Is It Easy to Be Imaginative?

in 45th Thessaloniki International Film Festival

by Alexander Yanakiev

The sneaking feeling of repetitions in story-lines and messages of films starts long before you have seen all 180 titles (or however many possible) at the festival in Thessaloniki. Is it because filmmaking today is running out of new, original angles, or because everywhere filmmakers are focusing on the few most important problems of our times? The films in the selection seem to point in both directions.

First comes the cinema of social realism and its followers. Ken Loach used to provoke with this approach in the 1960s and 1970s, to say nothing of the earlier landmarks of neo-realism. Two of the films in the international competition follow in the footsteps of that tradition: Vento di terra (Vincenzo Marra, Italy) and One of the Other (Una de dos, Alejo Hernan Taube, Argentina). The first one tells the story of a young man from a poor family that enrolls in the army where life is not nice. After his service in Kosovo, he falls ill. The second film presents in a more interesting and less moralizing manner the life in a small town during the economic crisis of Argentina in 2002. In addition to the television coverage of the demonstrations in the large cities, the most important thing for the characters in the film is love, here and now.

Two film directors from the Balkans tell us that that they are not optimists. The stories of their characters invariably lead to dead ends. In Delivery (Nikos Panayotopoulos, Greece) a young man from the country does his best to cope with life and find his place in the world by becoming an urban pizza delivery boy. Everything goes fine, though not perfectly fine, until his moped is stolen. Here starts his downfall that will finally lead to his death. The boy from Mirage (Iluzija, Svetozar Ristovsi, Macedonia-Austria) has a literary gift which his teacher tries to develop. On the opposite side is his band of schoolmates, the drunken father and his sister that sleeps with a black man. Evil prevails, and the boy shoots his teacher. I do not support the groundless optimism of social realism but I’m not sure that authors that suggest total pessimism are right. Nevertheless, I must admit that both directors present their ideas quite convincingly. Thematically similar is the film Or (Keren Yedava, Israel-France) but it is realized with much more warmth and humanness. The girl struggles to get her mother out of prostitution and fights for her love. She is not always successful but this doesn’t turn her into a misanthrope.

The brutal side of life is shown in the way girls are forced to take husbands contrary to their wish. In To Take a Wife (Ve lakachta Lecha Isha, Ronit & Shlomi Elkabetz, Israel-France) the decision is taken by the brothers, while in Alemaya (Ilias Yannakakis, Greece), the decision is made by the despotic father. The life of the two women is not happy but they obey the rules of their traditional societies. Love lives in their hearts and their friends from youth still love them. That is probably supposed to be somehow more optimistic.

Yet another parallel can be found between Viva Algeria (Nadir Mokneche, France-Algeria) and Rakushka (Fotini Siskopoulou, Greece), two films that bring together the world of macho violence and the problems of the foreigner in a different culture.

Alexander Yanakiev