What Does It Say About Europe?

in 14th Lecce Festival of European Cinema

by Karin Svensson

Firstly, that we live on a diverse continent where life can be very different depending on where you had the fortune (or misfortune) to be born. Secondly, that we are more alike than we might think.

The goal of the Lecce festival is to present and discuss European cinema, particularly from the point of view of cultural exchanges. Judging from these ten films, it is evident that European cultural exchanges shape our lives more than ever before, and that these exchanges reveal great inherent injustices, as well as great possibility.

The German entry, Our Little Differences (Die fienen Unterscheide) by Sylvie Michel is just such a story. A film about parenthood, it follows the relationship between Sebastian, a successful German doctor at a fertility clinic, and Jana, a Romanian cleaner at the clinic who also works as a maid in Sebastian’s home. They have two very different approaches to parenthood, Sebastian granting his teenage son Arthur a great deal of freedom, and Jana keeping her 20-year-old daughter Veronica on a very tight leash. When Arthur and Veronica form a friendship and disappear overnight, the views of Sebastian and Jana clash with great force.

The film shows that it’s easy to be a laid-back parent if you can easily give your child a life of plenty, and equally difficult to let go if you’ve had to endure hardships to provide your child with a better chance in life. It shows two different responses to the universal feeling of wanting to protect and nurture our children.

Three Worlds (Trois mondes), by French director Catherine Corsini, is a film with a similar theme. It’s an intensely moral drama about a businessman who is in a hit-and-run accident with an illegal immigrant from Moldova. A French woman witnesses the accident and tries to convince the businessman to do right by the victim’s wife, another illegal immigrant. These three people symbolize three archetypes of New Europe — the self-serving, the bridge-building and the “illegals”. In Corsini’s film each of these are portrayed in an admirably nuanced way.

The potential impact of random meetings in the new European community is also the theme of the Austrian entry, The Dead and the Living (Die Lebenden) by Barbara Albert. Young Sita interviews hopefuls for an “Idol” type reality TV show, and is moved by a young Chechen girl’s story. She doesn’t know if her parents are dead or alive, and is awaiting deportation. Soon after, Sita finds out her grandfather was an SS officer, and goes on a quest to uncover the truth about his crimes — linking the past to present-day war and persecution.

While these three works pinpoint the festival’s intentions with an almost eerie exactness, the other films also tell us a great deal about the diversity of Europe. Living (Zhit) by Vasily Sigarev shows violence and despair in Russia, while Loving (Milosc) by Slawomir Fabicki delves into the intricacies of a marriage struck by rape, in an affluent Polish setting.

Norwegian entry The Almost Man (Mer eller mindre mann) by Martin Lund hilariously explores the efforts of 35-year-old “manchild” Henrik as he tries to come to terms with impending fatherhood. In 11 meetings with my father (11 synantiseis me ton pateramouì) by Nikos Kornilios, a young opera singer in crisis-plagued Greece makes contact with her long lost (and, as it turns out, downtrodden) father.

The fascinatingly unconventional The Dream and the Silence (Sueño y silencio) by Jaime Rosaleswe follows a family struck by grief; their immigrant status (being Spanish in France) is merely a question of bilingualism. In Silent Ones (A csendesek) by Dutch director Ricky Rijneke, the protagonist is a destitute Hungarian woman desperately looking for her younger brother, and boarding a ship in hope of a better life.

This notion of leaving the old for the new is also evident in the festival’s FIPRESCI award-winning film, Ships (Ferahfeza) by Elif Refig. While set in Turkey with Turkish characters, it is universal — and very European — in its poetic portrait of young dreamer Ali who lives a secure but unfulfilling life, and night after night dreams about a mysterious ship that will take him away to a new existence. When he meets fellow outcast Eda, he invites her into his dream.

One of the conclusions after attending this year’s Festival del Cinema Europea must be that the longing for a better life is deeply ingrained in the human spirit, regardless of nationality or personal circumstance. We are all looking for ships to sail away on.

Edited by Alison Frank