This was my first encounter with the Thessaloniki International Film Festival. In wonderful Thessaloniki I discovered plenty of interesting films, focuses and events. The Balkan Survey section was outside the International Competition which included 12 movies. The festival's spectators had the opportunity to watch films from Albania, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, Serbia, Slovenia and Turkey.
It was a very strong and representative section as far as the problems and cinema of the region after the fall of the socialist regime are concerned. In this program there were different approaches, view-points and expressions in an effort to present the contemporary Balkan peoples in both, historical and existential context. Five of the movies are co-productions: Border Post (Karaula) by Rajko Grlic (by the way it is the first co-production between two of the former Yugoslavian republics), Grbavica by Jasmila Zbanic, Tertium non datur by Lucian Pintilie, Warchild by Christian Wagner and Evil Eye by Cujtim Cashku.
Border Post by the famous Croatian director Rajko Grlic is situated in 1987, at the small border-post on the Yugoslav-Albanian border. Unusual circumstances provoke an absurd situation. Border Post is a satire on the clichés of socialism and their influence over the young free-thinking frontier guards. The laughter, bit by bit, turns into a nightmare. The war hysteria is a false alarm. The film makes fun of the ideological manipulation that in fact brought about the war in former Yugoslavia.
The point at issue in Grbavica is the consequence of the same war on the life of a single mother and her 11-year-old daughter. The movie is very good and strongly touching to one's heart.
A favourite country in the Balkan survey was Romania – with 4 titles: 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?) by Comellu Porumboiu, Marinela from P7 (Marilena de la P7) by Cristian Nemescu, Tertium non datur and The Paper Will Be Blue (Hirta Va Fi Albastr A) by Radu Muntean. I saw The Paper Will Be Blue and 12:08 East of Bucharest (Bolkan Survey winner). Both films seem to be bound together by the topic of December, 1989, when Ceausescu's regime was toppled and TV was exploited as a major driving force. But while The Paper Will Be Blue revives events directly focusing on the tragedy of the situation, 12:08 East of Bucharest makes sardonic use of the very existence of revolution from a contemporary point of view, thus discrediting TV itself. To tell the truth, I quite disagree with the enthusiasm of them and especially with that of 12:08 East of Bucharest. Actually, it is too liquid, a stale joke, shot frontally and constructed outwardly. Sorry, but it isn't new cinema despite the prizes and the fits of laughter in the theatre.
There was only one Bulgarian film (L's Revolt (Buntut na L.) by Kiran Kolarov). To be honest, it isn't very good and it is a little bit boring, but it is a tolerable and straightforward movie. L's Revolt is director Kiran Kolarov's seventh full-length film. Subject-wise, it stands closest to his brilliant debut Orderly (Sluzhebno polozhenie-ordinaretz, 1978). Although now Kolarov treats the time of late socialism and early transition, he, again, focuses on the human capacity to survive after tortures and humiliation. Violence and arrogance stalk behind each corner and even love can't be a way out. Well, to make it clear, I must say that, in my opinion Orderly remains Kolarov's best movie so far.
The Balkan Survey section, curated by film theorist Dimitris Kerkinos, presented a selection of the most significant Balkan films of the year, informing the audience of the ITFF about the recent cinematic developments in the region. The films are different in subject-matter, structure, genre, characters… From the darkness of reality, violence and war, manipulation or ideological idiotism of the communist society to their influence on the individual spirit and life as well. Some of the stories are fun and it is very important – if we were ironical to our past, we could be stronger and more adequate to adapt to our confused present.
Another aspect of the program is the portrayal of the ordinary people from different countries of the region and their fight with reality. Men or women, young or old, heroes or bastards, the leading characters are interesting to the end with their own efforts to survive – regardless of the fact whether it is yesterday or nowadays. The films are on the lookout for existential motivations of the flustered Balkan people nowadays.
In my opinion, the Balkan Survey had an immediate effect on the audience. The hall was full at all times. A lot of young people watched the films from the beginning to the end. It was exciting. The same applies to the festival as a whole.