KinoKultura: Issue 30 (2010)

The New Vicissitudes of Auteur Cinema in Central and Eastern European Cinema: Karlovy Vary 2010

By Christina Stojanova (U of Regina)

The Festival and its Ambiance
The Karlovy Vary Film Festival is a place where everyone feels at home—from the brightest stars of the world cinema and Hollywood staying at Grand Hotel Pupp, to the students back-packers, who arrive in numbers every year and, in anticipation of some last minute ticket availability, squat in the hallways of Hotel Thermal, housing the festival headquarters as well as five festival film theatres. This unassuming hospitality was elegantly emphasized in the festival film vignettes, shown before each screening.

Witty animation tributes to the festival president Jiří Bartoška and its artistic director Eva Zaoralová, inspired by the Pink Panther and Iakov Protazanov’s Aelita, respectively, were paired with a series of black-and-white shorts, starring some of the most illustrious recipients of the festival’s Life-Time Achievement Award, the Crystal Globe, and featuring the statuette’s mostly anecdotal role in their everyday life. Andy Garcia, for example, is seen using the heavy figurine as a tool to break into his own Hollywood home; Milos Forman grinds his night intake of medications with it. Harvey Keitel, on the other hand, explains his bandaged foot with the clumsiness of the awards presenter, who dropped the “damn thing” on his toes, and John Malkovich pulls off a hilarious gig à la Burn After Reading in response to the condescension regarding his “life-time achievement” he perceives in the remarks of his overly friendly East-Indian cabbie on the way from the airport.

The Filmmaker: Power and Glory
burnt2This year laureates of the Life-Time Achievement Crystal Globe were Jude Law and Nikita Mikhalkov. Obviously, no director could create the frenzy of a handsome male star like Jude Law, although Mikhalkov stirred up a commotion of a different kind at the press-conference he gave before the screening of his latest film, Burnt by the Sun 2: Exodus (Utomlennye solntsem 2:Predstoianie, 2010), a sequel to his Oscar-winning Burnt by the Sun (1994). Czech journalists were asking their questions with deference to one of the greatest Russian directors, but even in the most polite wording of their queries one could still discern bewilderment with Mikhalkov’s latest work, or at least a thinly veiled surprise as to what burning need might have prompted his revisiting the film’s nearly-perfect predecessor. Mikhalkov spoke at length, without really answering the questions, as—in a statesman-like way—he was busy addressing overtly and covertly the Russian journalists in the audience. Therefore the real purpose of his lengthy monologues remained obscure for those unaware of the on-going stand-off at the Union of the Russian Filmmakers. But for those who have come to love Russian cinema thanks to Mikhalkov’s wonderful films from the 1970s and 1980s, it was painful to watch how he attributed his latest film’s lack of media popularity to the attempts of  Russian critics to character-assassinate him. Reminiscing about Slave of Love (Raba liubvi, 1976), Unfinished Piece for Mechanical Piano (Neokonchennaia p’esa dlia mekhanicheskogo pianino, 1977), Oblomov (1980), Dark Eyes (Ochi chernye, 1987), Burnt by the Sun (1994) and 12 (2007), I caught myself feeling guilty for judging so harshly Burnt by the Sun 2—a film that has dragged on for so long that the very idea of it had turned into a cold turkey.

Since critical reflection is easiest to organize around thematic cycles, I focus on the way in which a growing number of Central and Eastern European directors interpret traumatic moments from their respective country’s (post)-WWII history, or more specifically, on how the events chosen reflect current preoccupations—both private and public.

