The contemporary social reality of the Balkan countries, still in a state of transition, is the prevailing theme in this year’s selection. The work of Balkan filmmakers serves as an unimpeachable witness of their times, telling stories that bring together the personal and the social, with the characters’ existential problems being, to a large extent, the product of the social and political realities they are experiencing.
Kamen Kalev’s Eastern Plays, the first Bulgarian film to screen at Cannes in 29 years, is an existential drama that draws on real events and reflects the social changes that are taking place in this country: through the story of two estranged brothers that are trying to make it on their own, we become witnesses to a milieu of family crises, political corruption, racism and bigotry. In Metastases, Croatia’s Branko Schmidt explores the life of a generation that grew up during the civil war and the postwar period that followed, and chronicles its vain attempts to adapt to capitalist society. In stark contrast, the main character of Damjan Kozole’s Slovenian Girl is a down-to-earth example of a young woman who has not only adapted to the new capitalist reality, but displays shocking avarice and facility in her effort to make a better life for herself through prostitution.
More than any other Balkan country, the films coming out of Romania are the ones which, in recent years, by dint of their unadorned realism, their verité filming, their effortless performances and their everyday subject matter, reflect most faithfully their social reality. In Police, Adjective, Corneliu Porumboiu reflects on the meaning of words and the law, presenting police procedures with clinical detachment, dispassionately exploring his hero’s daily routine and his relationship with authority, but also delivering an indirect critique of his country’s post-Communist deadlock. In The Happiest Girl in the World, Radu Jude focuses on the emotional blackmail inflicted on a daughter by her parents who are set on selling off the car she won in a contest in order to pay off their debts. Basing himself on a true story, Jude examines family relations and conveys the feelings of the young woman, pointing out – without moralizing – the consequences of consumerism in modern-day Romania. Strained familial relations are also at the heart of Razdan Radulascu and Melissa de Raaf’s minimalist First of all, Felicia, a film about the love, guilt, hidden feelings, lack of communication and power games that lie within the family.
Portraying the real lives of her characters who play themselves against a backdrop of the places where they live and work, in her film Men on the Bridge Asli Özge blurs the line between fiction and documentary, as she illustrates the fear felt by Istanbul’s younger generation in the face of an uncertain future. A diametrically opposed view of the same city can be seen in Mahmut Fazil Coşkun’s Wrong Rosary, a romantic story of impossible love in which the city itself becomes one of the protagonists.
Immigration, a salient feature of Balkan reality, is the subject of three different approaches. In Here and There, by Serb director Darko Lungulov, immigration is merely the backdrop to a romantic story and, as such, is presented in a light-hearted, optimistic way. Conversely, Goran Paskaljevic’s latest film, Honeymoons, screened as part of this year’s Balkan Survey’s main tribute, highlights immigration’s more realistic and pessimistic aspect: on the one hand there is the longing for a better life, while on the other there is the hostility with which aspiring Balkan immigrants are met at the Western borders. Finally, in his film East West East: The Last Sprint, Albania’s Gjergj Xhuvani turns his gaze to the past, just before the collapse of communism in his country, and tells us, through a moving story, what we all know deep down: no one wants to leave their homeland, no matter how bad things might get.
Romanian filmmaker Titus Muntean’s Kino Caravan is also set in the past, and explores the interaction between people and authority in the time of Ceausescu, while Nadejda Koseva’s short film Omelette is a sparse drama about the poverty and desperation people have come to know since the fall of Communism. Set in a purposely vague time, the antiwar film Ordinary People by Serbia’s Vladimir Perišić is a study of how a “newbie” can be transformed into a cold-blooded executioner. This year’s selection is rounded off by Dalibor Matanić’s dreamlike Party and Peter Strickland’s haunting road movie Catalina Varga.
“Balkan Survey” Programmer