The competition program for first and second Films at the 10th edition of International Film Festival Bratislava consisted of 14 films. Overall, five of them — Philippe Aractingi’s Under the Bombs (Sous les bombes), Gianni Di Gregorio’s Mid-August Lunch (Pranzo di ferragosto), Attila Gigor’s The Investigator (A Nyomozó), Rodrigo Plá’s The Zone (La Zona) and Eva Sørhaug’s Cold Lunch (Lønsj) — were serious contenders for the best film award. What is more, I would not have been surprised at all if the Grand Prix went to either Amat Escalante’s The Bastards (Los Bastardos), or Ursula Meier’s Home, or to Pierre Schoeller’s Versailles, which only shows how strong the Bratislava competition was.
To my mind, the first five films were on an approximately equal professional level: in spite of some weaknesses here and there, they displayed strong dramaturgical and directing skills, as well as fine performances. For example, its feminist bias notwithstanding, the script of Cold Lunch could easily be compared with that of Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. And I am sure that if it has been a Hollywood movie, backed up by wise lobbying it could have run for the Oscars in several categories.
We could take the Hollywood analogy to another film, The Investigator: If it had been a Hollywood independent film, the director would have been showered with big studio offers immediately after the premiere. On the other hand, Hollywood studios would have hardly taken interest in the kind of stories told by the other three films. The Zone might have eventually qualified, but only after radical changes on all levels, which would have probably turned it into a blockbuster vehicle for big stars, distributed successfully via effective pr campaign. Mid-August Lunch is a conventional Italian film about a mother and her son, where mother love is a stand in for love of films, while respect for the elders and family values replaces cinema. A new Cinema Paradiso of sorts, Mid-August Lunch targets the hearts and souls of the audience rather than their minds and eyes.
Another mother is at the center of Under the Bombs. She is desperately searching for her little boy, lost somewhere in Lebanon’s demolished villages after Israel’s “non-mercy” attacks, killing people indiscriminately no matter whether they were terrorists or soldiers, civilian adults or children. Under the Bombs is yet another film revealing the ugly face of war and its cruel ways of destroying human bodies and souls. But are we ready to look at its reality? Are we willing to do something about it? Questions like those keep lingering on as no one has the answers…
The most shocking message however came from The Zone, a harsh social drama, holding a mirror to the society as a whole and to the upper middle-classes in particular, reflecting their sheltered life in satellite towns. Isolated from the others, the inhabitants of the zone inevitably begin to see those ‘others’ as enemies. As means of survival, humans tend to live in a group, which protects them from the dangers of the environment. But living in a group creates a group mentality, whose collective goals inevitably override those of the individual members. The hostile ‘other’, the enemy, is of vital importance and even if s/he does not exist, s/he is eventually invented by some paranoid war-monger or a professional soldier in dire need to justify his existence. And the more or less instinctual efforts to find rivals or enemies in order to sustain the coherence of the group are usually encouraged by those who stand to benefit from the resulting hostility or war…
The Zone bears some uncanny similarities to Common Wealth (La Comunidad) by famous Spanish director Álex de la Iglesia. The landlords of an apartment building conspire to kill a stranger in order to get hold of the large sum of money, found accidentally by her. Thus, rapt by greed — arguably the most prevailing bourgeois value — the landlords transform from decent citizens into maniacal assassins.
In Plá’s film The Zone the landlords inhabit a satellite town with its own police force and living according to its own laws. One night, three young wannabe mobsters succeed in penetrating into the town but cause someone’s death. Two of them are killed immediately, but the third breaks loose. In the meanwhile, because of the death of a security officer caused accidentally by a respected citizen, any outside law-enforcement interference becomes highly undesirable. The community closes ranks to cover up the deaths of the two boys, and a massive manhunt for the third one is unleashed, drawing in even the youngest inhabitants. And while it lasts, noble humanist principles like ethics, morality, empathy, common sense are brushed aside as meaningless prattle.
The Zone is an allegory of the state of current world affairs. Capitalism necessitates wars, both on a micro and macro level, and our civilization is unable or unwilling to oppose its belligerent drive because we all have our bourgeois dreams to care about and because we don’t want to give up on our comfortable lives. We are reluctant to give up on our cell-phones, cars, television sets, PCs or MP3 players. Actually, we all live in kind of a private zone bubble. And ready to act in a most uncivilized way the moment we feel that the boundaries of this ‘civilized bubble’ are threatened. Then the animal in us awakes, but, of course, we are not aware of this or rather — prefer not to admit it!