New Countries, New Cinema
By João Antunes
The birth or rebirth of new countries in Eastern Europe,
with the fall of the Soviet block and the end of the Balkan wars, led
not only to a new geo-political map but also to a new film map. This
fact enhanced the importance of film festivals like Tromso, where the
program is not dictated by a group of mixed economical and diplomatic
reasons, as we often see at the major events in this area — thus
allowing more space to productions coming from different areas of the
The competition and the sidebars of the Tromso International
Film Festival allowed the viewers, mainly young students from the very
energetic academic environment of this northern Norwegian city, to see
a few examples of the cinema those new countries are producing, often
hidden only a decade and a half ago by their regimes.
We decided to choose three examples, from countries that
did not yet exist in those times. One of them — Kosovo — still
does not exist officially, but cinema already shows the way. Foreigners
know from the news that most of these countries are really trying to
do good. If movies are a reflection of reality, these three will show
that — even if it's visible that so much is still to do - are really
on the good way.
A Few Feet Under
Coming from Slovenia, Gravehopping (Odgrobadogrob),
by Jan Cvitokovic, is one of those movies that talk about the miracle
life, even when death is all over it. That allows us to come out of the
cinema with an optimistic smile, even when the darkest sequence is at
the end. Using dark poetry and humour the young director (born in 1966
and already awarded in Venice for his first feature, Bread and Milk)
shows an enormous dedication and tenderness towards his characters.
The entire movie turns around Pero, who has the most depressing
work imaginable. He is a professional funeral speaker in a small town.
However, sentimental and loving life, he is trying to save the lives
and souls of the living around him: his father, a compulsive but always
unsuccessful suicide candidate, the girl he wants, who has her own strange
secrets, and his best friend who's planning his own dramatic and spectacular
Using a simple narrative structure, but not afraid to put
in action the most radical symbolisms — political, religious and
philosophical — Jan Cvitkovic gives us in Gravehopping an
allegory of life and death, of violence and harmony, of inner beauty
and external ugliness. These are the forces fighting in a country where
ancestral tradition gives way to a new order. The cinematographical quality
of his work, well expressed in the outstanding final shot, gives him
a sure place in the building of a new cinema in his new country.
Cinema With a View
directed by veteran Isa Qosja, is a clear and beautiful example of the
geographic and artistic complexities of the movies made in this part
of the world. The director was born in Montenegro, studied acting in
Pristina and directing in Belgrade. Now, he presented the first movie
from Kosovo, even before the country really existed.
But even if Kukumi is precisely situated in time
and place, it gets more and more universal, leaving soon the political
agenda to transform itself in a philosophical reflexion on the freedom
of mind and body, on love and of mental sanity. It's true the movie begins
in 1999, when NATO forces occupied Kosovo to protect the area from Serbian
attacks. But its beautiful storyline could take place wherever there's
a war, wherever there's someone incarcerated because of their freedom
Kukumi begins, and ends, in a mental institution.
The climate of chaos, with all guards running away, allows the inmates
to escape. There is then the via sacra of Kukumi, a kind of mystical
character with the power to survive, and the enormous and simple-minded
Hasan, and Mara, the woman both dispute. After all the situations they
live through and the characters they meet on their way, there's no other
healthy solution than to return to their previous home.
With a simple message implied, Isa Qosja concentrates his
efforts in creating an astonishing visual work from the camera movements
and framing to the beautiful and smashing involvement of the three main
characters in the landscape. A kind of Milos Forman meeting Antonioni, Kukumi is
one of the rare cases where we can sense a view behind the camera, an
idea of cinema and an artistic vision of the world we live in.
The Records They Only Want
in this short digression in this new area of film-making, we found The
Shutka Book of Records by Aleksandar Maniae. Born in 1966, in Yugoslavia,
but raised in Germany, Maniae graduated from the Prague Academy of Film
and Television and decided to establish himself in that city. Even if
officially credited to the Czech Republic, The Shutka Book of Records won
the Audience award (as well as a FIPRESCI prize) for being the most popular
movie from Serbia & Montenegro. But the story, if we can call it
a story, takes place in Macedonia...
When we enter the cinema we surely know that we are going
to see a documentary. But then, very soon we forget it. The Shutka
Book of Records is a very entertaining movie. Aleksandar Maniae
is one of those filmmakers who clearly understand that you have to entertain
the audience (not necessarily in the Hollywood sense of the term), and
does it thoroughly in this movie.
The main characters of the movie help a lot, although.
Shutka, nicknamed Happy Valley, is a small village in Macedonia. It's
obvious by the images that Manic surely had as much fun to shoot his
images as we have to see them, and that the place surely is among the
poorest of the poor. But the people there are champions. All of them.
No matter what: collectors of Turkish music, vampire hunters, creators
of music videos, exterminators of evil genies, owners of fighting geese.
Allowing us to know a little more of this world, and by
comparison putting our own values on stake, Maniae reflects on the connection
between money, or the absence of it, and joy, about moral values, social
standards, good taste and bad taste, myths and mystification. Luckily,
even if we are almost all very different from the characters this movie
shows, we surely know we are also laughing at ourselves. One of the wealthiest
feeling, what The Shutka Book of Records gives us.
João Antunes, Portuguese free lance film journalist
("Jornal de Notícias", "TV Guia", "Cosmopolitan"),
author ("Best Movies, Best Directors", "Bond, James Bond", "Conversations
with the Lords of the Rings") and film history teacher (Universidade