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Activities - 19/06/2006

 

Cannes 2006: Young filmmakers from Eastern Europe celebrated

 

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The Cannes Film Festival provided a brief overview of young Hungarian, Romanian and Polish films. Here we take another look at these films, particularly Hungarian ones, to be found at festivals and in cinemas during the year.

Thierry Frémaux, the director, had announced it before the beginning of the festival: the selection at the Cannes Film Festival was to mark the return to prominence of Eastern European filmmakers.
This was, in fact, a great celebration even though none of these films was shown in the official competition. And two of them left with prizes, starting with Corneliu Porumboiu's first feature-length film 12:08 East of Bucharest (A fost sau n-a fost?), winner of the Caméra d'Or and of the Europa Cinemas Label in Director's Fortnight. And the first feature-length film by Poland's Slawomir Fabicki, Retrieval (Z Odzysku), received a mention by the ecumenical jury. In addition to the prizes, the international press agreed that several of these films had enough qualities to attract a wide audience in European cinemas.
The same went for two feature-length Romanian films seen in Cannes, both first films which, following the success of Cristi Puiu's The Death of Mr Lazarescu at Un Certain Regard in 2005, continue to convince us of the vitality of the young Romanian film industry. The Coproduction Office, vendor of 12:08 East of Bucharest, whose humour and economy of means won the hearts of the audiences in Director's Fortnight, has already announced good sales abroad (see our press review ) and the film won, in particular, the prize for the best film and the public award last week at the Transylvania International Film Festival.
Catalin Mitulescu's How I Spent the End of the World (Cum mi-am petrecut sfarsitul lumii), a first film with a more ambitious production, benefiting from the support of French coproducers, was shown at Un Certain Regard and, according to several critics, should attract a wide audience. Mitulescu's film benefits from the loan of the actress Doroteea Petre, who had already appeared in Ryna, the first, much commended, film by Ruxandra Zenide. How I Spent the End of the World narrates the last, turbulent months of the Ceaucescu regime, as experienced by a rebellious teenage girl torn between her daily life within a community more or less united by the wish to see the dictator fall, and her desire to flee the country with her first love. The film maintains a sustained pace throughout, interspersed with funny and more tragic scenes, which French audiences will observe on its release in cinemas next September. (On the subject of the emergence of young Romanian filmmakers, you can also read our previous news, here .)
Retrieval (Z Odzysku) is the first feature-length film by the Polish Slawomir Fabicki, impressive for its mastery and darkness. The film, which was screened at the Un Certain Regard competition, follows the descent into hell of a 19-year-old man in stricken Silesia, as he attempts to meet the needs of a Ukranian immigrant and her son by taking part in clandestine boxing matches and then by becoming assistant to a local thug. With Adam Guzinski's The Boy on a Galloping Horse (Chlopiec na Galopujacym Koniu), also a first film, shown out of competition and which we have not seen, the Polish film industry is benefiting from strong players who will profit from the law implemented to assist national production, recently validated by the European Commission.
But the Festival was, above all, an opportunity to confirm the very good health of the Hungarian film industry, present in nearly all sections. Having the advantage, over the last two years, of a law envied by its neighbours, young Hungarian filmmakers were certainly not reliant on this celebration to find audiences both in their own country and, particularly, abroad. And this law does not on its own explain the formidable freedom of these directors, a freedom unequalled today in European films.
This increase in power can be observed in the results at film theatres in the Europa Cinemas network, where the number of Hungarian films circulating outside Hungary has more than doubled over the last three years. In 2003, Hukkle, György Pálfi's first film, and Werckmeister Harmonies, the latest film by Béla Tarr, achieved an encouraging number of admissions, particularly in France, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Germany and Austria.
In 2004, Control (extremely successful in Hungary) and Pleasant Days, Kornél Mundruczó's first film, joined Hukkle as films reaching audiences abroad. And last year, network cinemas welcomed, in particular, not only Control and Hukkle, ever present at the top of the list of best Hungarian films abroad, but also a first and very original animated film, Nyócker by Áron Gauder, the re-release (in France) of Damnation by Béla Tarr and the films Fateless by Lajos Koltai (particularly in Germany) and Dallas Pashamende (by Robert-Adrian Pejo). To name just the key results.
This success may be found in the level sustained during the Hungarian Film Week in Budapest, which takes place at the beginning of every year and generally awards films which can then be found at international festivals. A situation pushed to the extreme this year, since the four Hungarian films seen at Cannes were the main films receiving awards at the last Hungarian Film Week.
At the top of the list are the second, much-awaited film by Györgi Palfi, Taxidermia (Un Certain Regard) and the third feature-length film by Szabolcs Hajdu, White Palms (Fehér tenyér) (Director's Fortnight), which could find wide audiences abroad, for diametrically opposed reasons.
The first film, in fact, has no fear of shocking, painting the portrait of three generations in the twentieth century in three parts entitled Sperm, Saliva and Blood, linked by an obsession with the body. With everything excessive and visually inventive, the film will enthral audiences who are able to overcome potential disgust, beginning with the French at its distribution in cinemas on 23 August.
Contrarily, it is for its self-control and dryness that White Palms deserves to be seen. A Hungarian gymnast arriving in modern-day Canada to train a team of young sportspeople, remembers his difficult training sessions at the beginning of the Communist 80s, under the control of a sadistic teacher (played by the Romanian actor Gheorghe Dinica) and his authoritarian parents. The filmmaker, who takes inspiration here from his family history (the central role is played by his own brother, Zoltán Miklós Hajdu, now a member of the Cirque du Soleil troupe), favours classic production without being scared of including long training scenes. In this way, the film easily mixes spectacles (competition scenes) with a reflection on the solitude of childhood and the value of personal achievement.
At the film market, one of the big Hungarian successes of recent months could be found: Just Sex and Nothing Else (Csak szex és más semi) by Krisztina Goda, a comedy along the lines of Bridget Jones and Sex and the City in which a young playwright seeks to have a child at any price. The humour and freshness of this first feature-length film certainly owes much to the personality of its director who provides here a very funny, uncompromising portrait of men.
Finally, International Critic's Week showed the first feature-length film by a young director, Ágnes Kocsis. Fresh Air (Friss levegö) is a dark comedy which strongly recalls Aki Kaurismäki. Viola cleans public toilets at a Budapest underground station and only sees her daughter Angéla to watch a TV series. Angéla, a little rebellious, is ashamed of her mother and dreams of being a fashion designer. Onto this synopsis the director grafts an inventive production which should enthral art house selectors and distributors. The film has just been chosen by Variety in its selection of young European talents, presented at the next Karlovy Vary festival.
Jean-Baptiste Selliez