Only God Can Judge Me

in 17th Festival del Cinema Europeo, Lecce

by Martin Kanuch

At first sight, inconspicuous ‘pocket’ film festivals, staying outside of the worldwide media coverage, can often pleasantly surprise us by its old-fashioned cinephilia, original passionate attitude in composition of program. Such festivals may not make politics and outrun other ones in primacies; it is the pure joy of the film event. This is the example of Festival del Cinema Europeo (FCE), whose 17th edition was held in the beautiful baroque town of Lecce in the South of Puglia, Italy.

The program of the festival this year traditionally persevered with the wide presentation of the domestic film culture (tributes to Elio Germano, Christian De Sica) in addition to the screenings and through discussions with filmmakers. Especially for this key feature, the festival was recognized some years ago by The Italian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts “as an event of National Interest”. In this context is still valid the general definition (explicitly written in the catalogue intro to last year’s edition), that the festival is organized “to foster film art as a key factor in  promoting cultural economic and social development, thus enhancing its role in supporting integration and cross-culture dialogue”. On the other side, FCE is still valuable in order to promote the most distinctive European film traditions – mostly through the fine selections from the work of prominent directors (currently tributes to Krzysztof Zanussi and Andrzej Zulawski).

The recent tendency in European Cinemas was the focus of the International Competition, prepared by Cristina Soldano and Alberto La Monica, in tandem with the FCE artistic directors. Also this year it accounted for a remarkable collection of ten feature length films in national premiere, assembled from the works of debutants (e.g. Our Everyday Life by Ines Tanovic or Hector by Jake Gavin) and of already more experienced filmmakers (e.g. Virgin Mountain by Dagur Kári or The Cleaner by Peter Bebjak). Seen in long shot, the strongest positive impression was the compactness, or better said, the consistency of selection. It was not only about the separate stories, but more the dialogue of testimonies from different European social, economic and cultural contexts. Focusing on the family in paralysis, various states of disintegration or speechless relations – the topics advanced here on next level from the 2015 edition – can now be extended further by the tag “Infamous Youngsters, Painful Loneliness”. Becoming asocial (criminal) links together films like Baby(a)lone by Donato Rotunno and One of Us by Stephan Richter (see rascal´s graffiti “Only God Can Judge Me”). Depth of conflicts, attempts to restore the individual´s self-confidence, to restart communication and mutual trust of man to man, not only between adolescents and their parents, is displayed also in the chain of films like Virgin Mountain (Iceland), Hector (UK), The Cleaner (Slovakia) or Our Everyday Life (Bosnia and Herzegovina).

In the Albanian Chromium, a school teacher represents the family as the base stone of society and the example of the essential hierarchy of human relations. Feeling the power of authority, step by step constituted from here on in (the position of father as king), and the family/school practicing of subordination, other social ties, tensions or even shorts in the behavior of the individuals are implied. “Mainly oriented towards the examination of the conflicting nature of human beings, and especially of the very young, the Competition also reflects on the hegemonic nature of power, which produces gaps, wounds, an objectification of conscience,” states Soldano; as if conspicuously alluding to the only film in competition that remained out of the aforementioned explicit zooming on family gaps, the Turkish Ivy. But in the background of its Conrad/Melville-like struggling characters still remains the idea of rebellion, of breaking the father-captain rule.

Although the family was felt sometimes as the “empty center” of its lives (Baby/a/lone), despite all the shocks, most of the characters still remain ‘the last oasis of a man’ (Our Everyday Life) – the only certainty can be the proximity of Other (The Cleaner). All this was eventually concentrated in the overall positive tuning of the whole competition. With Italian tradition in mind, 17 was certainly not an unlucky number for this year’s festival in Lecce.  

Edited by Steven Yates