Old-Fashioned Heroes in Karlovy Vary

in 50th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival

by Radovan Holub

The Official Selection Competition at the 50th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival was aimed at cinéphiles but some films were also suited for the domestic audience such as Danish filmmaker, Daniel Dencik’s Gold Coast – Guldkysten or the two Czech selections, The Snake Brothers (Kobry a užovky) by Jan Prušinovský or Home Care (Domácí péce) by Slávek Horák, which is a Czech-Slovak co-production. Some of the thirteen films in the main competition had important political or up-to-date social messages.

The Magic Mountain (La Montagne Magique) by Romanian director Anca Damian was actually a serious contender for our jury prize. Anca Damian is a remarkable director. Her second film from 2011 is Crulic: The Path to Beyond   for which she became quite renowned. It was an animated documentary / biopic, as is The Magic Mountain. This new film is a strong testimony of our insecure position during an enormous civilization clash. The Magic Mountain is the life story of the Polish-born anti-Communist, anarchist, photographer and mountaineer, Adam Jacek Winkler (1937-2002). The film is invigorated with photographs, archival materials, and collage. It is a stylized conversation between Mr Winkler and his young daughter.

As a boy, he wanted to fight against the Nazis and the Bolsheviks, then studied art history, and as a young man, immigrated to Paris. He wanted to fight the  invaders in Congo and Vietnam, cheered on the Prague Spring in 1968, build barricades in Paris, and finally, in 1985, left for  the mountains of Afghanistan to fight against the Soviets alongside Commander, and later, Afghan National Hero, Ahmad Shah Massoud who has been also known as the Lion of Panjshir. The Panjshir region was well defended during the 1980s Soviet war in Afghanistan. “Finally among my own,” Winkler noted when he found himself in Afghanistan. The best part of the film describes his stay in the Panjshir Province where he was renamed, Adam Khan.  Finally in 1989, the Soviets left Afganistan and new fights started. After the collapse of the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan in 1992, the area became part of the Islamic State of Afghanistan. By late the 1990s, Panjshir served as a staging ground for the Northern Alliance against the Taliban government. Panjshir was never captured by the Soviets or by the Taliban. On September 9, 2001, national hero, Defense Minister Ahmad Shah Massoud, was assassinated by two al-Qaeda operatives. It seems to me that the film is narrated with love and passion for how Mr.Winkler, Mr. Massoud, and their small troop which climbed up those steep mountains, killed enemies in the remote, forlorn area, went through mined valleys and saw corpses and burned out houses along the way. At times, they would move on with a goat and a cat as a companion. “The goat alerted us whenever the enemy was in place,” Winkler says through the mouth of his daughter. “She has saved our lives as she told us that the enemy is close. When the goat slept, the cat scratched her. Finally, we had to kill the goat. When there was no goat, the cat disappeared.” But, in reality, the fighting in the mountains was extremely demanding. Winkler contracted malaria and almost lost his sight. The killing of Commander Massoud in 2001 ended one epoch for him. The old epoch was thus finished and a new one yet far away.

The film garnered support from The Massoud Foundation, founded in 2003 in Kabul by Massoud’s brother Ahmed Walid with the aim of contributing to the reconstruction of the country devastated by foreign armies and its own warring tribes. Winkler died one year later in 2002.

Babai (The Father) is made by Prishtina-born Visar Morina and is a Kosovor-Macedonian-French-German co-production. Morina, educated in Cologne, Germany, does not touch on the problems of Serbs in Kosovo or Kosovars in Serbia. His film handles emigration from Kosovo to Western Europe which has been especially strong during the last years. The main character is the ten year old Nori who lives in Pejë. Nori sells cigarettes with his father Gezim, but one day, his father leaves for Germany. Nori follows him alone. The boy comes from a large family and his ties to the father are strong. His journey to Germany is hard and complicated. He goes via Montenegro and Italy by bus, by boat and by truck. But he finally finds his father as purposeless and poor as he was in Pejë. His father lives in a dormitory for refugees. There is no better life and no bettr solution in Germany. Gezim is simply too dreamy for the new world. But Nori is different. He fights and fights back.

There is one other film I’d like to mention that is completely non-political but the main character is also somehow outdated. He is neither a romantic hero like Mr.Winkler in The Magic Mountain, nor like Gezim in Babai. He is strong and practical, a lumberjack. Bob and the Trees is a special film: American forestry as seen by a French director Diego Ongaro.

The film is about an ordinary logger Bob Tarasuk, who plays himself in the starring role. He has lived in Bridgeport, Connecticut and graduated from the University of Connecticut in Natural Resources Conservation. But he went north and became a logger and farmer in Massachusetts. He loves trees and the type of landscape where you never know what will happen next. While logging, he is stung by porcupine needles and finds trees infested with ants. The film describes how he rents a parcel of forest where he can lumber, pull trees down, wheel the logs away and sell them. He is permitted only to a small selection of lumber (clear cutting is prohibited by law) during wintertime. So he has to really work hard to pay off his debt and make money. The film is just about this: how he uses the sawing machine, how he takes off branches, how he binds the logs. But there is something more than cutting trees in the film:  Bob likes rap, golf and singing. He likes nature, maybe more than money. He knows trees as we know films. Lumbering in the time of financial crisis is not an easy way to live and Bob is not the type for the hype. He rejects modern branding and advertisement where he would present himself as a logger who works “better, safer, faster”. He is a man from another time.

It is always good when an important film festival gives space to people like Adam Jacek Winkler, Gezim, Nori and Bob Tarasuk. There is something outdated in their behavior, in their souls, in their fights. They would like rule and order but there is no rule and order around them. They like to be alone, have only a few friends, and in the best case, they have a family. Their chronology is an anti-chronology of the present time. But they live. They like how they live. They are somewhere among us.

Edited by Pamela Cohn