In its 48th edition, the Karlovy Vary film festival offered an immense variety of films, not only in the official selection, where movies from many European countries had their international premiere, providing a viewer with a vast range of genres and approaches, but also in other attractive programs and tributes. One of them is the East of the West competition program where the audience had the opportunity to see twelve movies that geographically stretch from Northern Europe to the Balkans and from the Urals to the Czech Republic. Having that in mind, it is apparently hard to find a common aspect that could most accurately portray this year’s selection. For instance, the hard-hitting Polish drama The Girl from the Wardrobe (Dziewczyna z szafy) seems to come from another planet compared to the Slovenian Adria Blues, just as the Romanian social drama The Unsaved (La limita de jos a cerului) is impossible to match with the artistic and vivid biographical movie Paradjanov. If one asks what the slogan “East of the West” could actually mean, there is no stringent and unanimous answer – it could be a huge meadow where diverse artistic pictures are scattered around.
Nonetheless, there are at least three movies in this section which stood out for their powerful imagery, profound introspection of desolation and provocative fables: The Sea (More), dir. Alexandra Strelyanaya, Russia; Withering (Odumiranje), dir. Milos Pusic, Serbia, and Velvet Terrorists (Zamatovi teroristi), dir. Ivan Ostrochovsky, Pavol Pekarcik and Peter Kerekes, Slovak Republi/Czech Republic.
Since the film Velvet Terrorists received the FEDEORA award at the festival, and will be reviewed in detail in another article, I will deal with the other two very good features. The Sea is Strelyanaya’s second feature film, and the influence of her previous short dramas and documentaries is obvious upon the screening of this movie which had its premiere at this festival. Straightforwardly speaking, the movie is a meditative-poetic journey throughout the wilderness of Russia: the main protagonists are a young photographer who comes to the North Sea coast and a young girl who will soon become his guide all the way through the isolated fisherman’s village at the coast. With its impressive atmosphere, captivating photography, good editing and well-balanced proportion of documentary and fiction pieces, The Sea gives a viewer a refreshingly good journey not only to the harsh landscape of a desolated settlement but also to the hidden secrets of its, mostly older, inhabitants, their inner struggle with the sea that sets the rhythm of their lives.
In the movie it was done by a combination of actual interviews with the local population, and a combination of fiction parts where we see how the relationship between the girl from the village and the boy from the town becomes deeper and twists into a summer love affair. The director is not offering a straight storyline: instead, she successfully portrays the atmosphere of a disappearing world with an endless sea, sharing this cruelty of living but also its gorgeousness through poetic and meditative images.
Withering is also a movie about a vanishing world, much different from Strelyanaya’s poetical approach, with a strong storyline, and sense of bitterness that does not easily vanish. The main character Janko is coming back to his native village after some years spent in Belgrade. His widowed mother is pleased and looking forward to her son taking care of the house and the land, but his intention is different: he plans to emigrate and the purpose of his arrival is to sell his fatherland in order to get money for a new beginning. Withering is a sturdy and powerful story not only about the disappearance of old habits and the life in a remote mountain village, but also nicely portrays the withering of human relations as well. Throughout this two-hour movie, the director does not only depict the classical clash of generations (although he favours neither the younger nor the older side) where the bond between the land and area is naturally stronger among the older population, but the picturesque scenery becomes also a stage for the eternal battle inside the protagonist: he knows very well that here he has no future, because the village is deprived of it, as well of its past: the point is that he will be happy neither here, nor abroad which is his final destination and the final sequence of the movie – at least, he will be discontented somewhere else. The cyclical structure (beginning and finishing with the protagonist’s arrival and departure), excellent photography, few very good and strong actors’ performances as well as an interesting screenplay makes Miloš Pušić’s second feature film worth paying attention.
Tonči Valentić, Croatia