The Competition: Turn to the Sun By Gulnara Abikeyeva
The feature films in the competition of the Wiesbaden Film Festival could be divided into two categories. First sadness, frustration and disappointment, which is typical of Central Europe; while the second is the happy end and the search for positive elements in life.
In the sad narrative category is the Russian film Polumgla directed by Artjom Antonov, which means “half way to full darkness”. In late 1944, a group of captured German soldiers was sent to Siberia to build a radio-tower in the village of Polumgla. When the tower is almost finished, it is clear that it was unnecessary and the German soldiers are shot. This is already full darkness and not half a way to it.
Another sad film is Tbilisi-Tbilisi by Georgian director Levan Zakareishvili. This film shows how difficult the years of independence in Georgia were. People were jobless, living conditions were impossible — no heating, no means of survival, except the market. The market in Tbilisi, Georgia is a microcosm of society. It is possible to find everyone at the market, from a young thief to an opera singer, from a prostitute to a professor of drama. The legendary song Tbiliso is sung at the end of the movie. Tbiliso is a song of admiration for Tbilisi-city, but in the movie it sounds as a warning; the musician wants to say “Look, what has been done to Tbilisi!”
A brutal story was told in Lady Zee directed by Georgi Djulgerov. The film reveals how short the path from the orphanage to the brothel is. It shows how hard it is for orphans, both in the world of children and in the world of adults, where there is nobody to stand up for them.
Nevertheless, the most depressing and dead-end film at the Wiesbaden Film Festival was the Romanian film The Death of Mr. Lazarescu, directed by Cristi Puiu. It is as truthful as it is unbearable. Any person in a post-Soviet country can put his signature under it saying: “I have gone through this.” Yes, this is the way doctors make sure that patients die.
While the first category of films can be characterized as a path of darkness starting with Polumgla and ending with The Death of Mr. Lazarescu; the second category can be seen as rising from the bottom from The Perfect Afternoon to The City of the Sun.
The turn towards a positive attitude occurs gradually and conceptually. The Slovenian film Labour Equals Freedom, directed by Damjan Kozole, tells the story of a man losing everything. He lost his job, his wife and a child left him and so on. The scene in which he tries to commit suicide is shown comically because this is not the culmination of the drama. Neither the adultery nor the lack of money can smash and destroy a person as it is clear from Labour Equals Freedom. As in the saying: “When all the doors are closed, God will open a window.”
The Polish director Przemislav Wojciezek is even more decisive in The Perfect Afternoon. Through the characters of the film he tells simple truths: Poles should live in Poland, while 10 million Poles live elsewhere; it is essential to develop Polish culture, the film shows characters’ willingness to publish Polish novels; and the most important one is to build a family. The story is told not only about young couples, but also about the establishment of the forgotten relationships between older generations. The major characters’ parents meet each other after twelve years of separation. Perhaps, there is too much of optimism and patriotism at the beginning of the film and especially at the end; but the last 15 years of pessimism have not allowed people to move forward.
The brightest film in the sense of thinking and acting positively was the Czech film The City of the Sun by Martin Sulikwhich includes the problems that have been already discussed in the Slovenian film Labour Equals Freedom as well as in the Russian film by Vadim Abdrashitov, Magnetic Storms — joblessness, separated families and so on. The stress in The City of the Sun is given to the survival skills and survival in the community, where human values have not been lost. Four friends have been fired from a factory and they are trying to find ways to survive. All the time. They buy a truck and try to find the best possible ways of using it. Some things they do are successful, others are not. When a force-majeure situation happens and the truck is stolen from them, they find the strength to support each other and try to move on. This elementary cooperation — men’s friendship — is the force that makes the four friends believe in a better future. This small town becomes the ‘City of the Sun’, thanks to the strong friendship.
The tendency of positive changes and positive attitude of the people made clear through the cinema of Eastern Europe and films at the Wiesbaden Film Festival has been a major discovery for me.