Gardens, Bushes and Dark Forests By Alexander Yanakiev

in 8th Tbilisi International Film Festival

by Alexander Yanakiev

The Tbilisi festival seemed as if though dedicated to the desert — it opened up with the film awarded at prestigious festivals: Flanders (France, director Bruno Dumont) and Tuya’s Marriage (Tuya de hun shi, China, director Wang Quanan). In the competition program this line was continued by Fata Morgana (Germany, director Simon Gross). But the challenges of the sands or the steppe were exhausted with these films.

The true focus of the competition program became clear later. And those were the kids. But in no way was this a children’s film festival. Some of those kids are quite grown up like the taxi driver Leon from All I Know About Lola (Lo que sé de Lola, France/Spain, director Javier Rebollo) whose life for many years had been dedicated to his everyday preoccupation with his sick mother until her death. Then an object of his observations (almost voyeurism) and dreams becomes his plain neighbor Lola. Leon’s starry moment is when Lola falls in a coma and he looks after her in the hospital, but here I would advise the viewers to see the original — Talk to Her (Hable con ella, 2002, Spain, Pedro Almodóvar).

A Finnish worker who has lost his job becomes a gigolo for old ladies — this was quite a surprising and unusual scenario. If the authors of the film A Man’s Job (Miehen työ, Finland, Aleksi Salmenperä) had some sense of humor, maybe their work would have become more interesting. Now it is deadly serious. And in the framework of this dramatic situation the protagonist does everything with the sole idea of becoming a good father — and this is the connection with the other films.

Just as serious and cold is Magnus (Estonia, Kadri Kõusaar). Magnus has grown up in a family where nobody cares about him. In his early childhood he had barely escaped death and after that he loves being close to it but never to give up. His father tries to pull him out of this game by offering his life a model — a life full of carnal pleasures. But Magnus prefers to stay close to drugs and his extremist behavior up to the moment when he decides that it is time to commit suicide. He announces this before his sister and father and they accept it without any expression or sympathy. This Nordic or Protestant approach to death was quite shocking. Furthermore, it was announced that the film is based on a true story. Suicides and especially those committed by young people pose a real social problem which was discussed in other modern films – for example in Ben X (Belgium, Nic Balthazar). But while the Belgian film has a very direct and moralistic finale, Kadri Kõusaar has turned down the possibility to present her viewpoint more clearly. In this way the film becomes a mere statement on a shocking individual case.

Sexual maturity has always attracted the attention of the authors and the audience. Although there are seemingly many versions, on the other hand they can be limited to a couple of major schemes. One of them is used in Pingpong (Germany, Matthias Luthardt). A teenager who falls in love with an older woman is a popular motive. What is specific in this German film is the rest of the circumstances. Paul’s father has recently committed suicide. Possibly there is something wrong also in regards to his mother. The sixteen-year-old boy looks at his aunt’s family for support. He arrives suddenly at the villa of the family where his cousin — a boy his age — unremittingly rehearses a piano concert. Paul is prepared to repair the abandoned swimming pool in order to show his belonging to the family and house. But soon he is overwhelmed by his aunt and insistently seeks her closeness. The mature woman succumbs to this transitory temptation. But what is for Anna an adventure, for Paul it is a deep and sincere love. Hurt in his innermost feelings Paul seeks revenge and runs away again. The thus presented story has its logic and psychological grounds but does not reach a deeper understanding of the human soul and human relations.

Much more dramatic was the film The Trap (Klopka, Serbia, Germany, Hungary) by Srdan Golubovic. Mladen’s son needs an expensive life-saving operation. The family is in no position to find 26,000 Euros. A man comes forward and promises the sum if Mladen agrees to kill a businessman. He faces a dilemma — to make an attempt at saving his son or to sustain his morale and honesty. The trap in which he is caught turns out to be much crueler and complicated because the person ordering the murder does not pay out while the only person offering to help him is the widow of the businessman. Mladen has to redeem his guilt and suffer the punishment. But his son is saved. Difficult in many respects but with a happy ending. A more recent film seemed like a remake of The Trap – this was the film Irina Palm (Belgium, Luxembourg, UK, Germany, France), directed by Sam Garbarski. It could even be comprehended as a parody. But both works were made almost simultaneously and that is why it is difficult to suppose that there are any influences. The similarities in the story though do suggest the extent to which modern cinema is stripped of fresh ideas. What is even more interesting is that Miki Manojlovic acts in both films.

