Old and New Values: Scepticism and Hope

in 6th Wiesbaden Festival of Central and Eastern European Film - goEast

by Gyözö Mátyás

As the ironic bon mot goes: “In socialism the worst thing is what comes after it.” There must be something in it to go by the films in competition at the 6th GoEast Festival. It would have been difficult not to perceive the intensive presence of problems of the Easterner under “new capitalism”. In a broader sense, it was interesting to observe how important the directors considered speaking about these difficulties and menaces which came into the Easterners’ lives with globalisation and with joining the European Union.

The films try to express faithfully the grievances of Easterners and the passionate, sometimes depressive feelings and reactions of theirs to all the unexpected effects in their lives. Euro scepticism is an important element of some of these films. Not in the sense that this mood would characterize the directors, but meaning that they try to shape the doubts, emotional and moral miseries of East Europeans as an important layer of their films.

The problems of unemployment was the focus of at least four films (Delo Osvobaja – Labour Equals Freedom, Slovenia; Tbilisi-Tbilisi, Georgia; Slunecni Stat – The City of the Sun, Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Doskonale Popludnie – The Perfect Afternoon, Poland).

In these films people lose their jobs as a result of privatisation, because the new and supposedly western owner of the factory reduces jobs for economic reasons. And people who became victims of such a rationalization lose not only their jobs but their self-esteem and moral integrity as well. And in accordance with the critical economic and existential status, their private life starts to move towards a collision, etc.

These films show, in a humanistic and liberating way, how desperately their heroes try to find ways out of the situation, and with how strong an intention they struggle against circumstances, and how they try to solve the problems. The Perfect Afternoon is a good example. And it’s worth mentioning not only because of the way the director discusses the social problems, but because of the somewhat sophisticated structure and dramaturgy of the film as well.

The director draws a comparison between two generations, showing their different ways of thinking, the altering values they prefer, and the different modes of remembering the past. A young couple, Mikolai and Anna, want to marry and we get to know their habits, attitudes, way of life and thinking. They would like to live from publishing books and this topic immediately raises the exciting question of the youngsters’ relation to art. They still respect traditional and valuable literature but they also know (even from experience) that it cannot be sold. There appears the difficult problem of how to relate to someone’s homeland. Mikolai’s friend plucks patriotic strings, condemning those who left Poland in the hope of a better life.

Traditional values and a modern way of thinking are in opposition throughout the film.

This ambiguity is characteristic of shaping the difference between generations too. Mikolai’s friend wants to shoot a video film about Polish dissidents, about people who were members of the opposition. (Black-and-white video recordings within a feature film, though not a new device, is used remarkably well here. Opposing amateurism and professionalism.) Mikolai’s father is a person who took part in opposition movements, and was a member of Solidarnosc, and now has to face the results of what his political endeavours achieved. His private life is in ruins; his undertaking is at the edge of bankruptcy…

And further more there is another aspect of the old and new values, tradition and modernity argument: Anna’s father sticks to the Catholic tradition and wants the couple to be married in church. But the youngsters would like a secular wedding. What is ironical here is that Anna’s father, with his conservative views as a businessman, is successful.

So oppositions and discrepancies are everywhere – in values, traditions, politics and ordinary life. But all these features are shaped in such a humanistic way and subtle form that they are refreshingly enjoyable. And in the end everything and everybody (!) is reunited. Though there be calamities and sometimes misunderstandings there is still hope for a happier future.