The Czech Program: Old and New Directors
Understandably, the program of Czech films was rich and diverse. Alongside films by first-time fiction film directors, it also contained films by well-established and highly-acclaimed directors from the Czech New New Wave of the 1990s: Jan Svěrák’s Kooky (Kuky se vrací, 2010), Jan Hřebejk’s Kawasaki’s Rose (Kawasakiho růže, 2009) and Tomorrow there will be… (Zítra se bude ... 2010), and Irena Pavlásková’s An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes (Zemský ráj to na pohled, 2010). The Czech program also featured works by documentary directors, such as Helena Třeštíková’s Katka (a second instalment in the saga of a girl, trapped by her own addiction, whom Třeštíková has been observing for more than fourteen years now) and Filip Remunda and Vit Klusák’s Czech Peace (Český mír, 2010).[1]

hellThe prevailing concern of the main competition was to capture the state of affairs of auteur cinema, preferably first or second films, produced on three continents by young and not-so-young directors. One of the two Czech entries, 3 Seasons in Hell (3 sezóny v pekle, Czech co-production with Germany and Slovakia, 2010), by writer-director Tomáš Mašín, stood quite apart from the contemporaneous existentialist concerns of his colleagues from Iran, China and Russia and their search for spiritual values and identity amidst broken families and personal tragedies in an increasingly globalizing world, where everything goes, nothing matters, and materialism runs high.

Mašín’s film is based on The First Ten Years, the autobiography of the recently deceased writer and philosopher Egon Bondy, one of the most controversial figures in the Czech intellectual world since his turbulent youth in the late 1940s. The film is representative of a renewed interest of young Czech cinema in the country’s WWII history and its immediate aftermath—an interest that could be described as truly postmodern, flaunting all textbook characteristics of post-modernity—pastiche and intertextuality of the narrative, as well as baroque opulence of the visuals. The film’s slick visuals, meticulously designed in golden-brown are a throw-back to Mašín’s career as a production designer and multi-media artist, as well as to the fashionable retro-style of the 1970s, popularized by such cinematic landmarks as Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1900 (Novecento, Italy, 1976) and Jack Clayton’s The Great Gatsby (US, 1974). Its impeccable professionalism and taste notwithstanding, the visual excess of 3 Seasons in Hell tends to undermine the raw drama that befalls the intellectual circle of young iconoclasts when post-war Czechoslovakia falls into the grip of Kremlin in the late 1940s. The filmmakers’ infatuation with Art Nouveau interiors, gorgeous Prague exteriors, the elegant clothes and bohemian lifestyle of beautiful young people, equally enthusiastic about free love and raising hell as they are about Marxism, Anarchism and Communism—all this eschews the much-needed psychological depth. Thus the message of Bondy’s book—the tragic disillusionment of a  generation devastated by a regime whose advent they have themselves unwittingly facilitated—fails to rise up to the energy levels of the hedonistic episodes. The growing sense of guilt of the young protagonist Ivan Heinz (Kryštof Hádek) in the face of his and his friends’ moral, psychological and physical destruction at the hands of Communist henchmen, rings somewhat hollow.

protektorProtektor (2010) by Marek Najbrt, another historical film, applies a similarly overbearing aesthetic mode to yet another major national tragedy – that of the persecution of Jews during the occupation, exacerbated by the assassination of Nazi Reichsprotektor Heydrich in May 1942. At the centre of the film stands the moral disintegration of Emil, a famous national radio host, who—for the sake of his career—betrays his beloved wife Hanna, a budding film star of Jewish origin. Again, the emerging trend of visual indulgence and sensationalism – rear projections, inventive in-sets of film excerpts and elaborate drug-inspired visions, justified by the fact that Hanna’s real protector, the projectionist of a near-by film theatre, offers her not only free access to the movies but also drugs—reins at the expense of psychologically convincing characters and a meaningful drama.

kookyObviously, the fashion for visual gimmickry has affected even such a staunch supporter of good old storytelling as the Oscar-winner Jan Svěrák—in the first film he has scripted himself, without his father Zdenek Svěrák’s participation. Although Kooky is a predominantly successful experiment in the seamless blending of CGI with traditional puppet animation, he nonetheless relies mostly on dialogue to tell the story of the fluffy little doll who, after being dumped, makes a journey back home to his friend Ondra, played by the director’s young son Onrej. Whether Kooky’s ecological message about the values of clean air and true friendship reaches its potential audience—young children and their parents—remains to be seen, but the Special Jury Prize was a definitely deserved recognition of the new—or rather forgotten—path Svěrák embarked on with his 1994 elegantly-ironic venture into the world of Sci-Fi with Akumulator 1.

