Nothing funny at East!
Strenous job being a child nowadays in the East! At least this is the laborious demonstration of the filmmakers that attended the competition section at the latest Cottbus Eastern European Films Festival……
Filmmakers that fear, most than anything else, about the faith of children. Not anymore as part and as toys of the societies they live in, traumatized societies for many more years to come, but rather as paraphernalia in the merciless hands of destiny. Filmmakers from an Eastern side of Europe where the roughness of Reality reaches the dimensions of ancient tragedies, where destiny remains almighty and unaffected, unpredictable, and overwhelming.
The depicted children of those fierce movies I have just seen last week in Cottbus are subjects to profound mutations. Their relationships with their parents, to society, to other children are subjected to a sort of over democratization. Suddenly they are not treated, by any of these connectors, as kids anymore. At some point in the story they become partners, adults, employees, collaborators. Their innocence, the few bribes that are left after years of traumas, gets buried under layers of toughness, emancipation and rudeness, selfishness and combat.
Such is the case of the Tbilisi based director Dmitry Mamoulyia: DRUGOYE NEBO(“Another Sky”). Initially just another accessory to his father’s life, when they leave their Georgian desert and head to Moscow looking for the disappeared mother, he finds himself propelled into the responsibilities of an adult. He becomes independent in the way he spends time from his father, then soon he will have to earn a living. Doing hard work in a factory for a merciless boss, this quiet boy will be sent to the hardest part of it all. After a short attempt to escape the violence of that drastic job –cutting proud young trees in the middle of a forest – death catches him from behind. Or rather his destiny. Just as much as in the sublime analogy with the proud tough trees being swept away from their roots, cut and cleaned and ordered by alien like machines. In less than a minute. This tragedy can only be observed by a secluded and silent father, powerless, lonely, and distraught.
Between parents and children there is a disconnexion, a fissure impossible to overcome. As in the Romanian film OUTBOUND (“Periferic”). Here an absent mother for years-because of her incarceration- comes back to the real world. With enormous naiveté she tries to recover emotionally and effectively, her eight years old son. After years spent in the orphanage, after years of sexual slavery and abuse, this child is now an insensitive being, disconnected from reality, living a sort of trance which should be for him the only manner of enduring the unbearable. They will employ a lot of time and aborted situations before weaving a tiny connection between them, thinking of a better future life. And the mother, with a sort of infantile bravado, is boasting with a huge amount of money in her purse ... the result, given the earlier ordeals of the child, can be only one: he takes all the money and forsakes his mother while she sleeps, in a train that goes further on, to a destination to which he does not want to be a partaker.
The Serbian movie BELI, BELI SVET (“White, white world”) prefers to investigate what happens with children that have barely been taken cared of while young, at an older age, on the very first steps of adulthood. The childhood traumas and the adulthood discoveries of hidden parenthood, unlawful sex and chaotical life, can only spin the female main character to murder. The young woman twists her fate with an oedipal kind of upheaval, in an ultimate gesture of annihilation of the father figure. A father that turns out to be also the father of her own child…
What exactly is the lever that spins these young European directors to inhabit such ominous stories? Where are the comedies, the love stories, where is even the famous eastern European black humor? It seems like these directors have reached the pick of their despair and wish to set a thorough alarm for everyone who cares about the evolution of the eastern societies. A social, political and financial turmoil is stirring these countries now, and unfortunately that is the environment where, at an individual level, people should find their own path. In a society that has stopped, for half a century, to interrogate itself on what is an individual, what are the relations he should have to his family, to the others, to himself.
A few years ago a dreadful drama happened in Poland, involving two adolescent brothers that committed the ultimate murder. The film MATKA TERESA OD KOTOW (“Mother Teresa of Cats”) retraces the atrocious facts in a revolutionary evolution of the story, starting with the post-factum events and trying, backwards, to understand, or at least to set the frame for the reasons, the antecedents of the final one way drama. In a bourgeois family of a Polish unperceived town the mother is an energetic, fine-looking and sensitive person. She has two adolescent sons, and a young daughter. The middle son who is 11 finds himself under the diabolic spell of his elder brother, a young man accused by everyone of being evil, lost, damaged. The absent father- he fights in Afghanistan, the love their mother distributes more to her growing amount of stray cats, a dull life in a dull society, all that impelled the two boys into isolation, into a sort of aggressive autism. The rapid remedies they find or are offered do not have the power of filling the void they feel. And without knowing we assist at the very moment when they conceive murder like anything else, murder as a normal sollution to their mal de vivre…The murder of the only person that still cares for them, their mother…
In the vortex of adults’ deals and lives, children find themselves misplaced and alone, sometimes lesser than merchandise. Such is the case for the tchetchen child from the Russian film OBRATNOYE DVIZHENIE(“Reverse Motion”). In a society dominated by crime, this foreign child is an object that many claim. The Mafia wants him for using his labor power and because he knows a few gory secrets; the mother of an absent son that fights in Afghanistan wants him in order to fill up her motherly void. Subject to torture, but still filled with dignity, the child starts to re-learn the alphabet of civilization and of childhood. He becomes a cherished and wanted child, and loves his new part. He fills up an empty spot, until the soldier returns. And then, Destiny catches up on them all. The one that comes back to an already occupied place will be evacuated. In an almost silent movie, the end can only bring another soundless and definitive moment!
The adolescents of TILVA ROS (“Tilva Rosh”), another Serbian movie that made a stir lately in several festivals, are in a full process of understanding who they are and what their situation is in the up-side-down world around them. They are annoyed kids coming from socially frustrated families. They all have unemployed parents who struggle to earn money with bizarre kinds of businesses. Between innocence and cruelty, these misguided children think they are free. They do not find any real answers, and may be this is also due to the vacuous story it has been build around them in this film. Even though they ask themselves questions, even though they experiment incessantly, they still do not find any answers. The plot, though, could have worked as a real engine for that, as two best friends fall for the same girl. But it didn’t. These children will just spend their days riding their skateboards, inventing ludicrous Jackass like stunts they can shoot with their video camera and then edit up; they drink beer and smoke marijuana, and are even willing to inflict pain on each other, just to feel they have invented something different and out of their daily routine. This is a film that could have been fresh and natural, but instead is not more than a pointless film about, ultimately, blank characters.
After twenty years of democracy, eastern European directors seem to be less social insurgents, than attentive and apprehensive fathers. And this can only be interpreted as a positive sign!