The Art of Vengeance

in 13th Transilvania International Film Festival

by Oleksii Pershko

As everybody knows, Vlad Tepes, born in Transylvania Wallachia voivode, who inspired Bram Stoker to create his most famous character, Dracula, was a vindictive man. Perhaps this is one of the reasons he inspired the creation of Eye for an Eye, a special programme of films about revenge at the 13th Transylvania International Film Festival, which took place in the medieval city of Cluj-Napoca from 30th May to 8th June 2014.

On the other hand Mihai Chirilov, the artistic director of this major cinematic event in Romania, says that it is the film Blue Ruin by Jeremy Saulnier, which he saw at the festival in Locarno. Whatever the case, the programme was created and caught the attention not only of the public but of the FIPRESCI jury. It proved to be quite competitive.

After all, revenge is not just “a dish that should be served cold”, but also a very impressive dramatic tool that works almost one hundred percent of the time, thanks to the moral and ethical dilemmas that it generates. The Eye for an Eye program included 12 films which, taken as a whole, offer a multifaceted study of the justification of revenge and the effects it produces. Most of them exhibit the obvious signs — Tarantino-style violence, cruelty and black humour — yet each one talks about an individual form of revenge.

The main character of the Swedish film The Reunion (Afterraffen), Anna Odell (played by the director herself, giving this movie some autobiographical traits), takes revenge on her classmates by the fact of making this film. The heroine of the animated film Cheatin’ by the famous American independent director Bill Plympton takes revenge on her husband, by inhabiting the bodies of his many mistresses using a certain fantastic machine.

Brendan Gleeson’s character in Calvary by John Michael McDonagh (which was awarded the FIPRESCI Prize of the Transylvania International Film Festival) becomes himself the object of revenge, while he has to pay not only for his own sins but for someone else’s. In this oeuvre the revenge becomes a cause for purification and atonement.

In A Touch of Sin (Tian Zhu Ding), the winner of the Cannes prize for best screenplay last year, director Zhangke Jia tells four stories of revenge which combine to create a disturbing portrait of modern China, which appears as an economic giant, corroded from the inside with violence. In order of Disappearance (Kraftidioten, directed by Hans Peter Moland), which was one of the favourites at the last Berlin Film Festival, is filled with a fair amount of black humour as the main character played by Stellan Skarsgard avenges the death of his son.

The main characters of the Japanese-Indonesian film Killers by the Mo Brothers, packed with aestheticised violence in the Asian spirit, are driven by different motives: one of them is turned into a maniac by guilt for the death of his beloved sister and the other is immersed in a world of bloody violence, trying to take revenge on a corrupt oligarch who destroyed his career and life.

Torn by grief (his wife and daughter were killed during one of his missions) and a thirst for revenge, the best special agent in North Korea (The Suspect (Yong-Eui-Ja) directed by Won Shin-yun) declares war to the whole world. It seems that this film opens up new horizons in the thriller genre — even Paul Greengrass might envy such visual style — and the saturation of each shot with an incredible number of events set out with machine-gun speed seems to be beyond the capabilities of human perception.

All these twelve films have their merits and demerits and are characterized by a different artistic level, but there’s no question that each of them provokes the viewer to explore his own vision about himself and the world and pulls him out of his comfort zone. So the An Eye for an Eye programme was a success and one of the cornerstones of the bastion of freedom of creativity and expression that is without any doubt the Transylvania International Film Festival.

Edited by Sheila Johnston