Versions of Maturity

in 14th Bratislava International Film Festival

by Viera Langerova

If we are to find a common denominator, or theme, connecting almost all feature films in competition, it would be characters moving towards maturity, encountering an array of all the usual (and unusual) problems: looking for  one’s own unique path in life, independent from parental support, struggling with difficulties, taking responsibility and last, but not least understanding one’s place and role in society.

This leitmotiv of a theme appears in various cultural versions and interpretations. The hero of German film Oh Boy (2012) by Jan Ole Gerster, for example, has difficulty taking decisions. He knows clearly what he does not want: he does not want to study law and breaks up with his girlfriend because he does not want to part with his carefree lifestyle, which makes his reluctance to follow the social rules and shunning responsibility quite obvious.

The French film by Hervé Lasgouttes Crawl (2012), reflects the same problem. Its principal character Martin is not able to keep his job and take care of his pregnant girlfriend, and his troubles culminate in the murder charges laid against him.

Xiao He, the heroine of the Chinese director Liu Shu’s film Lotos (2012), is in a similar situation. An ambitious teacher, and only daughter of caring parents, she leaves her job and parents in order to demonstrate her independence. She moves from the small town in North of China to Bejing, but fails to realize any of her plans.

Regardless of the political and social differences between Europe and China, we witness the same array of symptoms, typical for the failed individuation of middle class youths, unable to survive on their own. However, since Chinese society is traditionally based on filial obedience, in this film the failure is seen as the byproduct of the one-child policy and reflects a serious social issue, especially for young females.

The Turkish film Present Tense (Simdiki Zaman, 2012) by Belmin Soylemez is the story of social solitude. Mina, a young woman, is abandoned by her husband and finds a job as a cafe fortune teller, saving her money for a trip to America, where she plans to look for happier life. Not unlike her Chinese counterpart, she dreams of change through migration.

Other variation of social solitude – that of a brother and sister – is offered in Children of Sarajevo (Djeca, 2012). The bad economic situation in post-war Bosnia and total lack of any legal protection is the main focus of this film by Aida Begic. The difficulties the characters encounter prevent them from growing up and building an independent and satisfactory life. Their only hope is their mutual love and reliance.

Alicia, the lonely girl from the Colombian film La Sirga (director William Vega, 2012) escapes from her village, destroyed by armed violence, and tries to find shelter in her uncle’s house. Only there, in the peace of the fisherman village and far from danger, is she able to become herself and open her heart.

This film emphasizes the emerging global paradox: on one hand, we witness youths, who try to abandon the safety of their affluent familial environment and strike it on their own in life. On the other hand, we are engaged with the sad fate of their not-so-lucky counterparts, who are looking for safety and better economic conditions. The films however seem to suggest that neither the comfortable existence nor the social difficulties amount sufficiently to the so-called rites of passage, genetically programmed to help the individual into adulthood, since the former seem to destroy the characters’ initiative and the latter – to discourage all hopes for a better life…

The main obstacle on the way to the good life, desired by the characters in the French film Hold Back (Rengaine, 2012) is religion and its strict rules. The North African Sabrine and her black boyfriend Darcy have to face the harsh interference of her brother  Slimaine who believes that there is no place for mixed marriages in their religion. In this case, he is the one who has some growing up to do in order to understand that adult people have the right to make independent decisions.

The two other competition films – the Serbian Practical Guide to Belgrade with Singing and Crying (Praktican vodic kroz Beograd se pavanjem i plakanjem, 2012)  by Bojan Vuletic and the Brazilian The Curses of the Cages (Essa Maldita vontade de ser pássaro, 2012) by Paula Fabiana and Adrian Steinway – while more of formal experiments with genre – tackle the  above problems of social and psychological identity from a distance.  The symbolical end to this festival meta-story is the Israeli film Epilogue (Hayute ve beri, 2012) by Amir Manor, which is about an old couple and their fading lives.

Last, but not least, I would like to compliment here the festival programmers who were able to choose films with common themes across continents and cultures, displaying a very high level of professionalism. But as the Slovak member of the jury, I really would have liked to see a Slovak film in competition.

Edited by Christina Stojanova