Transitions, Migrations, Newcomers

in 52nd International Filmfestival Mannheim-Heidelberg

by Dinko Tucakovic

There is some major news from the 52nd edition of International Film festival Mannheim-Heidelberg. The Danube is not blue and beautiful anymore. At least not in the opening film of the festival, “Donau, Dunaj, Duna, Dunav, Dunarea” (Austria, 2003) by Goran Rebic, the Yugoslav born director from Vienna. This ‘boat movie’ with veteran actor Otto Sander at the wheel, is a gloomy look towards the purgatory of political and economic transitions in South-East Europe. Landscapes as Paradise and living like Hell. But this film under good wings is sailing in the direction of the Sundance Film Festival, to present one possible and passionate vision of the darkest corner of Europe. “The difference between water and the river is the fact that river has a memory, a past, a history”, is a strong statement by writer-director Rebic (1968).

The final destination of the boat is Romania, which is the starting point of another film from the region, “Rage” (Furia, Romania, 2003) by Rade Munteanu (1971). Bucharest, present days, in a film by Munteanu is more like the set for Walter Hill’s “Streets of Fire”. A couple of losers, midget pop-star, prostitution, narcotics… Instead of hope there is rage. In the ‘good-old’ Balkan style. Bloodbath. And the daybreak is just beginning of another day in Hell. The director thinks that poverty and corruption are the main reasons why Romanians are angry, in the times when Ceaucescu is an old story. But these guys at least have IDs, and something to eat. Slice of life.

The heroes of the Bulgarian entry “Under the Same Sky” (Pod edno nebe, Bulgaria, 2003) by Krasimir Krumov, only have heaven as a roof, and dreams instead of food. But more nightmares then dreams. The film is situated in a living area of Turkmanian Bulgarians, who in the eighties has been forced to move to Turkey. Today they are illegally crossing borders as economic emigration, in search of paradise that has never been found. Courage and Desperation. Home as the real place or utopia?

But more on the South, in Greece, the eternal story. The King of Kings is back in the feature “The King” (O Vasilias) by Nicos Grammatikos. But only to be crucified again, like in the novel of his countryman, Kazanzakis, which has been starting point for Martin Scorcese in “The Last Temeptation of Christ”. Greek tragedy meets the Holly Bible. Strange?

But wait for “Rinaldo” (Hungary, 2003) – love letter to “Seven Samurai” or “The Magnificent Seven” if you please. Dark comedy with few laughs, a hybrid of political film and genre. The story the same as in “The Matrix: Revolutions” but those guys are using knives and stones in the new Millennium. Director Tamás Tóth, another newcomer.

And the Festival is ‘nothing but the newcomers’ to quote the director of the fest, Michael Koetz, who believes “there is no avant-garde anymore”. So maybe we are facing something new, beside technologies. When avant-garde is tradition, the cinema should be about auteurs but also about lives. Especially in the lands of transitions and migrations. “We are on the same boat on the same sea”, to finish with lyrics of an ancient poet, Mick Jagger.