What Is European Cinema About? 15th Edition of the European Cinema Festival

in 15th Festival of European Cinema, Lecce

by Tatiana Rosenstein

“What is European Cinema about?” was the question I kept asking myself on the way to the 15th Festival del Cinema Europeo in the romantic town of Lecce, which is in Puglia, South Italy. In a way, I found my answers in the festival program.

European Cinema neither pays attention to the conventional cinematography typical of the big budget Hollywood productions, nor to the classical development of the script. Of course, the film stories have their introduction, culmination and end. But sometimes we wait for the culmination so long that it never seems to come, like in Macondo by Sudabeh Mortezai. The Austrian drama focuses on a boy named Macondo, who lost his father. He came with his mother and two sisters all the way from Chechnya to Austria and at the age of eleven he has to take care of his family, playing the role of an adult, a man, which obviously overwhelms him. If not for the bilingual Chechen boy Ramasan Minkailov, who intensely plays Macondo, we might have mistaken this fiction film for a documentary, so reserved is the camera and so spare are the dialogues.

Lifelong (Hayatboyu) by Asli Özge is more stylish in a cinematographic way, with nice mise-en-scene. However the acting factor is dismissed. The life of unhappy married Ela and Can flies quietly in front of us and even two very meaningful moments — when Ela discovers that Can is cheating on her and when she tells him about it — run peacefully on screen, without much excitement or drama. Why not learn from the protagonists to take life in the same cool and observing way?

European cinema not only deals with the local problems, but often pays attention to other cultures, integrated in the local life. In Bobo by Ines Oliveira, the female character rescues a little African girl from the old and ugly tradition of female genital mutilation. However she is not able to solve her own problems in the same resolute way and we never experience the truth about her own loss.

European cinema is all about difficulties and complexity; we might even think that our life must be tougher than in other places. Obviously we aren’t born to enjoy life, but to suffer it. In Miracle (Zázrak) by Juraj Lehotsky we see a girl of just fourteen years of age, who has already experienced a series of troubles which might never happen to a real person even if this person was placed on the edge of society. Following a conflict with her mother, Ela is sent to an asylum for difficult kids, her drug-addicted boyfriend gets her pregnant and sells her to a pimp. She is raped and finally repels her own child.

European cinema does not like winners, but prefers losers. Could a young woman at the age of just 32 have no money, and no intention to change anything? Is it possible that she will not have a single friend, visible family or a partner? Could she lose her grip on reality after her dog accidently dies? Well yes, but in Hollywood we would witness her changing her life, becoming stronger. At the end of the Greek film September by Penny Panayotopoulou we only see how the girl is healed by accidently finding another dog. The question remains – What would happen if the second dog went away?

Blind Dates (Brma paemnebi) by Georgian director Levan Koguashvili (Ulivo D’Oro Award) is about Sandro, a 40 years old school teacher who still lives with his parents. His mother and father are concerned about their son’s future and become obsessed with the idea of getting him married. It doesn’t seem to trouble the protagonist himself. He falls in love with Manana, the mother of one of his pupils, whose husband Tengo is just being released from jail. Sandro and Tengo cannot be more different from each other. The first is passive and quiet; the second is active and constantly fighting. What do we learn at the end? That the one who always fights will lose at the end and the other, who isn’t doing much, will get the wife of the other, the lover and even money. The point is to show the characters in their weakness and absurdity, but with warm irony, which works perfectly in this production.

In the black-and-white Concrete Night (Betoniyö) by Finnish director Pirjo Honkasalo we meet young and fragile Simo and his criminal aggressive brother Ilkka. The two brothers need to survive one day together; after which the older brother starts a prison sentence. That one day makes a whole lot of difference. Simo is turned into a killer, while Ilkka begins to grieve his cynicism and the disappearance of his younger brother.

Winter journey (Zimniy put) — the feature debut of actor Sergey Taramaev and his wife, actress and screenwriter Lubov Lvova — presents the audience with a mix of the themes usually expected of a Russian film. There’s an intellectual topic — a conservatory student struggling to get through the competition — and two extreme, highly emotional and explosive characters: a singer who enjoys his bohemian life and a worker who is trying to survive. The mixture of the two ever important themes — love and death — is accompanied with “Winter Journey!” by Franz Schubert.

Francois Dupeyron’s One of a kind (Mon âme par toi guérie) confirmed what we learned to expect from French cinema. Serious topics such as unemployment, poverty, desertion and alcoholism are dealt with light humor whichs make everything seem potentially solved. Just as in Amelie (Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain) everything can be released with a final scene of a happy couple riding a bike.

Maybe the best mixture of difficulties and hope can be found in The Letter to the king (Brev Til Kongen) by Hisham Zaman. Even though the film is dedicated to Kurdish refugees fighting for their human rights, another social topic, the director cleverly matches briefly sketched dramatic portraits of the protagonists with skilful cinematography (poetic narrative, dialogues and camera work among them). It is remarkable how the director managed to create his complex characters in only 75 minutes. We meet the despondent 83 years old Mirza who desperately wants to return to Kurdistan to bury one of his sons, which he is describing in his letter to the king, naively carrying the idea about the royalty as the high justice; 15 year old Zirek, who is fluent in Norwegian and wants to find a girl; wannabe playboy Miro, who hopes to find love and prosperity; all-in-one, attractive widow Beritan who came to Oslo to take revenge on the person who betrayed her husband; downcast Akbar, who faces deportation and tries to collect his money from his former faithless employers and finally the Champion — highly professional martial arts expert, who is looking to find a job, hoping that his professionalism and skills are still appreciated, however ending up arrested by helping his friend.

Of course, European cinema is different from Hollywood’s. Hollywood makes us dream in the theater. European films teach us to appreciate our life, which doesn’t seem so bad after all the troubles and suffering we experienced on screen.

Edited by Yael Shuv