Archive for the 'Serbia' Category

The East End Film Festival

The 2009 East End Film Festival launches tomorrow - in the words of the organisers:

The East End Film Festival showcases hot new talent and homegrown films alongside larger independent releases and special events, informing and inspiring a new generation of filmmakers and audiences from across London and beyond, and raising the profile of this vibrant and diverse area - London’s East End.

Traditionally, it’s had a strong Eastern European presence, and 2009 is no different - perusing the programme I note that they’re showing the following:

Friday 24, 8pm: The World is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner (Светът е голям и спасение дебне отвсякъде, d. Stephan Komandarev, Bulgaria, 2008) - I saw this in Sarajevo and remember enjoying it, though the framing story (a champion backgammon player travels to Germany to collect his teenage grandson from hospital following a car crash that killed his parents) is far less compelling than the flashbacks in which parents and son leave communist Bulgaria for life in an internment camp in Italy. Unsubtitled Bulgarian trailer here.

Saturday 25, 7pm: Iska’s Journey (Iszka utazása, d. Csaba Bollók, Hungary, 2007) and Everybody Dies But Me (Все умрут, а я останусь, d. Valeriya Gai Germanika, Russia, 2008) - I haven’t seen the Russian film, but this double bill is worth it for the stunning if relentlessly grim Hungarian title, which I reviewed here

Saturday 25, 7.30pm: Złoty środek (d. Olaf Lubaszenko, Poland, 2009) - this Polish film is so new (it opened there on 20 March) that it doesn’t even seem to have an English title yet. The director is best known as an actor (most famously the male lead in Krzysztof Kieślowski’s A Short Film About Love/Krótki film o miłości, 1988), but he’s also been directing for the last decade or so. Sadly, I can’t attend this screening, but I suspect my good friend and occasional writing partner Kamila Kuc will be relieved, as she’s hosting the Q&A and I won’t be able to heckle it. Unsubtitled Polish trailer here.

Monday 27, 7pm: I Was Here (Mina olin siin, d. René Vilbre, Estonia, 2008) - a second feature that made a splash at the Karlovy Vary film festival last year. Here’s the (unsubtitled) trailer.

Tueday 28, 6.30pm: Zift (d. Javor Gardev, Bulgaria, 2008) and Rene (d. Helena Třeštíková, Czech Republic, 2008). I haven’t seen the first of these, but I can certainly recommend the second - a documentary study of a charming but incorrigible recidivist from teenage criminal in the dying days of the Communist era to roughly twenty years later, and the film was shot over the same period. Rene spends much of the time in prison, great political upheavals largely passing him by, and although he occasionally turns his mind to something productive (such as writing), his lengthy self-destructive streak keeps catching up with him, starting with his decision to tattoo “fuck of people” [sic] across his throat.

Tuesday 28, 9pm: Elevator (d. George Dorobantu, Romania, 2008) - the mainland British premiere of another Romanian New Wave discovery, a practically zero-budget two-hander that seems to be well thought of.

Wednesday 29, 6.30pm: Homecoming (Heimkehrer, d. Jovan Arsenic, Serbia, 2004) and Revanche (d. Götz Spielmann, Austria, 2008) - haven’t seen either of these, but they both look intriguing, and the double-bill package is equally attractive.

Posted on 22nd April 2009
Under: Festivals, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Romania, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Serbia, Austria | No Comments »

The Fourth Man

Četvrti čovjek
Serbia, 2007, colour, 107 mins

  • Director: Dejan Zečević
  • Screenplay: Dejan Zečević, Boban Jevtić
  • Photography: Goran Volarević
  • Editor: Marko Glušac
  • Music: Nemanja Mosurović, Slobodan Negić
  • Producers: Željko Mitrović, Slobodan Jocić, Dénes Szekeres, Nikolina Vučetić
  • Production Company: Viktorija film
  • Cast: Nikola Kojo, Bogdan Diklić, Dragan Petrović, Marija Karan, Boris Milivojević, Dragan Nikolić, Radoslav Milenković, Semka Sokolović Bertok, Feđa Stojanović, Miloš Timotijević, Miki Krstović, Dijana Marojević


A slickly efficient thriller with enough distinctive regional colour to compensate for the umpteenth revival of the hoary old amnesiac-delving-into-his-past device, The Fourth Man (not to be confused with the 1983 Paul Verhoeven opus De vierde man) maintains a pleasing amount of tension throughout, and is certainly one of the most straightforwardly enjoyable films I’ve seen at the Sarajevo Film Festival so far. Unfortunately, at least for reviewing purposes, it’s also the kind of film where the less one knows in advance, the better (and its pleasures are almost entirely narrative-based) – but I’ll try to make this as spoiler-free as possible.

