a conventional story, Tricks is by no means a conventional movie: With its humorous screenplay, beautiful photography, very good performances and dynamic editing, it strikes the audience with its rich emotion and outstanding charm, depicting childhood in a melancholic and pensive way which — as in the case of Armin — holds universal relevance.

The third father-son movie is the Estonian drama Magnus, directed by Kadri Kõusaar. Growing up with an egotistical, hedonistic father and a mother who most likely works as a prostitute, Magnus never had the opportunity to feel parental love. Struggling with a potentially fatal illness, he’s considered suicide since childhood, and finally decides to do it at the moment his father’s consciousness finally awakens. The social relevance and controversy of the movie relies on the fact that it was inspired by true events — and that the main character is actually the real father whose son committed suicide.The major characteristic of the movie is neither visual beauty nor its production quality, but rather its disturbing story about coldness of society and its pessimistic vision of family life.

All three movies mentioned above deal with the same issues and subjects, but derive their aesthetic visions and artistic performances from completely different perspectives, which is what makes them so interesting. Those varied approaches reflect not only the directors’ preferences and attitudes: They are the products of dissimilar societies, and thus represent cultural differences by questioning the socially relevant issues positioned behind them.