Go East, Go South

in 17th Festival of Central and Eastern European Film - goEast, Wiesbaden

by Andrzej Gwozdz

In the promotional trailer of this year’s 17th edition of the Central and Eastern European Film Festival goEast in Wiesbaden, young people are skateboarding towards the sea with the horizon looming behind. We see only their silhouettes, not their faces… Indeed, not only on screen does Central and Eastern Europe still look like a distant continent. Occasionally illuminated by famous names and faces, such as Agnieszka Holland or Márta Mészáros (this year’s festival guests), it continues to be separated by waters of ignorance, prejudice and misconceptions.

The festival in Wiesbaden is there to shorten the distance, or, rather, to invite you to venture in this direction. This year a film from Asian Kyrgyzstan arrived from behind the great water. This, surely due to no ill will on behalf of the organizers, must have happened brought back the memory of the Kyrgyz Soviet Republic: it is the Central and Eastern European Film Festival anyway. One way or another, the youngsters from the trailer ran with the audience extremely far away this year. Nana & Simon’s My Happy Family (CHEMI BEDNIERI OJAKHI) – one of the festival favourites – represented Georgia. At least it is the furthest Eastern European country.

Of the 10 feature films, only two – Kirgizian A Father’s Will (ATANYN KEREEZI) and Hungarian The Citizen (AZ ÁLLAMPOLGÁR) – were not co-produced. All the remaining were a result of international collaboration. Two Czecho-Slovak and one Latvian-Lithuanian paradoxically restore the memory of the old geopolitical structures (Czechoslovakia and the USSR). Actually it is good that former neighbours of political coercion are willing to collaborate now without political pressure.

The Wiesbaden Festival is exceptionally refreshing to our cinematic habits, because the film worlds do not resonate in English or any other Western European language. When the Croatian language is coming from the screen, when we hear Georgian or Romanian dialogues, Latvian or Russian speaking actors – an extraordinary acoustic space opens to our ears. We realize that cinema is alive not only (as it is ennobling to say in Eastern Europe) in the language of the conference. On the contrary, a large part of its wealth – including, obviously, artistic – comes from the melody and sound of that uninhabited Tower of Babel.

Serbian director Bojan Vuletic awarded with the Golden Lily for the Best Film Requiem for Mrs J. (REKVIJEM ZA GOSPOÐU J.) starring Serbian actress Mirjana Karanovic and set in Serbia’s landscape would be here a good example. It is a Serbian-Bulgarian- Macedonian- Russian-French co-production. But it is not really that important, since Vuletic presents a story universal enough to be told in any language. An elderly woman who is going to commit suicide for no apparent reason: just because she leads a rather mundane life without her husband, surrounded by quarrelsome children and a mother-in- law sauntering in the flat. Finally, with no special motivation, the woman changes her mind. But this is not the most important. Requiem for Mrs J. is equally about a waste of life, as it is about the unfriendly world of public institutions the women visits in the days before her planned suicide in order to settle her matters. Yet fate interferes with her plans, complicating her intentions. Jelena Stankovic’s sterile cinematography gives these places almost tangible feeling of coldness and unfriendliness in direct contact. Interestingly, the tragic-comedy overtones determine the beauty of the German-French- Georgian production My Happy Family. The film made by Georgian Nana Ekvtimishvili and German Simon Gross received the International Film Critics Award. A sudden decision of a woman (Ia Shugliashvili) to leave her family and live alone in isolation, away from the noise of a multi-generational home has a clearer psychological background. The woman’s search for the inner self has been effectively thwarted by her loved ones who know better. The acting style of the two central protagonists is particularly striking – restrained, focused on the inexpressible, mimic-gestural rather than dialogic.

The third film firmly rooted in the family history – Quit Staring at my Plate (NE GLEDAJ MI U PIJAT) – was made by Hana Jušic, a debutant from Croatia. It is a story of a young girl, a hospital lab technician, who sees no other way to break with the laziness of her family, but brutal, sexual liberation from the household chores. Jušic has deprived the Croatian coast of its tourist attractions. She shows a neglected and unpleasant land where ugliness and misery dominate. Mia Petricevic, as if absent in the role of the girl, infused the film with sadness and melancholy, without depriving the story of hope for a better future.

The Dalmatian paradise gets disenchanted in Ivan Ramljak’s documentary Islands of forgotten cinemas (KINO OTOK). Quite effectively, as it turned out, since the FIPRESCI Jury awarded it in the documentary film category. Although the director shows only the vistas of the Adriatic degraded by the ruins of cinemas, yet he is able to give his film a taste of a universal meditation on the passing. He does not resort to the fragments of old movies, relying solely on the memories of the interlocutor in voice over, occasionally supported with the soundtrack of archival footage. These memories, however, are already fascinating enough to be a kind of a film within a film. Like the story of the Czechoslovak tourists who died while watching pornographic films…

Pawel Lozinski’s You Have no Idea How Much I Love You (NAWET NIE WIESZ, JAK BARDZO CIE KOCHAM) – a psychodrama between mother and daughter acted out in a smooth arrangement of a Cracovian therapist and psychoanalyst – neither convinced the jurors, nor the spectators. Perhaps a thin line separating the staging from the documentary was too strained therefore confusing the viewers. Russian All Road Lead to Afrin (VSE DOROGI VEDUT V AFRIN) – a debut of 20-year- old Arina Adju – was also disappointing. Still this unpretentious story of a young Russian woman visiting her father in a Syrian city, where he founded a new family, brings authentic account of the war torn country. At the same time it is a painful testimony of the search for author’s identity using the camera in border situations.

Jan Hrebejk’s The Teacher (UCITEL’KA) was received with praise in Wiesbaden. The film, with the Czech sense of reality, shows a teacher – a faithful daughter of a communist party – weaving a network of seemingly innocent parental favours. It creates a trap of dangerous addictions affecting students’ performance that lead to the opposition on the side of some parents. Although the portraits of socialist apparatchiks hanging on the wall have been replaced by Václav Havel’s, but the preventive pedagogue – to enter the privacy of her pupils – starts the new school year with the same question as before: what do your parents do? Adéla Komrzý’s Teaching war (VÝCHOVA K VÁLCE) maintains a similar aura of satire. This Slovakian film unveils the true face of “education for peace” as misplaced ambitions of authorities and all kinds of services sharing pro-war aspirations.

Wiesbaden films also dealt with the issue of refugee and tolerance. As in Anka and Wilhelm Sasnal’s The sun, the sun blinded me (SLONCE, TO SLONCE MNIE OSLEPILO) – a Polish-Swiss coproduction presented it in an annoying and poster-like fashion in a disguise of parable. Roland Vranik’s The citizen touched upon all diapason of emotions: the African emigrant’s efforts to obtain Hungarian nationality, a love affair with a mature woman, providing the shelter for a young Iranian woman with her newborn child has all the hallmarks of a successful melodrama revealing not only the truth about Orbán’s Hungary but the whole of Europe.

The lands behind the great water turn out to be not so distant, because they are within the reach of hand. Praise goEast in Weisbaden for making the world aware of this truth.

Edited by Christina Stojanova