It’s certainly not giving away anything important to reveal that when Lazar Stanković wakes up in hospital from a two-month coma with a hole in his head and severe memory loss, he was targeted by unknown assassins (who also killed his wife Sonja and teenage son Miloš) in connection with his government-sponsored activities, though quite what those activities involved only becomes clear as the film progresses – let’s just say that his collection of army uniforms and weaponry and an instinctive gift for self-preservation didn’t come about from civil service pen-pushing.

While still in hospital, he’s visited by two people – the colonel of his former unit (Lazar was a major), and a detective from the Military Security Agency investigating the assassination attempt. Lazar is instinctively suspicious of both of them (“Supposing you’re lying?”, he asks one, only to get the response “Supposing I’m not?”) - and also prone to brief flashes from his past, though they don’t trouble his retina long enough to leave a truly indelible impression. It also seems that he has a mistress, Teodora, and habitually drinks Jack Daniel’s, both details coming as news to him.

One of these people then spends much of the rest of the film exploiting both Lazar’s ability to kill ruthlessly without compunction and his inability to remember his past. The title refers to the fourth intended victim of three targeted killings, the others being a businessman, a mafioso and a politician. Their various jobs fuse with the revelations about precisely what Lazar did for the Serb government, allowing director Dejan Zečević to construct a cynical thesis about the absolute corruptibility of ‘respectable’ Serbian society, and the government’s ultimate responsibility for various atrocities.

Lazar constantly plays a game of cat-and-mouse both with his various interlocutors and mysterious third parties, including a man who always seems to be eavesdropping on his conversations or tailing him in his car or on the Belgrade metro. The city seems permanently drenched in rain, its grey skies matched by equally drab exteriors (someone has graffitied ‘ALCATRAZ’ on the side of Lazar’s apartment building). Lazar’s three targets all deny any knowledge of him, though the spectacular unpleasantness of the first two (the businessman threatens him with a “you want to sip your own balls through a straw in a glass?”, while the mafioso’s response to being shown a picture of Lazar’s dead family is to roll it up and snort cocaine through it) gives him more than enough excuse to go through with his assignment.

However, much like a British old-school gangster from the era of the Kray twins, Lazar has real problems shooting women and children. He lets one female witness go, and it’s left to someone else to nobble her prior to her taking part in an identity parade, while a blackly comic scene involving the politician’s young son asking Lazar to refill his waterpistol provides a moment of splendidly Hitchcockian tension as the two men were trying to kill each other at the time. The politician turns out to be the most eloquent of Lazar’s intended victims, turning the conversation to religion and metaphysics before claiming that once one gets to know the human soul, one stops believing in it. Given what we eventually discover about Lazar’s past, it’s easy to see why one might feel that way.

And it’s here that it becomes clear that the film’s amnesia subplot offers more than merely a further variation on a long-established theme (Christopher Nolan’s Memento is probably the best recent example in the last decade). The atrocities of the various Balkan wars of the 1990s – and Lazar is reminded that he saw service in Croatia, Bosnia and indeed Rwanda – have understandably triggered a collective memory loss, with few willing to admit their culpability: not since the Nuremberg trials have so many people claimed to be merely obeying orders, even if those orders compelled them to shoot lines of unarmed Bosnian civilians in the head. Lazar’s great advantage to his puppetmaster is that he doesn’t know enough about the situation to challenge what he’s doing and even thinks that his various missions might help clarify matters – it’s only when he finally recalls the full horror of what happened to his family that he realises that he’s been a pawn in the most literal sense of the term.

