Blesok no. 46, January-February, 2006
Differences are also Part of the Unity
On the occasion of the 46th International Film Festival in Thessalonica
The International Festival of Thessalonica is one of the festivals that establish both the innovative spirit of the new production and the dignity of the classical film; in November 2005 it had its 46th anniversary. An impressive number of years that have turned the city at Baes Kule into a favorite destination of the film makers praised or criticized in their environments as big hope for the future of the film, as enfant terrible that will soon turn into a conformist or a heretic beyond control. The hosts have tried to have the list of esthetically opposite authors and films thematically set as a call for battle with conformism as diverse as possible. This tendency was recognizable in the concept of the festival program of last year, and in the films shown one, two and more decades ago, and in the work of the participants of the 46th Thessalonica Festival.
The thick, decomposed mosaic of festival films included not only in the competition, but also in the programs: Days of Independent Film; Balkan View; Young Americans; Oeuvre; Greek Film 2005, could easily recruit you to the idea that the modern film, on the run from the conformism of classical esthetic schools, had dispersed its perspectives in shattered idea fragments. In its unfinished stories, it has cowardly escaped from the poetic context in which both the winners and the losers are the children of their environments and in which the harsh clashes of the individuals and the collectives go hand in hand with the situation of apathy and powerlessness.
But, this is an impression that only seemingly shows the current cinematographic situation in the world, projected, of course, to the program of the 46th International Festival in Thessalonica, where there were more than 250 films from all five continents. Judging by the films that we saw, it is more than obvious that the young authors today have more trust in the specifics of their own perception, no matter how much it misses sharpness, clearance and readability, than in the postulates of the monolithic esthetic systems.
Therefore the frequent tendency that they put their imagination in the service of the articulation of individual destinies rather than in the analysis of the collective emotions. They avoid to group themselves around one school of movement, as it was the case in the last century. The time of fascination with the poetics of a movement and the force of influence that it had seems to have become past. The charisma of the German expressionism, fatalism of the French poetic realism, humanism of the Italian neo-realism, the rebellion of the French new wave, or the documentarism of the recent Dogma that was made by the Danish Lars von Trier, are phenomena cemented in an epoch from which they sparkle their tamed force in the work of an individual author only from time to time.
Indeed, when one follows the program of the last Thessalonica Festival more closely, it is noticeable that the traces of some of the traditional schools have not been fully erased. There are young people in whose genes the echo of rebelliousness echoes, without finding its satisfaction in the views of the pyromaniac explosions of the airport fields and cosmic ships, staged in the Hollywood studio laboratories. Their sensibility is not bribed into the orgies of the criminals who have to admit their defeats to their rivals in the end of titan-like clashes on shiny avenues of the American and European metropolis, fetishlike super-heroes such as the aged Sylvester Stallone.
The Mexican film Blood (Sangre) of the 26-year old Spanish Amat Escalante, for example, does not belong to a civilization that produces mega spectacles such as the Star Wars. But the work of Amat Escalante, on the other hand, is not only an image of the alienation of the modern citizen, lost in the labyrinths of the sex, apathy and virtual sensitivity, does not have the strength to oppose the phantoms of hypocrisy, egotism and cultural repressiveness. The intimate life of the main characters of the film, sensitive Diego and his wife Blanca is the prototype of an ideology that successfully pushes the forces of rage, resistance and the wish to be different out of the world of existence. Amat Escalante in many aspects remind of most of his contemporaries in the degree of development of the drama of the married couple that leads to spiritual entropy: his perception of the social reality is sharp; the narration is original to the extent to which the differences of the narrative technique are distinctive; the associations are lively, although to a certain extent predictable. But, at the moment when the daughter of Diego’s firs marriage appears in his life and brings the waves of her first love with her, some rebellious impulses discretely appear in Amat Escalante’s heart. His character becomes very close to the film heroes born in the tragic times of the legends of the Latin American film: Glober Rocha, Miguel Litin, Lima Barreta. These are the years when the big names of the Brazilian, Mexican, Bolivian or Uruguayan film were grouped around the programs of the movements such as Cinema Novo, Ukamau or the New Chilean Film.
