The Balkan World And Its Ghosts of the Past

in 5th Durres International Film Summerfest

by Pierre-Simon Gutman

By starting with the Albanian première of Beloved (Les Bien Aimés) by Christophe Honoré and proposing, in the middle of the selection, The Minister (L’Exercice de l’état), the Durres Film Festival reflected this year’s focus: homage to French cinema! This homage encapsulated the will of Durres, and of Albania, to open up to Europe in every possible sense.

For this fifth edition of the International Film Summerfest in Albania, the spotlight is on both the region’s own movie production (the «Balkan world» selection) and the opening of Albania to movies from other countries and cultures, via the international selection. Two clear winnersemerged from this dual spotlight: The Minister (best director and actor) and Lidice (best picture). Albanian filmmakers and critics eagerly anticipated The Minister, as the possible representative of modern French cinema. In that respect, the movie did not disappoint and was seen by many as a successful cross between the great French tradition of movie making and a more American, action-driven pace. Lidice (dir. Petr Nikolaev), a much more classical World War II drama, won overfestival audiences by presenting a well made but highly traditional type of historical saga.

Despite the qualities (or flaws) of these pictures, the most fascinating part of the festival is its Balkan section, for the glimpse it can give of a whole region. Through just a few movies, it seems almost possible to take the pulse of the Balkan world, to see what haunts it, what its current obsessions are, and maybe what it expects for the future. And the conclusion that can be drawn from the festival is the vision of several countries still struggling with past tragedies. The Balkan wars of course, in The Code of Life (Kodii Jetës), a sincere drama directed by a man who has been through hardships of his own. Unfortunately, the melodramatic, almost Hollywood, tone of the movie seems at odds with the story and the tragedies evoked.

The war in the Balkans was not the only troubled period in this festival’s memory: the brutal times and rapes of post-WWII Poland were crudely shown in Rose (Roza, best actress award), the German occupation in Lidice and, of course, modern crises at the center of a Greek movie named Tungtsen about young people wandering without much purpose in the same streets every day. Despite clearly having a low budget, the film’s director managed to convey a dry feeling of helplessness, supported by stunning features and a welcome lack of overwrought drama. White Lions (Beli lavovi), by the actor/director Lazar Ristovski, evokes the Serbia’s chaotic present, Kusturica-style,but also touches on a big idea: a possible revolution ahead and the crazy dream of a new world rising from the ashes of this present, ghostly, one.

The selection is completed by an homage to Albanian cinema’s the past: the classic The Captain (Kapitani). In a parallel section, there is a string of documentaries about the region, and short feature films by young filmmakers from the Albanian film school. They all paint a picture of a country in the midst of true difficulties but struggling towards a more positivefuture. Haunted by its past, pining for its future: an apt description of Durres’ international film festival and, maybe, of the region it’s trying to represent.