Being a geographical platform for presenting first and second features from Central and Eastern Europe, the Balkans, Turkey and the countries of the former Soviet Union, the East of the West competition offered more than one surprise in its twelve selected films during the 49th KVIFF 2014.
Hungarian cinema was represented by two films belonging to the comedy genre. The first was Afterlife (Utóélet) by female writer-director Virág Zomborácz who is making her feature film debut. Zomborácz’s comedy is a dark fantasy about Mózes, an insecure young man whose father suddenly dies of a heart attack but whose spirit comes back to haunt his son, who is still in a transitional phase from parental dependence into puberty. Of course, international cinema has presented similar films like Jerry Zucker’s American cult film Ghost (1990) where the spirit of Patrick Swayze’s Sam was trying to save his beloved Molly (Demi Moore) from his own killer and also Bruno Barreto’s Brazilian erotic comedy Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (Dona Flor e seus dois maridos, 1976) where the spirit (and naked body) of a dead man returns to haunt the sexual life of his widow (Sonia Braga) with her new husband. Nevertheless, the Hungarian Zomborácz succeeded in putting her special touch to her own script that also criticizes the obsession of some Hungarians about their Christian heritage.
The second film is also a comedy called For Some Inexplicable Reason (VAN valami furcsa és megmagyarázhatatlan) by another writer-director Gábor Reisz who has given a brighter and satiric approach in discussing romantically troubled youth. The film also shares a common element with Afterlife as the main character Áron is prevented from becoming an independent man with a girlfriend because his parents are still treating him like a child. Áron also cannot survive the lost of his girlfriend Eszter whose shadow keeps on haunting him in the day and during his sleeping hours. The dramatic line between Áron and Eszter is quite similar to the one in the US film (500) Days of Summer (2009) where Joseph Gordon-Levitt was playing a young man who cannot live without his lost girlfriend. What’s original in For Some Inexplicable Reason is that the narrative is completely told from the perspective of Áron with continuous comic sketches involving himself, his friends and his parents.
The competition also included a couple of Serbian films. The first, Monument to Michael Jackson (Spomenik Majklu Džeksonu) by Darko Lungulov, is quite a surprise addition to Serbian filmmaking since the film offers an original story and good performances by the leads and supporting actors. Boris Milivojević plays a barber in a small Serbian town who gets this idea of replacing the old communist monument with a statue of Michael Jackson in order to attract tourism and to impress his estranged wife. The smart script by Lungulov has more than a satiric reference about Serbia before and after the communist days and how different people still cope with the decomposition of Yugoslavia.
With shallow characters and a superficial script, Barbarians (Varvari) by Ivan Ikić unsuccessfully treated the daily lives of teenage boys lost between drinking, football, cybersex and discontinued relationship in a remote and poor Serbian town. Ikić also failed to deepen his script with the sociopolitical dimension about the declaration of independence of Kosovo. The film cannot be compared to more powerful films about lost boys or skinheads like the more profound La Haine (1995) by Mathieu Kassovitz. One note about the selection that programs of this competition might consider is that one film from each country should be selected in order to give equal opportunities of representation for the countries of this region.
Delight (Rozkos) from Czech writer-director Jitka Rudolfová is also one of the weakest entries in the selection. Overlong and scattered, the script does not rely on following the main character Milena or her boyfriend but focuses on presenting their text messages to each other on the screen, which doesn’t, by the way, support any character or plot development. Milena, who seemed to be lost between her lying boyfriend and the rest of her uninteresting male friends, like the fellow editor or the depressed musician, keeps on going back to them.
Another incomplete experience is the Estonian romantic drama Cherry Tobacco (Kirsitubakas) by Katrin Maimik and Andres Maimik, where the 17-year-old Laura falls for the middle-aged hippie-like Joosep. Unbeknownst to her, Joosep is already married with children and moreover he has a long reputation of charming young women like her. Cherry Tobacco isn’t the first film about first love and wouldn’t be the last but the experience of watching it evaporates after leaving the theater.
The following two films Kebab & Horoscope from Poland and Norway from Greece are also additions to the comedy genre that reigned over the taste of this section’s programmers. But being a comedy doesn’t signify a film as having a funny script or witty performances. Kebab & Horoscope by Grzegorz Jaroszuk only pulls the laughs in the opening pre-title scene where two men are sitting in a Kebab shop. The first, who is called Kebab, discovers that the horoscope that he is always following is written by the other man, called Horoscope!
Norway (Norviyia) by Yiannis Veslemes shows a great influence of surreal and fantasy films in telling the story of a vampire called Zano who arrives in Athens of the year 1984 to dance to disco music and to romance many women as much as he can. It is really a pleasure watching a vampire moving across surreal settings in a Greek contemporary film, but Veslemes is no Terry Gilliam to pull it through until the end.
With the lack of a Turkish film in this year’s East of the West selection, Down the River (Axınla Aşağı) by Asif Rustamov is a convenient indemnity given its portrayal of a masochistic husband who is rude to his son and wife but romantic in the arms of his secret younger lover until a melodramatic accident takes his son away from him. The film is carried by the performance of the main actor Namig Agayev who plays the father Ali and who succeeded to present various stages of his character.
We come to the more satisfying films of the this section with The Tree (Drevo) by Slovenian filmmaker Sonja Prosenc who is presenting a quite symbolic story seen from the perspective of a widowed mother, her elder son and his younger brother. The three are living in a house that seems like their prison as they fear communicating with the outside world. The tree in the title is in a field where an accidental death of a young man changes the course of this family forever.
The winner of the FEDEORA Jury Special Mention Award is the Russian drama Corrections Class (Klass korrektsii) by Ivan I. Tverdovsky who succeeded to helm both professional and amateur actors in the story about disadvantaged teenagers who must spend a semester in a special class to be qualified to go back to school. Tverdovsky, whose age is quite closer to his protagonists, hence his understanding of their endeavors, also demonstrates, alongside his director of photography, a dynamic use of a handheld camera.
Last but not least, Bota by Iris Elezi and Thomas Logoreci, the winner of the FEDEORA Jury Best Film Award, is the most satisfying film in the whole competition. Marked by solid performances by the three leads Flonja Kodheli, Fioralba Kryemadhi, Artur Gorishti in addition to the supporting cast, the story shows the connection between current day Albania to the past days of communist supremacy that still haunts the older people and their descendents. Bota, which is a café owned by the three protagonists Juli, Nora and Ben means “the world” in Albanian and also is the minimalistic world for those three. A beautiful use of the remote Albanian landscape and classic scores from lost vinyl records add to the authenticity of the story.
Sherif Awad, Egypt