"The Enemy" and "Generation P"

in 16th Sofia International Film Festival

by Dimitar Kabaivanov

What characterises the efforts of the directors of the best films in competition for the FIPRESCI prize is their striving, if not to change the world (something that fewer and fewer artists have the ambition to achieve), then at least to express their individual author’s perspective on it. Some directors, however, do not merely set themselves the task of registering the problems of contemporary society, but also aim to take a philosophical view of it and to construct their own model of the world. This is the goal that the two most interesting films from the competition are oriented towards: The Enemy (Neprijatelj, Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina-Croatia-Hungary, 2011, 108 min, directed by Dejan Zecevic) and Generation P (Pokolyenie P, Russia-USA, 2011, 112 min, directed by Victor Ginzburg, based on the novel by Victor Pelevin). The Enemy received the prize of the FIPRESCI jury, and Generation P was honoured with a Special Mention by the Grand Jury

The Enemy is the sixth film directed by Dejan Zecevic (one of Serbia’s most successful young directors, who has won numerous awards). The story takes us back to the days after the Dayton Agreement in a Bosnian province, where a platoon of sappers is trying to clear at least some of the many mines laid by the participants in the bloody ethnic war. Relations are tense between the soldiers, and the ways in which they experience their memories of the war differ as well. And so it goes on until they find, in a dilapidated factory, an immured man, who claims that he — Lame Daba — is the primordial demiurge that created the visible world and mankind. Whether he is only a patient of the nearby mental hospital (who had been subjected to drug experiments) or is in fact the mythical creature on which the world rests and which therefore must not be killed, remains an open question till the end. But his presence drives the plot of the movie and especially the psychological conflicts between the soldiers. And so, this film, which is built on the principles of the thriller and horror genre, gradually turns into an existential psychological drama about the meaning of life, about the choice of a stance in it, and about faith. It becomes a story about the end of mankind and about waiting for the apocalypse. And all of this is done professionally and powerfully with the dark, almost monochromatic atmosphere of this “landscape after the battle”, which affects the viewers not just visually, but in an almost tactile way. This is the battle not only for mere survival, but for choosing a stance in life or in death. All this is achieved by Dejan Zecevic without fashionable special effects – solely by means of directed acting, Dusan Joksimovic’s camera work and precise montage. The characters gradually become symbols of certain human archetypes in the game of survival and the eventual rebirth of the human race.

Generation P is basically a feature debut for director Victor Ginzburg and, at the same time, the first attempt to bring to the screen the 1999 postmodern cult novel by Viktor Pelevin (an author who is, nowadays, something of a guru for sections of the intellectual elite of the former Soviet Union). This was also the film that corresponded most closely to the festival’s symbol — a clockwork orange, provoking the audience and making them think. A film that sounds particularly relevant at a time when it is the new generation that chooses the future of Russia.

The film is built on the principle of a montage of sorts, but it is a montage of hallucinations rather than attractions. It takes us back into the atmosphere of the 1990s in Russia, a period of transition (in political and especially cultural terms). Years in which the generation of 30 to 40-year-olds came to the fore, a generation raised in Soviet pioneer camps and dreaming about “the West” represented by the Pepsi brand. An embodiment of this generation is the protagonist of the film, Vavilen Tatarskiy (Vladimir Epifantsev) — a poet who graduated from a literary institute, but is now engaged in the advertising of Western (mostly American) brands, adapting them to Russian mentality and attitudes. As he goes through the various layers of a disintegrating post-Soviet society trying to reconstruct itself (under the control of modern media and the mediators), he gradually rises to the position of a leading “creator”.

The movie is definitely a successful adaptation of the novel (despite its ambiguous reception by some critics in the literary sphere and beyond). It manages to render exactly the mystic-psychedelic spirit of the book in the format of a single film rather than a series. It manages, through the means of cinema, to convey this unique atmosphere (here one should note cinematographer Alexei Rodionov’s brilliant camera work), especially in the esoteric scenes where the hero seeks to find the meaning of his existence and to become part of something on “another” level. One can reflect much upon the details of the film, but the main thing is that it does not leave the viewers indifferent and unengaged (even if they may not accept some of its suggestions).

In addition, I would just like to draw attention to Fish n’ Chips (Cyprus, 2011, 102 minutes, directed by Elias Demetriou). A seemingly small and unpretentious film about the attempt of a Greek immigrant to England — Andy — to reintegrate into life in his native Cyprus, only to establish that he is more alien there than he is in the multicultural atmosphere of London. A film that manages to make us believe in its characters and sympathise with their fate.