In Magnus and Pingpong the main protagonist was the young man, while in The Trap and Irina Palm the sick child is just an occasion while the major problems and conflicts take place among the grown-ups. The drama in My Father My Lord (Hofshat kaits, Israel, by director David Volach), concerns both the father and the son. Both take an active part in the film. The rabbi is wholly devoted to the Talmud, its interpretation and the service in the temple. When he notices his son around him he even shows some tenderness and concern. But this happens very rarely. While the child looks at his father with admiration and is ready to sit for hours around his table littered with heavy books and keep silent. And even though the boy now goes to religious school and repeats all day long the holy texts, he also manifests his childish spontaneity and curiosity. The father’s replies are always canonic and peremptory — this is how it is stated in the holy book and it cannot be subject to discussion, reasoning and changes. The canons and rituals wholly rule the life of this ultra-orthodox family. Nothing can break the regulations; even the vacation on the shores of the Dead Sea is wholly subjected to this. But the sensitive child has not comprehended fully these severe rules and takes the liberty of showing his feelings and to take care of small fish. Rapt in his pursuit the kid drowns in the sea while all men and their sons are fulfilling the ritual of prayer. After this terrible misfortune the mother braves herself and scorns the father and even cries but the rabbi scorns her that she cannot cry during shabbat. He is as if though made out of stone and nothing can shake his faith and fanaticism. But behind the façade of orthodoxy the soul of the rabbi obviously goes through some turmoil and his head is full of unspoken questions and insults for the canon. At the end he is in no position to utter his speech before his gathered brothers. He is truly shaken – not just for the loss of his son but because his whole philosophy is broken. The hero’s drama is true and powerful.

David Volach has achieved an impressive effect with this his first film based on material which he is well acquainted with because he has been raised in such an ultra-orthodox family. He does not seek any breath-taking cinematographic effects, just tells a simple story. The excellent performances by the actors manage to bring to the audience the author’s message without imposing it — the religious extremities are contrary to humanism.

Tricks (Sztuczki, Poland, director Andrzej Jakimowski), on the other hand, is a very humane film. Six-year old Stefek is looking for his father and hopes that he will return to his family. The boy has his own magic tricks and believes that he will succeed. Maybe they are not as powerful as those of Harry Potter but are still sufficient enough to support his faith. At the train station of a small town, every day one man changes trains. The little boy thinks that this is his father and starts to play different tricks in order to attract the man’s attention and keep him in the family. This magic seems to be working and he might realize his dream. But we also observe the life his older sister leads — she wants to make arrangements and work in Italy, or travel to see her boyfriend, who repairs old cars there. In general we see the small town in the palm of our hand with a special accent on young people. The story is not subjective even though it is told from the point of view of the boy and his conception of the world leaves a profound imprint on the picture. That is why it is so bright, warm and jovial although there are not many reasons for this. The acting of the young protagonists is exceptional and they manage to express each move of their souls. The film is unostentatiously optimistic. Good prevails. The lead soldiers, the tight fists and all the other tricks succeed. So does the film.

The parallel coexistence of different generations constantly brings up to date their problems and interrelations. There are not always clashes or just guardianship. The picture is much more diverse and complex. The films presented at the 8th Tbilisi International Film Festival showed this and proved it. Due to the festival current I did not have enough time to ask the directors — Nino Anjaparidze and Gaga Chkheidze — did they place so many films connected with the child thematic in the festival program on purpose or whether this was just a coincidence. One way or another Tbilisi ’07 showed in a versatile and multilayered way this theme in modern cinema. We can only be grateful for this.