Fog in Hearts and Souls By Maija Line
in 7th Tbilisi International Film Festival
by Maija Line
The Tbilisi International Film Festival turned out to be rather small, held in several halls of the cinema Amirani, where there was also the festival office. But it was a really enjoyable one, because of the friendly and warm atmosphere. Though Georgia has serious problems with Russia lately, this was not felt much at the festival, despite some hints.
The festival offered a diversity of recent world cinema. There were three juries — international, FIPRESCI and a Parajanov jury. As to the International competition, which consisted of nine European films, there were no masterpieces, but were all interesting each in their own way. However, the festival should work harder on the selection of competition films to keep a higher level in the future.
The FIPRESCI award went to the Spanish director Xavier Bermudez’s film Leon and Olvido (León y Olvido), which tells the story of complicated love-hate relationship between orphaned twins — brother and sister, one of which — Leon — has the Downs Syndrome.
Though it should be mentioned that almost all the competition films dealt with the theme of uneasy relationships between people, let me name the Austrian/German film Sleeper (Schläfer), the Polish film The Collector (Komornik), the Hungarian Johanna (Johanna), Belgian/Netherlands’ Someone Else’s Happiness (Een ander zijn Geluk), the German Tough Enough (Knallhart), and the Polish The Perfect Afternoon (Doskonale popoludnie).
I would like to consider in particular the Belgian/Netherlands production Someone Else’s Happiness written and directed by a young director Fien Troch. Why someone else’s? The state of happiness is one of the most essential feelings in a persons being, it is the state we would prefer to be most of our life. Somehow people tend to think that others have something more, something better and are happier. On the other hand, sometimes it occurs that people, who think that they are happy with their life, all of a sudden realize that it is fake, there is nothing, but emptiness. And as it turns out during the course of action there is nobody really happy in the film. The film reveals how difficult it is for people to talk, to show their feelings, express themselves and therefore a lot of things are left unspoken until their burst out some day in one way or other.
The intriguing and compelling drama Someone Else’s Happiness is a case history of twisted relationships set in the atmosphere of a small Belgian town, though this could have happened anywhere. A car hits a little boy on the road. A shop-assistant, Christine, on her way home in a rainy evening, discovers the child’s body in a ditch. She calls the police, but when they arrive the body has already disappeared and they think that Christine has had hallucinations. But Christine’s life is changed since this discovery. The boy’s dead body is found after some days. And it affects almost everybody’s life in a small town. When the news spreads, the town is shocked and terrified.
The search of a killer goes on. The atmosphere in the film is tense and becomes more and more tense. There is even some dose of surrealism as in David Lynch’s films. Anyhow everybody seems directly or indirectly connected with the accident. It knits together the small town people’s lives. The dead boy’s mother works as a charwoman in the Christine’s house, the man whom his family suspects in hitting the boy, lives next door, the policeman, who arrived at her call to the place of accident, happens to be the dead boys father. People start looking suspiciously at others, even at members of their own family. And in this process lots of secrets are revealed.
Therefore in the center of the film there are three families and episodes from their lives change like slides in succession. We see Christine arguing with her separated husband, both calling each other names in the presence of their children, though we do not know the background to the collapse of their relationship. We see how she can not concentrate on her work, she explodes at her husbands phone calls, at her mother’s words, but the arrival of the policeman to the glass store where she is working, agitates her.
Then we see the family of the dead boy, his parents — policeman, his wife and a twin brother. For them this tragedy also turns out in an unexpected way. We see that the father suffers, the mother, too, and also the little boy is seeing his brother in the mirror. But the scene shows, that the parents’ love has gone. Usually such deep emotional experiences weld a family together, but the policeman’s wife together with her son leaves her husband, learning from Christine that he was at the place of accident the night she saw the dead body.
And as we see in the neighbor’s family, there is also estrangement — the wife finds it difficult to explain her husband’s strange behavior, his low spirits. The children suspect that the father has hit the boy. The wife suspects him in being unfaithful to her and starts her own investigation. But at the end they learn that the man is deadly ill with cancer, which explains his strange mood.
On the whole, commonplace misunderstandings combine with others arrogance, emotionless sex and outbursts of evil aggression. And around these three families there are more town people, who are standing, gazing, suspecting others and watching as if they are aware of something we do not know, something that lies beneath.
The director’s emotional investment in her characters as well as the concentration on themes as loneliness and communication problems among characters recalls elements from Northern European films and also contemporary independent American directors like Paul Thomas Anderson. The film, following its characters over some course of time, focuses on the difficulties of true love and relationships, on family and problems in the family. Most of the characters do not speak much and this silence is a powerful tool. The work of the cinematographer combined with the film’s music score helps to create the ominous atmosphere and sense of dread.
Fien Troch’s first film proves that she is a director of talent. Someone Else’s Happiness, which was chosen by Belgium for the Best Foreign Language Academy Award.
The Parajanov prizewinner — Fallen (Krišana) by German director Fred Kelemen, thematically echoes Someone Else’s Happiness. The main hero one night on his way home becomes a witness of a woman falling (jumping?) into a river and this changes his life, he feels guilt for not stopping her and a sense of failure. As he is driven by the feeling of remorse he starts looking for the woman, to make sure if he really has seen her fall. Kelemen received the award for best director.