Individual set-pieces are expertly handled, from the initial stalking, the evasion of security systems, the hit itself, and the equally important clean-up (with Lazar leaving an empty shell-case as a signature), and the revelatory flashbacks become increasingly explicit without ever quite giving away crucial details until Zečević is ready to do so. Though every scene forms an utterly logical part of the whole (the plot has been so carefully assembled that one can almost hear the ‘click’ as each element slides smoothly into place), it’s rarely predictable, largely because we’re never given any more information than Lazar, and have to share his bewilderment. Zečević keeps the plot twists and surprise revelations coming thick and fast, right up to the very last scene – a denouement so cynical in its implications that it made many in the audience laugh out loud. For all the darkness at its heart, the film is enormously entertaining: Zečević, like Lazar’s manipulator, is clearly thoroughly enjoying himself, and it’s easy enough to succumb to his blandishments.

Posted on 20th August 2008
Under: Reviews, Serbia, Dejan Zečević | No Comments »

Sarajevo 2006/2008

When I started this blog just over a year ago, I did so with a long list of ambitions, chief among them being that I was going to keep the promise of its subtitle “a survey of Central and Eastern European cinema” by visiting the Gdynia, Plzeň, Budapest and Sarajevo Film Festivals every year and thereby end up sampling the vast majority of the region’s cinema. (The first three festivals round up almost every Polish, Czech and Hungarian feature made in the previous twelve months, while Sarajevo screens a generous cross-section of work across the whole of south-east Europe).

Sadly, the demands of a full-time job, limited annual leave, and especially a young family (to say nothing of the expense) meant that this was never going to be more than a pipe dream - but I am at least going to Sarajevo this year (I should be en route right now, if this appears when scheduled), which would probably be my first choice out of the four festivals anyway. This is partly because I’ve been before (in 2006), so it’s a known quantity, but mostly because it means I can at least make a small step in the direction of correcting this blog’s rather overwhelming bias towards central Europe in general and the cinema of the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland in particular. My site logs frequently show people optimistically clicking on ‘Serbia’ or ‘Slovenia’ and usually being disappointed (unless they were actively looking for the longlist of Best Foreign Film Oscar nominations), so at least over the next week or so there should be plenty of new material on that front.

The full programme can be downloaded here (as a PDF). I’ll mostly be skipping the western European, Asian and American titles (which are primarily intended for locals who might otherwise not get a chance to see them - in favour of as much regional produce as I can fit into my schedule. I certainly plan to watch the entire competition (as I did last time), sample a fair chunk of the documentary strand and generally catch up with other south-east European films I might have missed or never had the chance to see. Fingers crossed I’ll have reasonable online access throughout (last time, the main Festival centre laid on free terminals, and my hotel claims to have internet facilities), so I’ll be able to post pretty regularly over the next week.

Anyway, I’ve still got several hours to arrive, check in, get my bearings and attend the opening night film - Aida Begić’s feature debut Snow (Snijeg) - and party, so in the meantime I’ll try to recall as much as possible of what I saw in 2006. Then, the opening night film was Corneliu Porumboiu’s delectable 1208 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?, Romania), which I blogged about here (and reviewed at greater length in the October 2007 issue of Sight & Sound). The only thing the highly varied eight-film competition had in common was that precisely none of the titles achieved British commercial distribution. The standout for me (and the festival jury, which gave it the top prize and Best Actress) was the one I saw first: Andrea Štaka’s Das Fräulein (Switzerland, IMDB/Variety), a Swiss-set, Balkan-themed drama about three women of different generations and backgrounds (they’re Serbian, Croatian and Bosnian, though they emigrated at different times, in at least one case before the early 1990s wars) who end up working in the same Zürich café. Thanks to two superb performances by veteran Mirjana Karanović and newcomer Marija Škaričić (either of whom could have won Best Actress - it went to Škaričić in the end) and sensitive direction that knows when to leave things unsaid, it crammed a huge amount into a brief 81 minutes.

Although they certainly had their moments, I was much less impressed with the next two films, Miroslav Momčilović’s Seven and a Half/Sedam i po (Serbia, IMDB/Variety) was a collection of seven short stories, all featuring a breach of one of the seven deadly sins, and all more or less equally mean-spirited, despite some inventive staging (each episode is given a different style) and occasional hints at greater depth. I was equally underwhelmed by Jasmin Duraković’s Nafaka (Bosnia, IMDB), though have to acknowledge that it was one of the festival’s runaway audience hits if the reaction at the screening I attended was anything to go by. This was unsurprising, because of all the competition films it was the one most squarely aimed at locals, and this sprawling, picaresque recreation of the siege of Sarajevo had plenty of crowd-pleasing set-pieces, even if it failed to add up to much more than a series of overt Emir Kusturica homages. One point of interest is that the treatment of the UN officials is every bit as cynical as that shown in Danis Tanović’s No Man’s Land (2001), the surprise Oscar winner that put Bosnian cinema on the map at the turn of the millennium.

