What makes Cinema City different?
As one of the youngest in the region, Cinema City International Film Festival, in its fourth edition, offered more than 150 films within a large variety of selections, accompanied by panel discussions as well as workshops and concerts. Having that in mind, an average moviegoer could easily conclude that during a one-week program the days were packed. Since these days almost every city and region has its festival, the obvious question is what makes Cinema City different? There are at least three possible answers. Firstly, taking into account that it came to light under the wing of Exit (the well-known music festival and possibly the biggest musical venue in South-East Europe), from the very beginning they were both organizationally closely related, and for that reason one of the main features of the festival is that it has mainly a very young audience (the average visitor is said to be 23 years old). Secondly, since it is pleasantly situated in the center of Novi Sad and scattered over the twenty attractive locations (but mainly in the newly refurbished Arena Cineplex), it creates a vibrant and vivacious atmosphere. And last, but not least, it gives a good overview of the national production, showing recent Serbian feature films, which is dominated also by young directors and young crews.
The FEDEORA jury at the festival was composed of three members (Blagoja Kunovski, Alison Frank and Tonči Valentić) and we were in charge of awarding best movies from two selections: National class (10 feature films) and a selection of regional movies plainly named Balkan Box (5 films). Unlike the main festival jury, which had the pleasing, though difficult task of giving ten different awards (including Grand Prix, Best Directing, Screenplay, etc.), our film critic’s jury had the privilege of giving two awards for best movie in the respective categories.
As mentioned above, although National class was dominated by youngsters, it basically presented a whole spectrum of Serbian directors, from the young ones and mid-generation directors to the established filmmakers who made some interesting contributions. To be honest, one should always be cautious regarding annual national production; not all of the films which are produced in any given country share the same quality and artistic values. That said, among the ten films one might observe not only different styles and aesthetic approaches, but also an uneven level of professional standards. It was therefore a pleasant surprise that at least half of them stood out as narratively interesting, socially critical, emotionally loaded and proficiently directed works. Here are some of the favorites, the ones that forces you to deepen your senses and that you will, most probably, not forget after leaving the movie theatre.
Kako su me ukrali Nemci (How I Was Stolen by the Germans) is an epic chronicle about growing up in a small town in Serbia before and during the Second World War. Professionally shot, with a very interesting script, appropriately low-key photography, directed by the experienced Miloš Radiviojević (b. 1939), this 140 minutes long and ambitious movie is a touching story about the emotional coldness of a mother who falls in love with a German officer, without taking care of her child. In a series of retrospective scenes (the past is portrayed in color, and the present in b/w), the main character Aleks, now depicted as a middle-aged writer, in 1991, travels along the Montenegrin coast with an orphan girl who he is driving to a Social Welfare Center. However, recounting his own childhood, at the end of the movie he decides to adopt her – she is almost like him, a result of accidental and unwanted conception, with an unknown father and a careless mother whose only close friend was actually an officer of the occupying army… Oktobar (October) is a completely different omnibus feature: through seven intimate stories by seven young Serbian directors (it is their graduation work), it tends to present a ”generational statement” about Serbia nowadays, shown in various ways and genres (black comedy, melodrama, socially engaged story, urban drama…). Although the motif that links the stories is the tenth anniversary of the Serbian revolution against Milošević (October 2000), not all of them reflect the issue with the same level of creative professionalism, which does not have to be an obstacle, since the directors are young and still have time to show their potential in the future. Nonetheless, the very idea of portraying an important event in Serbian history by people who were teenagers during that time, is interesting, since it presents the complexity of the country they live in, as well as their personal attitude towards the event.
Šišanje (Skining, dir. Stevan Filipović) is a very powerful and disturbing social and psychological drama telling a story about the evil in contemporary Serbian society. Novica, a young high school math champ gets seduced into the skinhead’s world by his best friend, the charismatic leader of the group. Although he joins the gang in order to overcome his geek status in school, the movement takes him over and he starts to climb in the hierarchy. After a sudden killing of a Gypsy youngster, he became more violent than his fellow hooligans… The best parts of the movie is the nicely portrayed transformation of a quiet and decent child into a violent racist, and the provocative portrait of a corrupted police force as well as all layers of Serbian society: it turns out that the ones who benefited from skinheads’ violence are xenophobic intellectuals and politicians, i.e. the most influential layers of society. The film’s story and punch line are very similar to the Croatian feature film Metastaze (Metastases, dir. Branko Schmidt, 2009), already awarded with several prizes, dealing with the same issue and acclaimed to be the ”Croatian Trainspotting”. Another favorite in the National class selection was Tilva Roš (dir. Nikola Ležaić), a socially engaged drama about young skaters who spend their first summer after finishing high school, spending time shooting ”Jackass-like” videos and aimlessly hanging out in the industrial city of Bor. As his début movie, Ležaić shows much potential, portraying a group of young adults completely lost in the environment that does not offer them any possibilities. They waste their time in the abandoned places of the city which used to be the industrial centre of the region and now barely survives, without any industry and with a huge rate of unemployment. The sincerity and genuineness of the actors, as well as the location, focused on huge and vast deserted spaces, gives the movie a special atmosphere, and one could easily imagine that it might be shot anywhere with the same effects – the abandoned factories and depressive cities in Mid-West America firstly come to mind.
