ONE 4 • Europe’s New Faces: The New Europe film festival reviews

The Second Annual New Europe Film Festival launches in Edinburgh with a dual mission…

The 2008 New Europe Film Festival presents cutting-edge work from Eastern Europe within the UK, while simultaneously promoting a dialog between autochthonous citizens of Scotland and new immigrant communities. The bulk of the film work is from Poland, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Romania, creating a rich palette of themes common to both sides of the Channel.

Director Ilmar Raag’s Klass is a brutal and brutally honest portrayal of the school shootings at Jokela High School, Estonia – as well as a formidable challenge to the glossiness of Gus Van Zant’s Elephant. With these and other films-that-matter in the mix, Festival Director Jan Naszewski has put together a unique visual discussion, light and dark, which follows people across continents, and engages contemporary themes that penetrate borders.

California Dreamin’ (Nesfarsit) – Dir. Cristian Nemescu – Romania, 2007
California Dreamin’ is an unfinished work – director Cristian Nemescu died in a tragic car crash during post-production but don’t let that put you off. This superb film combines romance, comedy and action in ways that should shame most multiplex fodder. What’s more, it even features a genuine Hollywood star in the form of Armand Assante, who gives a splendid performance as a US Marine captain.
Based on the true story of a Romanian railway chief who stopped a NATO train on the way to Kosovo in 1999, California Dreamin’ shows the stranded marines slowly integrating themselves into the life of a small village over five days. The soldiers go to parties, their captain becomes friends with the railway chief and we realize that everyone in the village wants to be somewhere else. At just over two and a half hours, the film does drag in parts, but it builds to an extraordinary climax.
California Dreamin’ won the Un Certain Regard award at Cannes in 2007 and will be on general release later this year.

— Ryan MacGillivray

The Paper Will Be Blue (Hîrtia va fi albasträ) – Dir. Radu Muntean – Romania, 2006
Set in Bucharest during the 1989 Romanian revolution, The Paper Will Be Blue takes place over the course of a single night. A young militia man (Paul Ipate) leaves his unit to fight at a television station and his commanding officer (Adi Caraulneau) tries to retrieve him, but both find themselves lost in confusion and paranoia.
The film is shot in a documentary style, with handheld camerawork and desaturated stock, but it’s the performances that give The Paper Will Be Blue the ring of truth. There are no heroics here, just ordinary people dealing with extraordinary events as best they can.
The film begins and ends at the same point, and it’s a tribute to director Radu Muntean and his cast that – despite knowing the fate of these characters – we remain invested in their story throughout. This is not just a valuable history lesson, but a warm, intelligent and highly enjoyable piece of cinema.

– Neil McEwan

Reserve (Rezerwat) – Dir. Lukasz Palkowski – Poland, 2007
This is comic genius, but it’s also the sort of film that would give any home secretary or health minister sleepless nights.
Reserve is set in Praga, the roughest district of Warsaw. Marcin (Marcin Kwasny) is a struggling photographer whose career has got him into trouble in the past – it’s why he has had to move to Praga in the first place – and it’s now getting him into even bigger trouble.
The acting is credible and delightful, with an outstanding performance from Sonia Bohosiewicz, and the script, co-written by the director and the lead, never falters. It’s not only comic, tense, surreal, gritty and touching, but also a meditation on memory and art, as well as a historical document.
Reserve took the debut director, critics’ and audience awards at the Polish Film Festival. Judging by the audience applause at the Edinburgh screening, it’s going to be a hit in the UK too.

– Mark Harding

Taxidermia – Dir. György Pálfi – Hungary, 2006
Warnings of “gross-out body horror” in the publicity for the György Pálfi film sell this surrealist political satire short. Based on stories by Lajos Parti Nagy, the film follows three generations of Hungarians from World War II onwards.
Vendel (Csaba Czene) is an orderly in a desolate military outpost who ecstatically scalds his lips with a candle flame while ejaculating fire with catastrophic consequences. When he walks into a life-sized picture book, we realize that this is director György Pálfi’s distinctly un-Disneyfied version of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Little Match Girl.

Vendel’s son, Kalman (Gergely Trócsányi), is a 1960s speed-eating champion who is cuckolded at his own wedding by the Soviet title-holder, and then, in a sublime reversal, partially eaten by his own pets. Kalman’s son, Lajos (Marc Bischoff), is the taxidermist who respectfully stuffs his dead father before undertaking his own
This parable of Hungary’s annexed and infantilized state in twentieth-century Europe abounds with metaphors such as frozen water troughs for frigidity, military procedure for foreplay and pig-husbandry for romance. There is minimal dialogue in this masterpiece – it’s the camerawork that sets up and delivers Taxidermia’s perfectly timed punch lines.

