The city of Lecce is located close to the most Eastern part of Italy — as we say in the “heel of the boot”. It has absorbed both Greek and Roman culture. For a short period of time it was part of the Ottoman Empire. It is famous for its baroque architecture. From Lecce to the central part of the Balkans the distance is about 500-600 kilometers but it is a prosperous small West European town. Without being in any sense unique, these circumstances are a good base for the successful organizing of the fifth time of the European Cinema Festival.
This is a cozy little festival with a family atmosphere. On the basis of the ten films in competition in no way one can generalize and conclude on trends in film making on the continent — but it gives you a chance of a new and fresh glance on cinema.
The geography of the presented films cover a wide territory — from the Finish tundra (“A Bride of the 7th Heaven – Jumalan morsian” by Markku Lehmuskallio and Anastasia Lapsui) to the wide Siberian open spaces (“Granny – Baboussia” by Lidia Bobrova), through the Italian city problems (“Stai con me” by Livia Ciampalmo), from Portugal (“From Here to Joy – “Daqui p’ra’alegria” by Jeanne Waltz), to The Netherlands (“Godforsaken – Van dog los” by Pieter Kuijpers), and Serbia (“Jagoda in the Supermarket – Jagoda u supermmarketu” by Dusan Milic) or Germany (“Berlin Blues – Herr Lehmann” by Leander Haussmann), and reaching to the anonymity of the place in the Hungarian film “Dealer” by Benedek Fliegauf, the metamorphoses of the French “No Rest for the Brave – Pas de repose pour le braves” by Alan Guiraudie or the wish to cover the whole continent in the Austrian film “Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea” by Goran Rebic.
It can be said that the geographic diversity is there, but is this the most important thing for contemporary European cinema? In the selection one can specify two tendencies: to tell a story through the actions of the heroes (in most cases quite ordinary and everyday), or to have predominantly dialogues and monologues (quite often with an underlined pretentiousness). I definitely prefer the first type of films.
An elderly woman loses everything, because her children and grandchildren that she has brought up turn out to be ungrateful egoists — “Baboussia” received the award for Best Film, the Golden Olive-tree. The old woman does not grumble or quarrel, she doesn’t hate. She accepts things as they are because life has presented her with many inconveniences. During the Second World War she has dug trenches in defense of the city of Leningrad. Then the old lady has worked in a village almost without being paid, she has raised her daughter and her kids. Finally she has sold the house in order for her kids to live prosperously. The new cruel challenge that her fate experiences doesn’t shock her. She responds to the little kindness she gets with the same kindness. And then, a miracle takes place — the little girl that has become dumb after the shock from one of the local Russian wars starts to talk. While the old lady starts up in the freezing night on her road to the angels that has called her. Here in to one’s mind comes the film by Shohei Imamura “Ballad of Narayama”.
The protagonists of “Berlin Blues” are also losers. Outcast personalities in West Berlin lead a kind of semi-existence but they also have their dreams. The do not feel the “wind of change” and are surprised by the fall of the Berlin Wall. But can their enthusiastic fellow-citizens from the Eastern part of the city anticipate that very soon they’ll be in the same losing position? If you are positively disposed towards this film you can find references to Chaplin, to the film “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest”. In this film the Western and Eastern part of Europe have the most fair and productive meeting.
The same cannot be said about the film “Donau, Duna, Dunaj, Dunav, Dunarea”. The collage of nationalities, fates and events that are fit along the big river are just a good intention, nothing more.
To the better films of this festival belongs in my opinion “From Here to Joy” for the human stories of people from the suburbs without necessarily including violence and narcotics. There much warmth and a good sense of humor.
May be the recipe for a successful European film is not that complicated: a human story, a simple but well developed plot and wholesome actors. It is worth while for other filmmakers to try it out.
© FIPRESCI 2004