kawasaki's roseHowever, the biggest disappointment in terms of the treatment of traumatic events from Czech history came from Hřebejk’s Kawasaki’s Rose, another collaborative effort with screenwriter Petr Jarchovský. Straddling between contemporary events and the communist “normalization” bracketed by 1968 and 1989, the film seems like a not very inspired reworking of themes that have dominated Hřebejk’s and Jarchovský’s oeuvre since Cosy Dens (Pelísky, 1999), the most spontaneous and inspired expression so far of their penchant for a close examination of the idiosyncrasies of the Czech family under the pressure of history: first communism; then, in Divided We Fall (Musíme si pomáhat 2000)—Nazism; and in Up and Down (Horem pádem, 2004)—post-communism.

Unlike Bohdan Sláma and Petr Zelenka, however, who prefer the dark-ironic, absurdist and even sarcastic rendition of family stories, Hřebejk seems to take himself seriously and, after the more or less unsuccessful flirt with comedy of manners Beauty in Trouble (Kráska v nesnázích, 2006), has adopted the path of a latter-day preacher, whose favourite sermon is on the moral superiority of dissent over conformism, of loyalty over betrayal. There would be nothing wrong with this choice, if his moral righteousness were concerned less with the historical virtue of dissent—his favorite theme since Pupendo (2003)—but more with its power to deflect the destructively insidious form of the new “normalization”—that of capitalist greed gnawing on traditional Czech values. There is indeed something overbearing and even haughty in the righteousness of his main character, the internationally famous photographer and photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil (playing himself in the film, albeit under different name). His moral resilience under communism is presented with a kind of halo, which makes one immediately think of the compromises he inevitably had to make in order to establish himself as an émigré celebrity in one of the most hard-nosed professions in the West. A healthy doze of antidote to this noisy litany to historical dissent and silent endorsement of current conformism was provided by the documentaries, Czech Peace—a sarcastic commentary on the pros and cons on the now defunct project of building an American radar base in the country—and especially Katka, revealing the flip-side of the myth of perennial happiness and freedom for all, secured by the free-market and democracy.

earthly paradiseTomorrow There will be..., an opera by Aleš Březina (with Jiří Nekvasil), the composer for most of Hřebejk’s films, offers a much better rendition of the horrors of the Communist past than most fiction films. Titled ironically after one of the most atrocious Stalinist musicals made in Eastern Europe, Vladimír Vlcek’s film Tomorrow, People Will Be Dancing Everywhere (Zítra se bude tancit vsude 1952), the filmed show tells in minimalist manner, and subdued colors the tragic story of the trial that sent to the gallows a member of the official anti-Communist opposition in the Czechoslovak  Parliament, Dr. Milada Horáková (in the exquisite interpretation of Soňa Červená, the grand dame of Czech opera) in 1950.

In fact, Irena Pavlásková’ s An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes (FIPRESCI Award and Best Actress award for Vilma Cibulková at the Moscow Film Festival 2010) refers (under aliases) to some of the top Czech dissidents, including actor Pavel Kohout and writer Václav Havel. Based on the memoirs of Pavel Kohout’s daughter Tereza Boucková, it became such a success thanks to its meticulous retro style, psychological authenticity, nostalgic romanticism and, above all—the absence of pretence.

The Russian Films: The Past in the Present
another skyAnother Sky (Drugoe nebo, 2010) by the Georgian-born director Dmitrii Mamuliia, is a powerful  existential drama. The film begins in the Uzbek steppe, where we first meet Ali and his beguiling little boy tending to their flock of sheep. It becomes immediately apparent that theirs is not a happy life: they collect dead sheep; their village abode is quite poor, and obviously the boy misses his mother, who has left them to find work in Moscow. Father and son follow her to Moscow, where—upon arrival—they are subjected to the rough, humiliating hygienic procedures for migrant workers. Then comes the monotonous and harsh life in a tiny apartment, where they sleep and eat in silence, broken only by the perennial radio or television news in the background. But that seems unimportant, as their raison d’être in this strange big city is to find the mother. Then the boy gets accidentally killed in the wood-processing plant where he has been working. Ali bribes the warden to let him see his boy for one last time in the morgue and, again in silence, collects his meager belongings and leaves. A few days (or weeks) later, Ali finds his wife, and the film leaves them driving in silence through the night ahead of them... The power of this minimalist aesthetics lies in its harsh documentary realism, its tight, claustrophobic, mostly medium and long shots, which create a growing sense of entrapment outside of time and space. But it is the superb silent presence of Habib Boufares’s Ali (the non-professional star of Abdellatif Kechiche’s highly awarded film Couscous (La graine et le mulet, France, 2007) that is the film’s most captivating element. Stripped to its bare existential bones of any explicit social, moral and ethnic speculations, Another Sky—the feature film debut of the obviously talented director and script-writer Mamuliia—comes close to the discovery that every critic dreams of. The Grand Jury Special Mention, along with the Ecumenical Prize, were more than deserved recognitions.

