Cleveland — East of the West
Here is a belated post about the George Gund III Memorial East and Central European Film Competition at the Cleveland International Film Festival, which concluded last weekend.
This an event that merits our attention. It is the only competition that I know of in the US which concentrates on this part of the world – from the Czech Republic to fragments of the former Soviet Union, from Estonia to Bulgaria and Macedonia — that is still known for its cinema. It’s also a part of the world that keeps its own tensions in focus in that cinema, not least the rise of right-wing nationalism and the ongoing march of refugees through the region (sure to grow as the weather warms up).
Like much of world cinema, this screen culture barely exists in the US, and not even on the commercial boundaries of art house cinema. Thanks to generosity from the late George Gund (who told anyone who would listen that his favorite movie was Marketa Lazarova), this selection is a fixture at the Cleveland Festival.
The winner this year was A Good Wife, the directorial debut of the actress Mirjana Karanovic of Serbia, the portrait of Milena, a dutiful spouse (played by Karanovic) whose husband is being revisited by a probe into the murders that his unit committed during the Yugoslav War. Their daughter is an investigator into wartime abuses by Serbs, and video of those abuses has surfaced. Family itself is the new battleground. But in Belgrade, when it rains, it pours. Milena has just been diagnosed with cancer.
Here’s my review that ran in Screen when A Good Wife premiered at Sundance.
Other films I the competition that I liked were —
1944, Elmo Nuganen (Estonia) This ambitious war movie, the Estonian choice for Best Foreign Language Film, is set during the Soviet advance westward through the Baltic country that Soviet troops seized, only to be displaced by the Nazi invasion of Russia.
Under the Nazis, Estonians were forced into armed service for the Germans, but anyone who wasn’t born in Germany was placed in an SS division, which meant a likely death sentence if captured. 72,000 Estonians fought in those units. This is a fog of war that has gone unexamined for many outside Estonia. Grand and gritty cinema from a small country.
Babai, Visar Morina (Kosovo/Germany) Kosovars were fleeing to the wealthy countries of Europe before the long march began from the Middle East at today’s scale. This film is close to the ground, with a strong cast and a persuasive feel for its surroundings.
Home Care, Slavek Horak (Czech Republic) If you have a yearning for the early, odd, charming films of Milos Forman and Jan Nemec, this small-town comedy has its roots in that world. X is caring for , which makes for jokes all across the spectrum from intimacy to tactility. ‘Where does it hurt?’ has many punch-lines here.
Demi Monde, Attila Kovacs (Hungary) The era is the end of the Bel Epoque, in Budapest, and Demi Monde is a drama about a wealthy man’s attachment to a courtesan who turns up dead. The cinematography is exquisite, with a performance to match by Patricia Kovacs.
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