(unpublished article about Warsaw Film Festival 2008)
The 24th edition of the Warsaw Film Festival, with its competitive sections, special programmes and attached market, proved a good opportunity to identify some of the recurrent topics and recent trends within the cinema of Central and Eastern Europe. The new Romanian films, such as Radu Muntean’s Boogie, included in the “Discoveries – visions of contemporary world” section of the festival, or Radu Jude’s promising first feature The Happiest Girl in the World (Cea mai fericită fată din lume), presented at the CentEast Market, stick to pure realism and focus less on social issues and how they influence the lives of the characters, but more on interpersonal relations (family ties, love and friendship) and what lies beneath them.
However, many young directors representing other national cinemas within the region pay more attention to social determinism and, at the same time, they openly go beyond the borders of realism, so as to emphasize their message and to please their audience. For instance, migration, still a major problem in CEE post-communist countries, and, more generally speaking, the phenomenon of leaving one’s native land and giving up the connection with one’s roots, in order to find better living conditions elsewhere, are tackled in many feature debuts, such as Love and Other Crimes (Ljubav i drugi zločini) by Serbian director Stefan Arsenijević, Nirvana (Russia) by Igor Voloshin, Snow (Snijeg) by Bosnian female director Aida Begic and Cannes 2008’s “Un Certain Regard” winner Tulpan by Kazakhstan-born filmmaker Sergei Dvortsevoy. In the end, such productions seem to illustrate, although sometimes through a not-so-happy ending, the famous saying “Home is where your heart is”.
But socially conscious realism is no longer enough for the young directors in the region. For example, even in a fiction film which uses documentary techniques to depict the lives of several Bosnian women separated from their husbands (presumably dead) by the ravaging mid-’90s war (Snow), there is a clear touch of magical realism. This is the most obvious in a character which may be seen as a human embodiment of perennial justice: the young boy Ali, with his miraculously quick-growing hair, doesn’t utter a single word, but his accusing eyes determine a man with a guilty conscience to confess the things he wants to hide. In the bittersweet comedy Love and Other Crimes (included in the Warsaw Competition), the director, which is also the main screenwriter, manages to get rid of the melodramatic elements, dominant in the second part of the film, through a surreal final scene: the main male character disappears instead of dying, after being apparently fatally shot, thus putting into practice, as we may presume, his best magician trick.
Another observation derived from the festival’s main competition: the influence of Emir Kusturica’s work is still very strong in the region, as can be seen, for example, in the Bulgarian film The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks around the Corner (Svetat e golyam i spasenie debne otvsyakade) by Stefan Komandarev, winner of the Jury Special Prize. Fortunately, there are still original and surprising films, such as the feature debut of Hungarian director Attila Gigor, The Investigator (A nyomozó), winner of the International Critics Prize (FIPRESCI Prize) in Warsaw, that reinforce our faith in the future of cinema.