Cinema Komunisto (dir. Mila Turajlić) was the only documentary in the selection: properly edited and with a clear point, it was among the most interesting and funniest movies in the program, at least according to the warm applause and approval of the audience in the theatre. It tells a story about Yugoslav cinema which still exists although the country disappeared twenty years ago. Behind the ruins of the country, there are also ruins of the state-funded cinema industry and the director nicely narrates the story about the separation of the image and reality until the final collapse. The only things that survive are film clips of a country that no longer exists. Although at the first moment I was very skeptical about the emotional overload, the movie surprisingly transcends weepy nostalgia and cheap sentimentalism, providing a factual and in-depth analysis of the system functioning, with touching scenes of destroyed and forgotten film studios that used to host some major international productions and that nowadays stand in ruins.
Neprijatelj (The Enemy), awarded by the FEDEORA jury as the best feature film in the National class, is a co-production of four countries in the region, directed by young but experienced Dejan Zečević (up to now he has made six films). The originality of the script, suggestive scenery, low-key photography, skilled direction, and very provocative and in many ways a challenging story about the events in a small barracks after the end of the 1995 war in Bosnia, made it the best film in the national selection. In an unnamed place somewhere in the mountains, close to the factory ruined by war, soldiers are spending days until their final departure. The usual routine is suddenly broken when they discover a walled-in basement, with a calm civilian, the only surviving man, looking as if he had been expecting them. By bringing him to the barracks, soldiers start to be aggressive, fight each other, and in turn some mysterious events start to happen. It turns out that the civilian is no less than the Devil himself, released from the basement. After the final collapse and mutual killing, he had to be walled in again in the factory to prevent further evil… The most provocative aspect of the movie is the script, namely the idea that the reason for the war is the evil unleashed from the basement, and to prevent further killing it should be turned back to the isolated place. However, the final scene is a bit ambiguous, since it leaves an open ending: the Devil might only be the mediator of human evil deeply embodied in each human being.
In that sense, the punch line is ambivalent: on the one hand, it might be reactionary, resolving war criminals of any guilt (since they are/were possessed by evil forces), or progressive (everyone is responsible for her/his own action). In addition, there is a stunning and eye-catching similarity between The Enemy and John Carpenter’s classic horror The Thing: although I am pretty sure the director did not have that in mind, the resemblance is obvious. The story is very similar: an isolated group of people (Antarctica/deserted place in Bosnia) encounters something which at first sight seems normal (dog/civilian), which bears in itself a seed of destruction (alien virus/devil forces). The final outcome is mutual suspicion and distrust among the members of the group, and as the time passes, they become infected by the virus of evil, killing each other. The alien/devil must be destroyed to save humanity… Among many war movies made in recent years in the region, The Enemy is undoubtedly the most provocative one.
This year’s program section named Balkan Box was modest in the number of films, but nevertheless provided some kind of quick insight into the recent artistic achievements in the Balkan area. In general, three films deserve mentioning. Tomorrow (Morgen), directed by Romanian filmmaker Marian Crisan, is a story about a worker in a small town on the Hungarian-Romanian border who unexpectedly encounters a Turkish man trying to cross the border in his illegal attempt to enter Germany. At first reluctant to help him, over the time – they became friends – he finally helps him to continue his long voyage. The movie’s advantages lie in excellent photography, mostly still shots and long sequences, resembling in some part the poetics of Bela Tarr or Tarkovski.
The Croatian movie The Show Must Go On (directed by young Nevio Marasović) is probably the first Croatian dystopian movie: the story takes place in Zagreb, ten years into the future and follows an ambitious reality show producer similar to ”Big Brother”. In the meantime, a global war on the planet unfolds, and despite the catastrophe, he decides to keep the truth away from his competitors. Finally, after the destruction of the planet, they are the only survivors who discover the truth… Made with a low budget, Marasović succeeded in making very provocative artwork, playing with the concept of ”true” and ”false” reality, i.e. illusion. The best movie in the section, Milčo Mančevski’s Majke (Mothers) was a professionally made omnibus of three stories (two features and one documentary). By using an innovative structure and turning once more to his native Macedonia, he established specific narrative devices, subtly and cleverly playing with the concepts of drama and documentary, i.e. truth and fiction. For that reason, the FEDEORA jury awarded him the best film in this selection. As mentioned above, the festival also offered a huge variety of programs, and some of the most interesting were tributes to Bela Tarr, Dorota Kedzierzawska, as well as Up to 10000 Bucks selection, providing audience possibility to get acquainted with the works of talented young directors.
Tonci Valentic, FEDEORA.eu, 30 June 2011