Snow, smoke and fog, that’s almost everything the Russian director Alexei German needs to create a claustrophobic world in his debut The Last Train, a drama located in Russia at the end of World War II. In this opal landscape a couple of disoriented German and Russian soldiers are drifting like ghosts in the afterworld. Alexandr Sokurov opened one of his films with total blackness, while German chose milky white to tell his dark story set at the end of the world. During the entire film people are coughing, groaning and crawling through the everlasting cold. “Are we progressing or are we retrieving?” asks one of them, and we know he doesn’t refer to the military strategy.
The Last Train was shown in the competition of the Molodist Film Festival in Kiev known to be open to radical or experimental forms. The FIPRESCI award winning film debut Struggle is composed by frozen frames and observing, intense camerawork. The highly original debut The Arm of Jesus by Dutch director André van der Hout uses an opposite hybrid form to reconstruct the strange search of a son for his father who allegedly immigrated to America. Using found footage of Dutch mine workers and desolate industrial locations Van der Hout tells a surrealistic time lapse story mostly set in the mind of the son. Sometimes the characters played by a Dutch music group burst out into singing or tuba playing to emphasize the dislocated look of this film.
A similar method for the characters stepping out of their roles is used in the Hungarian comedy Bro’ by debutant Zsombor Dyga: A young man living in the suburbs speaks directly to the viewer overloading him with trivia about his friends and family, loaded with quotations from The Rolling Stones, Casablanca and Bela Tarr and edited like a fast film quiz. After a while this jumpy form is replaced by a more conventional boy meets girl story.
The Ukrainian drama Mamay (Nobody) by Oles Sanin, premièred at Kiew, is submitted as a candidate for the Oscar of the best foreign film, a suprising selection considering its inaccessible form. This purely theatrical film is based on Ukrainian epics transformed into an artificial world covered with heavily make-up, prisoners chained in caves and warriors riding horses while the voice-over tells a legend so cryptic that non-Ukrainians will have difficulties following the story. In a country without a film industry and with a faltering film distribution this public respect for a Ukrainian film is a rarity on its own.
© FIPRESCI 2003