Is Kyiv the New Berlin?

in 50th Molodist Kyiv International Film Festival

by Raúl Reis

I am borrowing this statement from David Bonneville, the Portuguese filmmaker whose film was in competition at the Molodist Film Festival in Kyiv. Bonneville was impressed by the amazing cultural scene in Ukraine’s capital city and by its vibrant people.

“Kyiv is definitely the new Berlin,” he said at the awards evening, extremely happy for having participated in the biggest festival in Ukraine and, maybe, the biggest in Central and Eastern Europe. Even if David Bonneville went home empty-handed in terms of prizes, as his feature film The Last Bath (O Último Banho, 2020) wasn’t on the winners list, his heart was full of joy. The joy of discovering a new city, an unknown cultural scene and “plenty of amazing people.”

The Portuguese film is a good example of the mindset of most of the movies presented at Molodist and, for sure, in regard to the winners: Bonneville refuses to judge his characters.

The films in competition show a strong “mal de vivre,” but they never choose a side on opposing moral stances. The selection was also rich in scripts putting us on the edge, taking the audience to extreme and unusual situations. Even if many of those features were shot before the pandemic, they are – in a prophetic way – showing us that there is trouble ahead for the inhabitants of this Earth.

Celts (Kelti, 2021), by Milica Tomović, the film chosen by the FIPRESCI jury, was a summary of the mood of this festival. The surprising huit clos in which the director encloses us tells the story of a group of people trying to unravel their political views, and their personal or sexual identities, but in very clumsy ways.

Set in the split-up Yugoslavia, it shows the doubts and fears of people who – all of a sudden – are dispersed in different countries with a non-existing common past. Tomović shows the absurdity called Yugoslavia but also the absurdity of a country torn into pieces.

Behind its political dimension, Celts is also a bittersweet and fiercely funny group portrayal that reflects the challenges of living in the not-so-roaring 20’s of the 21st century.

The Molodist Film Festival 50th edition was phenomenal and impressive, especially when it came to the closing ceremony, but showed also a somewhat decadent side in good Slavic style—somewhere between the pandemic and hope for a better future, a feeling very present in Ukrainian society, mainly among the younger generation.

Kyiv International Film Festival Molodist began in 1970 as a two-day festival of films, shot by the students of the Kyiv State Institute of Theatrical Arts, presenting 33 movies that year. In 2021, it showed 206 feature films, and it was the first in-person film festival presented in Europe after the pandemic.

Raúl Reis
Edited by Robert Horton