Of course, the example with Amat Escalante’s film, for which he received the Silver Alexander award at the Thessalonica Festival, following the success in Cannes, is not typical of all participants. The Argentinean representative, Como pasan las horas of Ines de Oliviera Cezar, for example, a representative of the new generation of Argentinean director, caused a small query. Does it come from the country, which has mostly increased the number of its supporters with the awful testimonies about the fight of the Chilean people in its recent history? Have the heroes died out, the desperation hardened into a resignation, has the passion for freedom drained in the shallow waters of the esoteric contemplations. The film of Ines de Oliviera Cezar of course, does not show the constellation of a compete cinematography such as the Argentinean. But, even if that was the case, it does not say anything bad about the talent and intelligence of this young director. She has made a radical replacement of the social context in which the characters fight for their dignity by spilling their blood, to another motivation context; the context of irrational forces that have their ally in the evil that successfully trick its victims that they will be saved from their fear by looking for solace in the memories of their lost youth and extinguished love. Not a very original formula for escape from the traps in which the members of the four member family of this film have been pushed in. Their silent agony will turn into a triumph of the paradox that death brings to reconciliation the reality of pain and the etherealness of the bliss in its realm.
Equally obscure in its tense implications is the atmosphere in the film Someone Else's Happiness (Een Ander Zijn Geluk) by the Belgian Fien Troch, winner of the main festival award Golden Alexander. In the story of the investigation that follows the murder of a child, found at the very edge of the main street in a provincial town, Fien Troch uses the elements of a thriller with equilibrium skills. As she directs, they become tense as it happens in the traditional suspense genre. But, along with the wish of the viewer to reveal the culprit, he is discretely suggested the idea that everybody has their own share of guilt in the nightmarish search for the killer. Fien Troch, in her first movie, broadens the responsibility for the murder of a helpless, innocent child, on the whole community, in the spirit of globalization that has a grotesque turn in her vision. A good investment in the enrichment of the mosaic of the new film in which the individuality of the author is strongly fortified in the source of his sensibility and the sharpness of his perceptions, that are not subject to the influence of the big authorities that echo in the historical past and the presence.
The British Perry Ogden also convincingly defends the independence of his vision in his first work, The Traveller Girl, made for Ireland. In the story about the humiliations that the socially marginalized ones pass through, spread in the suburbs an the ghettoes in the prosperous Ireland, the supporters of the social film will recognize the syndrome of the critical documentarism, the esthetic school that has brought great respect to the British film. They will be encouraged in the correctness of their diagnosis by the fact that all characters in this film are played by amateurs, convincing and natural as the street people were ones in the films of the Italian neo-realists. The ten year old Winnie Maughan is especially distinguished, as her fate has been very close to the life of her heroine. It is true that Perry Ogden, who is also the author of the script, cameramen and producer has saved the authenticity of the social environment in which his characters sink in resignation and despair. But it is also true that thanks to his rich experience as a photographer he has made a picturesque universe out of the image of the pitiful world, in which the disintegrated and wasted objects shine with life and joy. Has, despite the jealously cherished artistic individuality and originality, Perry Ogden still watched the films of Mike Lee quite often?
From America, in whose studios one can not even imagine to produce non-profit films, an unconventional work has arrived to Thessalonica; the sad story of a former rock singer from Pakistan who now makes for living by pushing the coffee-cart through the streets of Manhattan and fights to preserve the respect of his son. It is the work of the young naturalized
American Ramin Bahrani, Man Push Cart, in which the images of the shiny New York are flooded with a Chekhov-like melancholy and sadness of the lonely gastarbeiters such as Ahmad, the main character of the film, who wages a silent battle with the glass giants of the rich avenues. The readiness of Hollywood to open the doors of its studios to a distant world stripped of the aura of conjunctive egotism is probably an expression of the intention to increase the number of the authors who will start fabricating block busters as of the next season. For now, he silently listens to the praises of the critique that says that the directors such as Ramin Bahrani, even when they do not deny convention, manage to buffer the despotic rule of conventions with their talent and find the space for the freedom of their subjectivism.
