I have to confess, unashamedly, that what I remember most of the East of the West program in Karlovy Vary 2012 will be tits and asses. If the young horny loafers Jay and Silent Bob from Clerks (1994) had been on a jury, they might’ve enjoyed it. It reminds me that American youngsters in the ‘50s chose to see European movies because of the censorship of US movies. In order to see daring stuff – beautiful, female figures with big tits and long legs – they would go to a film by Fellini, Bergman or Vadim… And some of these young men attending these screenings became American filmmakers in the ‘60s. And when you are a young man, how can you not make movies about sex and women? Take Coppola’s second feature, You’re a Big Boy Now (1966), which opened with a tracking shot following a sexy red haired girl walking, to some nice beat, and then became a story of a young man struggling to get some sex. To stay on track, it seems like now, in the digital era, Eastern European cinema is offering something that the western film is not, and something which even Scandinavian film lacks. That would just not be politically correct anymore. If you would make something like this in my home country, the newspapers would have to judge the films as sexist.
Let’s take the scene from Zdenek Jirasky’s Flower Buds (Poupata) – winner of the FEDEORA prize this year – a lousy bar with slot machines, with customers completely wasted, people throwing up from time to time, a really cheap joint. One night the customers are gathered in a circle. Arousing, tempting music starts up. A stripper walks in. The crowd is cheering. The scene takes its time, since this stripper takes it all off, slowly, and then grabs a young man from the audience in to play with. The woman is a gorgeous looking blonde, and the scene – even in a sad bar – is quite erotic. The stripper, Zuzana, becomes crucial in the film, and as it turns out, actress Aneta Krejcíková gives the best performance in the film with many fine actors. The following sequence shows the young man expressing his affection for the stripper in a kitchen. So when the next stripping scene comes, with the young man not taken into the show anymore, it feels a bit different, like a bittersweet reminiscence of teenage longing, the need for love and understanding…
On the other hand, this portrayal of a woman is rather sad, reminiscent of Milos Forman’s wonderful satire Loves of a Blonde (Lásky jedné plavovlásky, 1965), a witty yet tender film about the libido – “If I don’t get to bed soon, I will go to sleep!” – showing female sexuality as a constructive force. The versatile way in which Forman is able to handle sexuality has to be one of the key reasons why the film has stood the test of time.
The Serbian film (made in coproduction with Germany, France, Hungary and Croatia) Practical Guide to Belgrade with Singing and Crying (Praktičan vodič kroz Beograd sa pevanjem i plakanjem) is divided into four episodes, the best one being about a frustrated Turkish business man, who walks out on his wife (an extremely sexy eastern blonde lying in bed) to take a stroll. He ends up in a bar being seduced by a good-looking, hard drinking woman with intense eyes. The discussion is in English, and goes something like this. “Do you have a darling?” The man: “No.” The woman: “I’m sorry to be the one to tell you, but tonight you will cheat on your darling.” And that happens for sure. In the morning the man feels much better.
In a previous episode we are introduced to a quirky American tourist who has a local woman, a dominatrix. Plus you have sexy stewardesses. The episodes are interspersed with scenes of Belgrade that are like the opening shots in Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011). In every picture there’s a kissing couple. It’s supposed to be ironic. And yes, Serbia has some of the sexiest women in the world.
So does Poland, by the way. In Yuma, essentially a commercial show-off film with some rock ‘n’ roll attitude about smugglers working on the German border in the early ‘90s. The great Katarzina Figura, who seems like she eats young men for breakfast, is first encountered sitting on a toilet, when her nephew opens the door. They exchange flirty looks. The next moment the aunt slaps him on the buttocks. She runs a brothel, and at one point she promises her nephew to save the best for last. Near the end she has an orgasm on top of her familial prey. In between we meet some sexy hookers, and get to know one of the leading girl’s ass in close-up, while receiving this educating history lesson.
It gets even better in Vanishing Waves (Lithuania), which is essentially soft porn. If you remember the scene in Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983), where James Woods refuses to buy new material for his porn channel from Lynne Gorman, ‘cause her film is too arty’, well Vanishing Waves is pretty much that film. You have this far-fetched story about some scientists using one guy as a guinea pig so they can follow his head-trips. And oh my, this guy’s got some visual fantasies. The best one’s an orgy, filled with hot nude women in a black room, caressing each other for minutes while this guy steps in the middle.
I’m afraid that tit spotting became my critical measure. After a few minutes in the Latvian film, People Out There (Cilvēki tur), you have Internet porn. Sadly, this violent portrayal of young men living in a fucked up society, plays like a boring episode of The Wire.
Sex also dominated Made in Ash (Az do mesta As), the Slovakian film about two girls becoming prostitutes, and Shameless (Bez wstydu), the Polish film about a teenage guy falling in love with his super hot older sister (we get to spy with him, the audience moving their heads to the left while the camera is at the bathroom door…)
The biggest disappointments came from Hungary with The Exam (A vizsga) directed by Peter Bergendy and Dear Betrayed Friends (Drága besúgott barátaim) directed by Sára Cserhalmi. At the beginning of the latter, you see this old guy waking up next to a beautiful woman with nice tits. Then it turns into a political soap opera. It seems that after Andrew Vajna has taken control of the funding system in Hungary, the country is now producing poor Lives of Others style scenarios playing like a two-hour episode of a German police series.
I want to mention two films outside of the competition. Holy Motors by Leos Carax shows pornography in an interesting context, putting Eva Mendes in a burka next to a naked Denis Lavant with a hard-on. In Cronenberg’s Cosmopolis you have the hottest scene with Juliette Binoche getting erotically excited. Thank God for the French!
My special mention goes to the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival trailer featuring the great Jiri Menzel, who gets a glimpse of a young girl’s ass, magnified through his Crystal Globe award… before he falls off his chair in excitement. It’s a reminder of the days when we still saw films on 35mm. And also it’s a wonderful glimpse into Eastern European female beauty, and the goofiness of men encountering it.
Eero Tammi, Finland
An indefinite film enthusiast based in Helsinki. Works for the Midnight Sun Film Festival, edits the film magazine Filmihullu, writes interviews and festival reports for the Finnish News Agency, does programming for the Finnish Film Archive and film festivals, and studies film editing at the ELO Helsinki Film School, University of Art and Design.