– Kari McKenna

Wednesday, Thursday Morning (Sroda Czwartek Rano) – Dir. Grzegorz Pacek – Poland, 2007
“My girlfriend died today!” So begins Grzegorz Pacek’s Wednesday, Thursday Morning. Tomek (Pawel Tomaszewski) has lost his girlfriend, but she’s not really dead – just dead to him after admitting her infidelity. He’s in a fragile state and not coping well.
Antagonizing a taxi driver puts this twenty-something in hospital, where he become the focus of an odd young girl (Joanna Kulig). She acts as if she’s known him forever, and a doctor tells him, “Let your girlfriend take care of you,” does little to discourage her.
“Is this you being normal?” Tomek asks her. “What’s normal?” she responds.
The girl relieves herself in the overgrown weeds of an outdoor amphitheatre, throws herself into a crowd of cyclists and even tells him she’s pregnant – and Tomek dutifully follows her, where he becomes seemingly indebted to her or perhaps just fascinated with her irrational behaviour.
There is uncertainty, fear, mischief and eventually comfort in Wednesday, Thursday Morning, but there’s also unease as the girl asks Tomek to grant her only wish, without actually stating what it is.
This picture of the fragility of existence is certainly not an uplifting experience, but it will make you think about the silent suffering of others.

– Sara Nowak

Teah – Dir. Hanna Slak, – Slovenia/Poland, 2007
Ten-year-old Martin (Nikolaj Burger) is in his element in the forest, but he doesn’t get along with the other children in his village. Even though he has a good relationship with his family, he’s lonely and needs a friend. Then Teah (Pina Bitenc) and her mother come to stay with the family, but the young refugee causes disruption and brings danger as well.
Hanna Slak has a real talent for directing children. Not only are the lead roles in Teah played with subtlety and naturalness, but the supporting cast also convey a real sense of that strange time during growing up when we can be both helpless and dangerous. Another highlight is the portrayal of the relationship between the happy family and the psychologically scarred refugees, which is skilfully conveyed by what the characters leave unsaid.
Teah has real insights into relationships and moments of real beauty, but the flip-flopping between realism and fantasy is self-defeating, only blurring the focus of an otherwise ambitious and subtle film.

– Mark Harding

Fresh Air (Friss Levegö) – Dir. Ágnes Kocsis, Andrea Roberti, – Hungary, 2006
Fresh Air charts the deadpan relationship between a glamorous redhead, Viola (Júlia Nyakó), and her artistic seventeen-year-old daughter, Angéla (Izabella Hegyi), who share a small Budapest apartment.
Given Viola’s appearance, it’s surprising to discover that she works as a toilet cleaner in an underground station. The resulting odour problem means that Angéla opens all the windows when her mother gets home and Viola regularly sandblasts her armpits with aerosol deodorant.
When Angéla becomes involved with a shy repairman, the couple are amused to discover Viola’s lonely hearts ads. Then the daughter runs away to Rome with her fashion portfolio, only to return home to find her mother in hospital following an attack.
Colour-coded symbolism saturates Fresh Air. Viola wears only red and a twitching electric red rose serves as a comic symbol of female sexual arousal. Angéla wears only green and is always out in the open air. So when Angéla finds her mother’s vast collection of air fresheners and then tries on a red coat, we know that a transformation is taking place.

– Kari McKenna

I Am (Jestem) – Dir. Dorota Kedzierzawska – Poland, 2005
This is the heartfelt story of Kundel (subtly played by Piotr Jagielski), an eleven-year-old boy who escapes from the orphanage where he’s been placed by his alcoholic mother. He makes a new home in an abandoned barge and begins to collect scrap metal so that he can earn money to pay for food.
Kundel’s resourcefulness and his essential goodness contrast him with the glue-sniffing gang who constantly chase him. He makes friends with a young girl who lives in a nearby house with her wealthy family, and they find solace in each other’s company and perhaps firmer foundations for a better emotional future.
A modern fairy tale of sorts, the film is beautifully and subtly shot by cinematographer Arthur Reinhardt, but Michael Nyman’s overly emphatic score is used like an emotional sledgehammer. What’s more, the subject matter means that I Am risks falling between a maudlin rock and a rather Pollyanna-ish hard place, but Jagielski’s central performance is so genuine that he carries the whole film.

– Paul F Cockburn