"Franz + Polina" and "Happy New Life": A Festival of the Individual Style By Kalinka Stoynovska

in 13rd Geneva Festival Tous Ecrans

by Kalinka Stoynovska

The official competition of the Geneva Film Festival presented various individual styles interpreting the great theme of what happens to man in time of war and peace and how and to what extent he is able to solve his existential problems. In my opinion, two films by two debutants get thoroughly below the surface: Franz + Polina by Russian director Mikhail Segal and Happy New Life (Boldog ú élet) by the Hungarian filmmaker Árpád Bogdán. Of course, they do not discover new areas in terms of plot or characters, but both introduce the viewers in their proper world with original standpoint and strong creative energy.

Árpád Bogdán’s Happy New Life looks like a carved cinematographic verse. The film transforms its content in a tragic poem about loneliness, the search for roots and the impossible connection with reality that usually supports man. What’s interesting in this case is that the problem of the young hero, a gypsy, is not social, as in most of the films dedicated to that subject. The young man leaves the house of neglected and socially weak children with proper spiritual luggage — he gets work, a well-appointed self-contained home, he is in constant connection with the school’s pedagogue who sincerely wishes to help him. But the loneliness and the feeling of inner emptiness, as well as his melancholic character determine his manners. He is really hurt by the collapse of his family. He does not remember his father, in his dreams and memories he could not see his mother’s eyes, his childhood has been brutally ruined and there is no way back. The young Hungarian director creates a very expressive and strong vision of that story without any art for art’s pretentiousness. All the cinematographic elements and visual concepts, the music and the rhythm are subordinate to that sense — in a world without past, roots and identification you cannot survive — neither spiritually, nor physically. Thus the hero makes his choice — coming from nowhere, he returns to nowhere…There are no exotic images in the film: no gypsy songs and passions, no picturesque weddings and violent emotions (Kusturica style). There is no love. No perspective, only a gloomy and horrifying human tragedy. The Best Director Award for this film is fully deserved.

In the first work of Mikhail Segal, Franz + Polina, we see the opposite — all is love. Love doomed, destroyed, crushed but true. Love during war time. The world in that film splits as though in two parts. In the first a young German soldier and a frail and nice Byelorussian girl fall in love during the Second World War despite the violence and the tremendous hostility of the period. In the second part begins the annihilation — of houses and villages, of people and animals. Here comes the time of revenge, hate, suffering, cruelty and useless human victims. The time of surviving. And love becomes part of the possibility of surviving. Love does not give up, it triumphs over the circumstances.

The young director Segal had to overcome a great tradition and a huge quantity of films treating the same subject — love and war. Magnificent film interpretations of his great predecessors: Aleksandr Dovzhenko, Mikhail Kalatozov, Grigori Chukhraj, Andrei Tarkovsky, Larisa Shepitko, Elem Klimov … He has also a strong basis in literature — the work of Ales Adamovich, the Byelorussian writer, who passed trough the hell of war. But the director had the courage and talent to enrich and develop further the poetic line followed by so many memorable war films. Visually, as plastic achievement and cinematic rhythm his Franz + Polina is brilliant. That was the reason why the FIPRESCI jury gave his film its award.