Honey & Blood Cinema: a Testimony for the Balkans’ War Injuries
by Shahla Nahid
The fratricidal wars of the former Yugoslavia or the “third Balkan” war in the 1990s have been over since the end of this decade, but the invisible wounds they have caused still remain. This is very tangible through the films shown at the 9th edition of the Prishtina International Film Festival, PriFest. The festival’s “Honey & Blood” section, devoted to films produced in the Balkans, testifies to this.
Unwanted (T’padashtum), by Edon Rizvajolli from Kosovo, is a good example to illustrate this. In Unwanted, Zana, a war refugee from Kosovo, lives in Amsterdam with his troublemaker son, Alban. A nascent love affair begins between Alban and a girl from a Serbian family who was also born and brought up in Holland since the war. Although Alban is accepted by the girl’s parents, the kids’ relationship opens up the old wounds caused by the violence the mother endured in the past. Zana returns to the homeland to attend his mother’s funeral and receives an inhospitable reception from his father, one which brings the young man answers he had been looking for regarding his birth and his father for a very long time.
In A comedy of Tears (Një komedi lotësh), by Marko Sosic from Slovenia, the filmmaker employs small touches to display the latent tension between ethnic groups in the region and the persistence of the past.
In addition to the emerging theme of the wounds of the past revealing itself in many films coming from around the world, many films coming from the Balkan region also deal with corruption, abuse of weakness, loss of hope, and above all moral principles.
Apart from Amok, the excellent film by Vardan Tozija from Macedonia, one should mention that films in the Honey & Blood selection, although not equal in their accomplishments, benefited from a promising future for the cinema of small Balkan countries.
With Amok, Tozija took a new approach of screen violence, and in doing so displays how violence engenders violence, whether it is produced by corruption or vice. The main character was perfectly played by Martin Gjorgoski, who corresponded physically in an astonishing way with the character. He was one of the most important assets of the film. In Amok, we are witnessing the seizure of power by a group of outcasts and thugs with no sympathy for those they replace.
This group becomes a symbol for a silent majority against the powerful. All idealists lose their hopes and become “allies” of the avengers. This is how the anti-heroes make a remarkable place for themselves within the film. Amok also makes very good use of the camera, locations, and music. That’s why this film won unanimously the FIPRESCI prize.
Two other striking films: Godless (Bezbog), by Ralitza Petrova from Bulgaria, as well as Requiem for Mrs. J (Rekvijem za Gospodju J.), should be mentioned for their minimalist yet extremely effective cinematographic approach. These films train the viewer in the daily practices of corruption, the absurdity of bureaucracy, the loss of moral principles, and loneliness.
In Godless we witness the failure of society to defend its weak against those who take advantage of the poor. With this film, Bulgarian cinema shows very good potential for the future of the cinema in the Balkans.
The story takes place in a remote Bulgarian town. Gana, a loveless nurse, looks after elders with dementia while trafficking their ID cards on the black market. Her relationship with her jobless mother evokes polar coldness. It is no better with her boyfriend, a garage mechanic. Nothing seems to have effect on her conscience, even the murder of a patient. But a growing empathy for an old man who exposes her to the world of music, gives rise to new stirrings of morality. Yet the price of valuing life and decency appears too high.
This film comes right after another strong hit, Directions (Posoki), by Stephan Komandarev. The film’s six narratives, which take place in a taxi, provide a critical portrait of present-day Bulgarian society. The film was featured in the “Un Certain regard” section in Cannes 2017.
With Requiem for Mrs. J (Rekvijem za gospodju J.), by Bojan Vuletic from Serbia, we discover the full dimension of loneliness as it affects societies built on the rubble of the collectivist societies of the past.
Mrs. J, a middle-aged woman whose husband passed away a year ago, and is now in a deep depression. She lives in an apartment with her two daughters, her husband’s mother and her eldest daughter’s boyfriend. Her search for ways to put an end to her life leads us through a series of absurd situations, in a Kafkaesque bureaucracy reminiscent of the Communist past. This heavy atmosphere is cleverly lightened now and then by peculiar scenes that make us smile. The bright, upbeat final, far from a disgraceful cliché, manages to partly remove this cumbersome atmosphere and affirms the value of being alive.
Croatia, with two films in competition, Goran by Nevio Marasivuc and Quit Staring at My Plate (Ne gledaj mi u pijat) by Hana Jusic, brought the same reflection on social failures. The two Turkish films, Ember (Kor) by Zeki Demirkubuz, and Snow (Kar) by Emre Erdogdu, insisted on the evils of Turkish society through the daily life of a band of aimless young drug addicts as well as questions of honor and the relationships between men and women.
PriFest has set as its mission the opening of doors of for welcoming different cultures to Kosovo through cinema, as well as providing a showcase to the Balkan region’s filmmaking. We can say that the festival succeeded by letting a rich variety of cinema flow again through Honey & Blood section. PriFest aimed to bring the best of the world’s cinema to Prishtina and Kosovo audiences could shift this mission. Now is the time to find ways to attract audiences to films other than those offered by the TV and the box office.
Edited by Michael Sicinski
© FIPRESCI 2017
PHD in social psychology with a thesis on the impact of images, journalist and film critic at RFI, Radio France International, since 1991, Shahla NAHID has been covering many national and international film festivals as film critic, specialist of Iranian cinema or jury member. For example, Moscow international film festival in 1999 and FIPRESCI jury in Cannes 2006 and in 2011. She is responsible of a weekly radio magazine on culture named “Silk Road” which is mainly focused on cinema.