Lust, Corruption By Annika Koppel
goEast — the Festival of Central and Eastern European Film in Wiesbaden — does something very needful: it creates a meeting point for East and West. The festival, already in its 8th edition, has grown into a very enjoyable and interesting event in every sense. Neither too big nor too small. It perfectly suits this beautiful former spa town full of outstanding villas, parks and exclusive cars, bringing into all this a touch of the thrilling incalculable East.
Films from East Europe are generally considered to be gloomy. This is only partly true. Love and other Crimes (Ljubav i drugi zlocini), by Serbian director Stefan Arsenijevic, won the Best Director award for a “finely tuned balance between a depiction of universal psychological problems and specific social problems encountered by Serbs in day-to-day life.” The film depicts one day in New Belgrade during which a lot of things happen to mafia boss Milutin (Fedja Stojanovic) and his followers. His mistress Anica (Anica Dobra) is going to flee and Milutin’s young henchman Stanislav (Vuk Kostic), who has a secret passion for Anica, wants to disclose his feelings at last. But meanwhile many accounts have to be settled. The characters are on one hand cruel mafia members, on the other hand very sensitive and caring people. Milutin loves his daughter who is not in a good health and Anica even puts more money aside for him to steal. Stanislav takes care of his old and senile mother. But they do not hesitate for a second to burn down fellow citizen’s trade stands or kill a rival’s dog. The screenplay is a bit too contrived. The scene where Stanislav goes to Milutin’s former mistress to ask forgiveness for the mafia boss and plants dozens of red roses in the snow in front of her house is redundant. It does not add anything to the story. But the actors are perfect and the harsh story is told with sympathy and visual restraint.
The prize for “artistic originality that creates cultural diversity” went to Eva Neymann from Ukraine for the film At the River (U reki). This is a really beautiful piece which involves a nostalgic boat trip on the river, and an old mother and daughter’s spiteful relationship and complicated life.
Simple things (Prostye veshchi) by Russian Aleksei Popogrebsky, the first solo attempt by one of the directors of Roads to Koktebel (Koktebel), received the Jury’s special mention. Sergei Maslov (Sergei Puskepalis, excellent) works as an anesthetist in a state hospital in St. Petersburg. He has to manage on a low salary, living in small common apartment with his estranged wife, who suddenly gets pregnant; their daughter has left home and has been seen on the street with some guys. The lifestyle in Russia is seen as not very relaxing: drinking and driving at the same time, urinating on the streets just like dogs and corrupted authorities are the normal part of the everyday life. But still there are simple things: friends and family, and even strangers can be helpful. Sergei is neither a hero nor anti-hero, he is just a common man who is trying to cope with his life, overcoming some critical hurdles. But he is not as macho as men in Russian films are usually depicted, for example the protagonists of Andrei Zvyagintsev’s films The Return (Vozrashcheniye) and The Banishment (Izgnanie), he is a doctor — intelligent and women here are not passive but brave decision-makers. Simple Things tells a simple story poignantly and excitingly in muted tones and small gestures. East and West are not so different in Europe, crimes, nostalgia and corruption might be subjects everywhere.