Searching for Home and Happiness

in 33rd Torino Film Festival

by Gyözö Mátyás

Probably there is no living person older than, say, 14, who in Europe wouldn’t have been faced with the problem of the so-called migrant crisis, which for a while has got into the focus of public speech and interest. This very fact influences every topic, even if it has nothing to do with actual evolvement of the events. Nowadays even the indication of migrant-case would be echoing quite differently than just a year ago.

In the main competition of the 33rd Torino Film Festival there were two films which focused on the problem of emigration. Though neither the Canadian/Bosnian/Croatian film The Waiting Room, nor the Italian movie Communism’s Fault, didn’t even scratch the migrant issue in its current form. These films deal with traditional emigration which has long been present in the transatlantic world. Both films tell us stories about East-European people leaving their home country and trying to thrive in a foreign land.

Besides this there is another very important similarity between the movies and it already regards the artistic accomplishment. It is really remarkable what kind of high likeness can be found in these movies concerning the genre. Communism’s Fault is primarily a documentary (though with fictitious strands). In this film the characters don’t play roles, they are present on screen with their real self and names. The Waiting Room on the surface rather seems to be a feature film, but as we shall see is fundamentally embedded in a documentarian reality.

In Elisabetta Sgarbi’s movie, Communism’s Fault, the camera faithfully follows three Romanian women who left their homeland and moved to Italy. They have been there for 4 or 5 years and they are still struggling for a living, in spite of the fact that they emigrated in the hope for a better life.

In The Waiting Room the main hero’s motivation is quite different. Jasmin fled from the horrendous civil war in Bosnia. Two of the women are unemployed, the third one has an uncertain, temporary job. When we cut in the story the three Romanian women spring up to travel to near Ferrara in the hope of finding a job. So we learn that the greatest problem in the women’s lives is that although they came to Italy to improve their circumstances, they are impeded in their efforts mainly by the lack of working opportunities.

Despite the fact that they have to fight their way so desperately, they still think that Italy is the promised land. There is a family, the Satmaris, who go off somewhat better, and the husband says that if he can work here, he earns as much under a week as in a month in Romania. And he is the one who says the key words, that it is all communism’s fault. Communism fell down, the economy collapsed, so lots and lots of people were left without a job. On the other hand it’s interesting that some minutes later Giovanni Satmari contradicts himself in judging communism. He compares the inability of the contemporary regime to how it was under Ceausescu. He states that after an earthquake a whole village was reconstructed within a week. (What is obviously an exaggeration, but it shows very well how confused and unclarified Satmari’s opinion is about what he has been going through.)

The film doesn’t depict big conflicts or unbearable tragedies; it only portrays the severe affliction of every day life. This is the way how it can affect us who watch these people’s calvary from the outside.

The Waiting Room directed by Igor Drljaca is a very sophisticated feature-documentary film about Jasmin who was once a well-known actor in his former home country, but he has left Bosnia fleeing from the civil war. This is the quasi-documentary effect in the film because Jasmin Geljo was really a successful actor in Yugoslavia, he even worked with Emir Kusturica, and he relocated to Canada. And he also had to struggle to make ends meet. From this point it is really very hard to discern between comes from Geljo’s personal story and what is mere fiction. But it’s no need to know that, because the structure of the film is a very well worked out incorporation of the genres. Documentary and fiction are amalgamated in an aesthetically indistinguishable way. This sophisticated intermingling of reality and artistic fantasy is a great merit of the film.

According to the story Jasmin has been living in Canada for 20 years, but he couldn’t prosper as an actor, so he is working as a bricklayer. Jasmin doesn’t really find his place even after twenty years, and he is planning to go back home to Bosnia. He tries to convince his daughter from his first marriage to go with him. She has some affection to the distant country because she at least speaks the language. But there is Jasmin’s son Filip from the second marriage who doesn’t care too much about his roots. Though he tries to follow his father, but only in the sense that he also wants to become an actor. In the last pictures we see him at an audition where in authentic English he rehearses some kind of a commercial. We have no doubt that he will integrate into Canada perfectly. And probably it will not mean too much for him where his father came from…

Meanwhile Jasmin is communing with himself at an airport hotel room, in nowhere’s land: already having left Canada but not yet reaching Bosnia.

And we cannot be sure whether he is going to depart at all.

Edited by Michael Pattison