The Dying Family

in 37th Moscow International Film Festival

by Bozidar Zecevic

Taking the usual risk of general statements, one might say that the 37th Moscow International Film Festival presented average, or even sub-average, cinematic achievements. With the exceptions of Armi Alive! (Armi elää!) by veteran Jörn Donner (Finland) and Arventur by St. Petersburg professor and filmmaker Irina Evteeva, the majority of films in the competition would probably be quickly forgotten for their insufficient artistic or aesthetic quality. The general lack of strong attitudes, challenges, artistic search and risk remains after long and somewhat grim sessions in the October Cinema on New Arbat. If I put the Kosovo drama Enclave (Enklava) by Goran Radovanovic (Serbia/Germany) aside – for understandable reasons – I can hardly recall a single filmic excitement or cinematic movement in what I have seen during the festival. On the other hand, it seemed that the selection managed to escape huge flops and maintain a balance that matched its reputation.

However, there are some things to be pointed out. Seven of films shown in the Main Competition Program share a thematic discourse and could be analysed in a debate surrounding the broken family in post-modern society. The death of the traditional family unit, as well as a shocking disappearance of parental responsibility towards children and adolescents, can be clearly seen in the filmic mirror of this global phenomenon. The dying family cannot be replaced: children are thrown out into the world to manage on their own in gloomy streets and empty backyards; they eventually steer towards violence, drugs, sexual abuse and crime. Aimlessly roaming the gutters of despair, these children grow up amidst the horrid population of tomorrow. But this is all seen through anaemic films and dour stereotypes. The best example is the festival’s Grand Prix, the Bulgarian pulp characteristically called Losers (Kartsi) by Ivaylo Hristov – a common, predictable, often boring teenage saga shot in grim overtones. Its harsh humour and sardonic distance towards an overstrained reality resound with old, neo-realistic and déjà-vu imagery of gloom. But it is a warning. We are surrounded by these kids, and there are many more to come. This is probably the first generation of relative world peace with “normal” (legal), but totally absent, unscrupulous, and lost parents; a family-without-family with children uninterested in any social agenda and anything at all but fooling around: losers. We see the same in the Spanish Heroes of Evil (Los heroes del mal) by Zoe Berriatua. Kids grow up amid an urban jungle, whereas the family is not even within sight, and school is either out-of-fashion or powerless. They fiercely parade with narcotics, debauchery, signs of social disorder and, finally, murder. At the end they face the question: “should they resort to violence to stop the killings?” This question arises from the midst of an abandoned and desecrated Christian temple turned into the lair of the Antichrist. An interesting question arises in this context: would a world without God be any better? Or could the state and religion together do anything for the education and inclusion of children, as in the Iranian The Sea & The Flying Fish (Darya va mahi parande) by Mehrdad Ghafarzadeh, about a deaf and dumb teenage inmate of a correction class, who communicates through painting. In order to save his sister, he has to escape from the prison through the wall of memories and nightmares. Could creativity save this abandoned kid? Could anyone save these kids? The barrier in the Kazakhstani Tollbar (Shlagbaum) by Zhasulan Poshanov – where the elder brother from the provinces tries to show his younger brother a way for a better life in the big city – is ruthless. In fact, it is not a barrier but an impassable social abyss between the new classes in a new, transitional social order. The Danish film Rosita by Frederikke Aspöck is more optimistic. It deals with the attempt of a Danish cannery worker to re-establish a broken family by bringing a young and desirable Filipino into the midst of the Nordic lands. His project only partially comes true. His humble household is somehow retraced at an unexpected price and a new challenge is on its way. Although highly predictable, the film found its audience and was set to receive the Audience Award. But that didn’t happen: it went to Enclave which evoked more compassion.

Edited by Birgit Beumers