Overview of goEast Online

in goEast – 20th Festival of Central and Eastern European Film

by Carolin Weidner

With a total number of 16 films in competition, Wiesbaden’s goEast presented its first online edition. The quality of the films was high, so the setting – watching all of them alone at home – was not too bad at all. Still, it wasn’t easy to pick from all the different styles: a quite brutal crime plot in Adilkhan Yerzhanov’s A Dark, Dark Man (Kazakhstan, France, 2019) was followed by Valentyn Vasyanovych’s ultimate dystopian Atlantis (Ukraine, 2019) or Małgorzata Goliszewska’s and Kasia Mateja’s bittersweet documentary Lessons of Love (Lekcja milosci, Poland, 2019) – a film about an elderly lady, her love for fashion and toxic relationship to a drunken husband residing in Italy. But the one that stood out for me was My Morning Laughter (Moj jutarnji smeh, 2019) by Serbian director Marko Đorđević. In it, we get to know 28-year-old Dejan, a history teacher who struggles with romance, with himself, with his mother and the challenges of growing up.

My Morning Laughter had a great mumblecore-vibe, something I had not seen in Eastern European cinema before, but in series and films from Great Britain, the US, or even Germany. It’s a small and simple film, which nevertheless manages to stay in mind for a pretty long time. It made a strong impact on me — maybe because of its story of a rather old male virgin – not the kind of character you meet in cinema often… Dejan is a unicorn, but one I imagine is not rare at all. I’m sure there must be plenty of men like him: invisible, shy, not brave or confident enough to enter unknown territories such as women.

It’s tough to watch how Dejan is treated like a boy by his mother, who seems ready to prepare special meals for her beloved son whenever she thinks he needs them. I can’t forget a scene when she wants to make some fruit salad for him, but is short of the soaked raisins and decides to go to a shop to get them. Dejan’s helplessness and great anger against all the patronage is shown in an encounter with his father, who seems helpless as well, but in a different manner. Marko Đorđević, a director who has not presented a lot of films yet, is definitely someone I will keep on my radar from now on, thanks to goEast.

Another big surprise was Antoneta Kastrati’s feature debut Zana (Kosovo, Albania 2019), which was first shown in the Discovery section at Toronto International Film Festival. A very deep, very female, very painful and very spiritual story about a woman called Lume, who lives in a tiny Kosovar village and struggles to get pregnant after she has lost her little daughter during the war. The whole setting is rather rural and traditional. It’s a place where they believe in witches and magic, and where women are expected to become mothers, no matter what. It is also a world where the elder people, parents and grandparents, exercise a lot of pressure on the young. In that sense, I can find a connection between Zana and My Morning Laughter, although they are completely different.

An all the more liberating experience was therefore Ivana the Terrible (Ivana cea groaznica, Romania, Serbia, 2019) by Ivana Mladenović, who also took the main role in her film. She ‘plays’ an actress based in Bucharest, who visits her home town Kladovo in Serbia. Full of neuroses and extravagance, Ivana gives a damn about making a good impression and acts like the world is hers. She starts an affair with a younger guy from town and celebrates the summer just as much as her crises. A strong but at once fragile person, who lives a life in-between. Mladenović certainly was one of the most anarchist protagonists in this year’s competition. And I loved seeing her in a line together with other directors and characters from Eastern Europe, and even Eurasia, who are making their stand in those times and environments of upheaval.

Carolin Weidner
Edited by Birgit Beumers