Political Aspects

in 39th Montreal World Film Festival

by Dmytro Desiateryk

In some aspects, the Montreal World Film Festival (Le Festival des Films du Monde) reminds this author of the Berlinale. Thus the most pronounced feature of the films in competition reflected the obvious attempts of the organizers to maintain a dialogue between cinematographers of different countries and build bridges between distant cultures. Another “Berlinale-like” feature of the festival was its focus on movies, dedicated to important contemporary political issues.

Thus, the Bulgarian movie The Petrov File, directed by Georgi Balabanov and the Russian Soul of a Spy by Vladimir Bortko depict activities of intelligence services in post-communist countries. However, while The Petrov File, in a more or less satisfactory manner, shows a dictatorship in decline and the difficulties, experienced by ordinary folks during the transitional period due to instability and rampant corruption, Soul of a Spy is a real artistic disaster, primarily due to the authors’ urge to “humanize” the employees of the modern-day Russian secret service, the FSB, whose methods however replicate the worst traits of the Soviet-time secret services, the KGB. Indeed, as a rule, etnical dishonesty leads inevitably to an aesthetic failure – and the film eloquently proves this axiom!

The Second World War has been a burning issue in today’s Russia, overwhelmed by militarist and chauvinist hysteria. On the Road to Berlin, directed by Sergei Popov, represents an interesting attempt to look at this worn out theme from a different angle. The main characters are Soviet soldiers, who find themselves against their will in the roles of a guard and a detainee. Unfortunately, the director fails to avoid the typical genre clichés, which portray the Soviet regime as harsh but fair; Germans as primitive sadists; the Russians as impeccable warriors, and the only Ukrainian, naturally, as working in the kitchen. And last but not least, the battle scenes are filmed rather crudely. To its benefit, the film at least refrains from direct propaganda.

The German-Polish film Summer Solstice, directed by Michal Rogalski, could be seen as a response of sorts to Road to Berlin. This is the story of two young men caught up in war in the summer of 1943 in occupied Poland. One is a Polish locomotive engineer, the other – a 17-year-old soldier of the German army. Each of them faces a difficult and inevitable moral choices. The director treats the German invaders as well as the Russian partisans without much sympathy. Overall, this is an existential story about hard choices, only loosely associated with its particular historical context.

The Swedish film John Hron is based on real events and also deals with the subject of Nazism, albeit in the modern era. The director Jon Pettersson tells the story about the tragic clash of a neo-Nazi gang – part of the widespread neo-Nazi movement, terrorizing Sweden in the 1990s – with a brave young man by the name of John Hron, who confronts them on his own. The rather straightforward moral of the film – that, if not countered by persuasive and timely resistance, evil inevitably destroys innocent lives – might be rather direct but is correct.

In general, the competition films, discussed above, are far from perfect, yet they give the Montreal World Film Festival a degree of topical relevance, so much needed to maintain its stature as a World Competition destination.

Edited by Christina Stojanova