The Vector of Search towards the East
In April 2019 the 19th edition of the international film festival goEast took place in Wiesbaden; it is the most authoritative platform that aims to acquaint Western audiences with East European cinema and provide an opportunity for filmmakers from the countries of the former USSR to present their works.
The festival selectors and curators of the master-classes and panel discussions that were organized in the festival’s frameworks have been concerned not so much with the search for new artistic means, as with an analysis of the social issues and ideological concepts of the modern world, as well as the introduction of new territories. This is evident from the fact that films made in the Caucasus and Central Asia, once part of the USSR, were included in the various programs.
The formation of special events and of the festival’s competition program, as well as its infrastructure and the jury composition gave the festival a perfectly female face. The competition included 16 feature films, of which 7 were made by women. The festival opened with the North Macedonian film God Exists, Her Name is Petrunya (Gospod postoi, imeto i’ e Petrunija, 2019) by Teona Strugar Mitevska, who headed the international jury.
In the competition program we could see the documentary films Strip and War by Andrei Kutsila (Belarus, Poland), White Mama by Zosia Rodkevich and Evgeniia Ostanina (Belaia mama, Russia), Home Games (Domashni igri, Ukraine, France and Poland) by Alisa Kovalenko and the fiction films Take Me Somewhere Nice by Ena Sendijarević (Netherlands, Bosnia), End of Season by Elmar Imanov (Azerbaijan, Germany, Georgia), Moments (Chvilky) by Beata Parkanová (Czech Republic, Slovakia), The Gentle Indifference of the World (Laskoevoe bezrazlichie mira) by Adilkhan Yerzhanov (Kazakhstan, France), Moon Hotel Kabul by Anca Damian (Romania, France), Alexander Gorchilin’s Acid (Kislota, Russia), the new film by Hungarian director György Pálfi, His Master’s Voice (Az Úr Hangja), based on Stanislav Lem’s novel of the same title, Cold November (Nëntor i ftohtë, Kosovo, Albania, Macedonia) by Kosovo filmmaker Ismet Sijarina, and others. I was very privileged to have been to this festival edition and seen these films.
Many of the competition films engaged with the theme of feminism, the crisis of family, the concept of pacifism, and the rescue of nature; among those films were genuine gems, which were made not to follow trends but to address a topic of the day: fresh, original and free… Almost all of them comprised full and emotional portraits of women from different countries, of different age and different character, but all of them facing similar situations.
The documentary film Strip and War by Andrei Kutsila received the prize of the FIPRESCI jury – deservedly so, because first, this documentary film presented itself like a fiction film, shot along a script; and second, because of the story that moves to the foreground the relationship between generations, of grandfather and grandson.
The grandson, Anatoli, actually dreams of a career as a professional dancer. He dances in the nightclubs and discos of the capital Minsk, and sometimes he goes on tour to neighboring countries. Anatoli’s grandfather, a retired officer, does not at all understand why the young man, who graduated in engineering, dances in extravagant outfits before women. The grandson, in turn, does not understand why the grandfather still believes in communism. So disputes arise between them day after day. In this touching story of a conflict of generations, each of the two exists with his living space, moral coordinates and value system and is reflected in a mirror. The omnipresent political and ideological concepts form the background.
From the first frames, those films reflecting unusual female characters drew attention, such as the drama End of Season on the theme of family alienation, or the film Moments with its meditative poetics. Imanov’s debut film End of Season begins and ends with nocturnal shots of a Baku suburb. Again it is a question of a woman who does not want to live the old way. An unexpected incident shakes up the foundations of the small Azeri family. It is a social drama about how difficult it is even for very close people to communicate to each other their worries; it is the story of a woman who decides to leave her husband in order to understand herself. Fidan is no longer satisfied with the explanations of the male world: her father, her husband, her son. She has nobody to equal herself to. The absence in the film of national color and the boldness of some scenes certainly serve to erase the spectator’s stereotypes about Azeri cinema. The story of End of Season concerns the quiet Fidan, reaching the threshold of her patience; her apathetic husband, the loser Samir; and their son Mahmud, who has run from the quiet collapse of the family. The protagonists reflect one of the global thematic trends in modern cinema: the “weakness” or inconsistency of man. The spectator collects the mosaic of these relationships from frames of everyday life.
The heroine of the Czech film Moments is a quiet, sympathetic and sensitive young girl, with huge emotional resources. She cares about her parents, always keen to meet the expectations which the world around places on her shoulders… Creating a fine portrait of the heroine, Parkanová tries to define the roots and limitations of her true desires behind a kaleidoscope of emotions. The film’s poetics are as close as possible to meditation. The film draws the spectator into its atmosphere from the very first frame, telling a story about transition, about leaving the past behind. Shot in an original and often bold auteur manner, the film offers an absolutely clear narrative about a separate person and about the big and far-from-ideal world around her. The film is a remarkable contribution to the festival.
Noteworthy among the competition films is Acid by Aleksandr Gorchilin, which offers a panoramic portrait of an entire generation. It immerses the viewer into the problems of the life of Russian youth in the capital Moscow. Aspiring to show how young people live in a world of self-destruction, the filmmaker identifies this environment with the corrosion of an all-pervasive acid.
The Kazakh film The Gentle Indifference of this World by Adilkhan Yerzhanov was our unconditional favorite for the FIPRESCI prize for best fiction feature film. A very lively and often amusing film, its original cinematic language and fine sense of humor delighted spectators and offered a mirror for modern Central-Asian cinema. The film’s heroine Saltanat (in Kazakh this name means ‘ruler’) learns after her father’s suicide that a huge debt lies on the family. If her mother cannot pay off the debt in the near future, the prison waits for her – and the orphanage for her two juvenile brothers. Saltanat is forced to go to city where an uncle has his own plans for the girl. Her only friend and savior is the hulky merry-man Kuandyk, enamored with Saltanat since their childhood. In this complex situation, each of the young people slowly caves in and, under the pressure of circumstances, holds on to the only bright thing in their world: love. The story is quite universal, and it could happen in Almaty or Paris or Beijing. The romantic drama Gentle Indifference is perhaps the most story-based film of the festival. Noteworthy is also the magnificent work of debutant-cameraman Aidar Sharipov and of the production designer Ermek Utegenov.
The steady interest from the selectors and organizers of the festival in unknown names and territories makes hope for a continued interest in the cinematographies of Central Asia, including my own country Uzbekistan.
© FIPRESCI 2020
Translated and edited by Birgit Beumers