Much better was Antonio Nuić’s All For Free/Sve džaba (Bosnia, IMDB/Variety), a gentle, more than somewhat Kaurismäkian road movie in which a man loses all his friends in a single tragic accident, and decides to spend his inheritance on a mobile bar, which he drives from town to town - the film’s title revealing his somewhat unsustainable sales pitch (and it’s unsustainable in more ways than one, as local business don’t take too kindly to a rival giving drinks away). At around the halfway mark it turns into a love story, albeit one as bittersweet as everything else in the film. Rakan Rushaidat’s performance as the film’s well-meaning but hopelessly idealistic protagonist won Best Actor.

The next two films had an altogether steelier edge. Branko Schmidt’s powerful The Melon Route/Put lubenica (Croatia, IMDB/Variety) which set the tentative relationship between a war veteran and a Chinese immigrant whose entire family has drowned en route westwards against a well-drawn portrayal of the day-to-day operations of viciously amoral people-smugglers. The climactic bloodbath is hardly surprising, but grimly satisfying given the well-deserved payoffs. Radu Muntean’s Paper Will Be Blue/Hîrtia va fi albastră (Romania, IMDB/Variety) made an effective contrast to Corneliu Porumboiu’s film in that it actually reconstructed the Romanian revolution, from the point of view of an elite militia platoon whose mission is to prevent their colleagues from defecting to the anti-Ceauşescu cause, even though the dictator’s downfall is no longer in doubt (it’s set during the long night of 22 December 1989, after Ceauşescu famously betrayed on live television that he was no longer in control of events). Not unexpectedly, even these nominally ultra-loyal diehards have their misgivings, which creates much of the film’s considerable tension.

I don’t remember much about Péter Mészáros’s Kythera (Hungary, IMDB/Variety/Eye For Film), aside from the way it fused langorously beautiful images of an idyllic Greek island voyage with a far harsher account of the disintegration of a relationship. I also can’t give a fair appraisal of Faruk Lončarević’s Mum’n'Dad/Mama i tata (Bosnia, IMDB), because the DVD screener I watched was of an incomplete print that was lacking any titles or special effects sequences. That said, it was reasonably clear what was missing, and I’m not sure greater surface polish would have changed my opinion that this was a great idea for a short (it’s about an elderly couple whose drab existence is being broadcast to the world, Big Brother style, lending a voyeuristic edge to their final breakdown) that didn’t manage to sustain my interest when stretched to feature length. But it won the festival’s Special Jury Prize, so I may well have missed something significant.

Anyway, that was 2006. Now for 2008…

Posted on 15th August 2008
Under: Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Corneliu Porumboiu, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Andrea Štaka, Miroslav Momčilović, Jasmin Duraković, Antonio Nuić, Branko Schmidt, Radu Muntean, Péter Mészáros, Faruk Lončarević | 1 Comment »

Best Foreign Film Oscar shortlist announced

The Best Foreign Film Oscar shortlist has been whittled down to nine titles, with three of the nominations going to Eastern European films.

Predictably, Wajda’s Katyń is still on the list, though there’s a surprise in that Cristian Mungiu’s masterly 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days (4 luni, 3 saptamani si 2 zile) has been dropped in favour of Sergei Bodrov’s admittedly hugely entertaining but decidedly silly Genghis Khan epic Mongol. The others are Nikita Mikhalkov’s 12 and Srdan Golubović’s The Trap (Klopka).

Posted on 16th January 2008
Under: Poland, Russia, Serbia | No Comments »

Best Foreign Film Oscar longlist announced

According to the Hollywood Reporter, a record 63 films are on the initial longlist for the Best Foreign Film Oscar. The full list is here, and these are the Central and Eastern European submissions:

Posted on 18th October 2007
Under: Croatia, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Romania, Slovakia, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Estonia, Georgia, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia | 1 Comment »

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