In line with this not completely clarified and defined idea that will maybe be successfully denied in a season, one can also point out the success of the Chinese film Grain in Ear by Zhang Lu, a successful novelist and essayist, who is, however, less interested in the genre of historical spectacles, exotic fairy tales and mysteries of the ancient tales than the drama of his contemporaries. Zhang Lu has chosen Cul, a young and sensitive Korean, married in China, to be his main character; she lives there until her husband is arrested in a modest but happy way. Lonely and deserted, after an affair with the police officer Wang, she will be accused of being a prostitute and this stigma will cause spite and resistance in her surroundings, who were never especially prone to her. A topic that has recently been condemned as a political provocation in China, although there were mega-spectacles made in the Beijing studios to meet the needs of the western consumers. Grain in Ear probably has the pioneer role of conquering contents and topics that compromise the respect of the Chinese society in the eyes of the political puritans. At the same time, it fits in the concept of favorite among the protagonists of the independent film, according to which the monuments of the myths should stay aside from the eyes of the contemporaries, to see how the anonymous individuals live. They can be interesting not only in the aspects of the moral contradictions though which they pass, but also as the construction material for a dramatically exceptionally exciting universe populated by losers who really sometimes complain about their destinies or can harm their opponents in some way, but also persist in the battle with all existential threats, social and psychological repressions, all sorts of tyranny and injustice.
In their mental and ethical constitution, they do not belong to the model of classical hero, nor to his antipode, antihero. At this year’s festival in Thessalonica we could easily recognize many features of the moral profile of these characters. Their seemingly rough honesty, their spontaneity and partial indifference to the problems of the planet that already give you a headache, has become a joint feature in the behavior of the marginalized people, adventurers, homeless, junkies, or the silent fighters of the films made in all five continents. It is enough to look under the shell of the cultural legitimating that they show without any pathos for a second, behind the routine juggling with the beautiful traditions of their environments, to be enchanted by the twinkling of hundreds of lively existences that make the nest of their and others’ places under the sun with the same passion and persistence. Sometimes, in this persistence to keep the uniqueness of the path to their happiness that they have chosen, they use the language of the anecdote taken from crossing the street humor, cynicism of the rhetoric of the impoverished citizen and the neglected poetics of the classical novel, like in the case of the Hungarian film Fekete Kefe by Roland Vranik. The Canadian Denis Cote, on the other hand, in his film Les etats nordiques shows an illegible defensiveness to the beneficial influence of the humor, and made an unusual transformation. The power of the clashes between the opposed cultures, which, if one gives in, takes him to an abyss, has been turned into a Bengaline fire that one looks at enchanted without feeling the fear that its flames can take him and burn him. The talented thirty year Aleksei Germanin in his Garpastum rejects all influences of Russian classics and returns us, unlike his predecessors, in the milieu of the aristocratic Petersburg of the period before World War I and the October Revolution, without any nostalgia and without any intention to make a moral revision. He looks at the picture of a passed time with the eyes of a romantic who rejects romanticism. But he has kept the fascination with the obsessive radiation of the spirit of the chivalry, duel, competition and any kind of feistiness that is not paid in blood. His voluptuous spectacle Garpastum, a Latin word that means ball game, does not look for the ethical deviations of the decadency as an academic executor. He does not look into the innocent forgetfulness of his gallant heroes who are never wrong without bringing in charm and joix de vivre in their mistake, like in a frivolousness that should be punished. Germanin glorifies their youth and eternity to give support to his conviction as so many of his contemporaries from Japan, Australia, Latina America and Europe do, that we are all given a unique, single view of history, injustice, happiness and love.
In this abundance of differences that is enriched by the Taiwanese Wang Ming-Tai with his Falling in Love, Iranian Niki Karimi with her One Night (Yek Shab), American Robert Carmichael with his The Great Ecstasy, Danish Christoffer Boe with his Allegro, Norwegian Paul Sletaune with his Next Door, Czech Martin Šulík with his Sunny City (Sluneční stát), there was a nice spot for the first film of the Macedonian representative at the Thessalonica festival, Sergej Stanojkovski, Contact, a complex and complicated drama that will be discussed about after its screening in Skopje.
Translated by: Elizabeta Bakovska