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Balkan Survey

Violence, corruption, hypocrisy, uncertainty, acculturation, social reality in the provinces, thewounds ofwar and communist dictatorships – all these make up the main coordinates of this year’s cinematic mapping of the Balkans.
  Against the backdrop of the declaration of Kosovo’s independence, in his Barbarians, newcomer Ivan Ikić portrays a section of Serb youth and the country’s transitional status, which is ruled by a loss of values, corruption, and themanipulation and abuse of power. The taboo of rape in the rigid patriarchal society of a Balkan village is explored by Kosovar Isa Qosja in his film Three Windows and a Hanging, in which a woman’s tragedy is perceived as a shameful occurrence for both her and the community. In These Are the Rules, Croatian Ognjen Sviličić focuses on the stoic way in which two law-abiding parents deal with a tragic situation. Without melodrama and with a deliberately uncomplicated direction, Sviličić highlights the inhumane bureaucracy and the hypocrisy of modern-day society in an oddly optimistic film. Employing an equally realistic and cool-headed narrative, in their film The Lesson (International Competition), Bulgarian filmmakers Kristina Grozeva and Petar Valchanov register the financial anxiety and desperation, as well as the corruption and exploitation that are the marks of an economic crisis. In The Reaper, the program’s other Croat, Zvonimir Jurić, plays with the conventions of the thriller and examines – through three stories which reveal different aspects of his antihero – a local community’s standstill when it comes to overcoming the traumas of war. The casualties of war are also the topic of Andrea Štaka’s Cure –The Life of Another, a coming-of-age drama and an intimate glimpse of her native Dubrovnik. The inner journey, the search for oneself and the forging of the female identity are conveyed through the love-hate relationship between two adolescent girls.
  The program’sTurkish directors cast their gaze on life in the provinces. Kutluğ Ataman, in the visually stunning The Lamb, uses a light-hearted, humorous and tender touch, as he conveys the emotional upheaval of a young boy and his mother’s desperate efforts to find the money for the celebration of her son’s circumcision, so that their family won’t lose face. In a very different vein and devoid of any sentimentality, Kaan Müjdeci’s directorial debut, Sivas, describes the coming-of-age of young Aslan through the violent practice of dog fights, a custom which unites and defines men in that part of the country. The harsh reality of the community’s everyday life and social structure is illustrated with documentary-style sensitivity and a sharp sense of characters and places. Finally, Nuri Bilge Ceylan, in Winter Sleep, is inspired by Chekhov and uses a troubled marriage as a springboard in order to delve into the human soul and its motives. A character studywhich outlinesTurkey’s social classes and touches upon fundamental moral and philosophical issues, which transcend the national context.
  The recent historical past provides the subject matter for three filmmakers this year. In Viktoria, her first feature film, Bulgarian Maya Vitkova uses a dysfunctional family in order to chronicle the dramatic changes that have taken place in her homeland over the last thirty-five years. With visual mastery, she interweaves surrealism, satire and drama, bringing together the concepts of motherhood and motherland, and addressing loss and adaptation. The social system and the surveillance methods of the Ceaușescu regime are described in Quod Erat Demonstrandum. Here, Andrei Gruzsniczki presents a detailed account of the era, empathizing with his characters, seeking out and rationalizing their motives. Against the backdrop of a football derby, in The Second Game, Corneliu Porumboiu has a conversation with his father, who was actually the referee of the match in question. Without the benefit of direction or editing, this personal film highlights the relationship between the two men, the different ways of seeing, and the political corruption present in football under Ceaușescu.
  Human weaknesses seem to be the focal point of many of this year’s short films. In Horsepower, Daniel Sandu tackles the fragility of friendship; in It Can Pass through the Wall, Radu Jude talks about the fear of death, while in Moonless Summer, Stefan Ivančić contemplates the fear of coming changes; in Ice Cream, Serhat Karaaslan relates the efforts of a little boy to get an ice cream; and in Ela, Panda & Madame, Andrei Ştefan Răuţu recounts the relationship between a woman and her grandmother. Finally, the animation film Thousand, by Danijel Zezelj, concerns the nightmare of environmental destruction, while Nicolae Constantin Tănase’s 12 Minutes adopts a Kill Bill-like narrative.
Dimitris Kerkinos
“Balkan Survey” Programmer

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