another skyIn contrast to the emotionality, stifled but palpable under the surface of Another Sky,Aleksei Popogrebskii’s third film How I Ended This Summer (Kak ia provel etim letom, 2010) was shown in the Horizons Selection as tribute to its director, member of the main festival jury. The film is designed with narrative rigour and architectonic visual beauty, but gives the impression of a somewhat cold and abstract exercise in human psychology. However, its dramatic potential has inspired both actors—the young Grigorii Dobrygin and Sergei Puskepalis, Popogrebsky’s favorite male lead—to offer superb performances as two men who live in utter isolation on an arctic island and face a serious crisis of trust. The unique artistic gusto displayed by the actors in the steep psychological curve of the ever-shifting dynamics of their relationship—from the conventional duo of professional mentor and his somewhat spoilt young assistant, to mortal enemies, and, through the catharsis of belated forgiveness, to irreversibly damaged, but friendly human beings—has secured them the 2010 Berlinale Best Actor award (ex-aequo).

Unfortunately, both of the two most tooted Russian-language films at the festival were a disappointment. This was to be expected of Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt by the Sun 2, since sequels rarely work. However, as far as his engagement with traumatic moments from history is concerned, Mikhalkov enlists these in his film for no other apparent reason (the film looks like a collage of references to famous WWII films from the Soviet era) than to show-case his already grown-up daughter Nadia (the beguile star from the first film) and himself.

The feature debut of the famous Ukrainian documentary filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, a master of experimental collage, caught this reviewer unawares. My Joy (Schast’e moe, 2010) begins as a story about a nice, young Russian man, Georgii (Viktor Nemets), with the promising potential of a “positive hero” from good old Soviet cinema, or at least that of a vigilante or a mafiosi-cum-saviour, not unlike Sergei Bodrov Jr. from the Brother films. Georgii—a truck-driver by profession—takes a wrong turn on the road, only to find himself amidst a  moribund post-totalitarian habitat, populated by repulsively-looking people who have lost not only their morals, but also their psychological bearings, and who are sustained only by cruel survival instincts. As a result, he is robbed, beaten and left for dead.

In an obvious attempt to clarify the complex socio-political reasons behind his drama, the narrative then deviates from the main chain of events and, in a mosaic-like fashion, branches into a several, seemingly unrelated, contemporary and historical episodes, which contain precious few, subliminal signs (planted in the mise-en-scène and the dialogue), implying their relatedness to Georgii’s tragic fate.

my joyLoznitsa engages with Russia’s past at its most traumatic: the murderous interregnum during the chaotic retreat from the advancing German troops in the early stages of WWII; the ultimate cruelty toward the “other”—religious, ethnic, or otherwise; the indiscriminately violent nature of the secret services, police and the military; the monstrous scope of alienation and lack of compassion, eroding even isolated country-side communities. These episodes function as illustrations for the unrepentant malice that has gradually eroded the Russian social body, compelling us to revisit the traditions of kindness, forgiveness, mercy and self-sacrificial suffering usually associated with Russia’s great humanistic heritage.

Not unlike Aleksei Balabanov in Cargo 200 (Gruz 200, 2007), Loznitsa sees the hardships of present-day Russia as inevitable consequences of its failure to come to terms with its own demons—past and present—and go through a cathartic process of repentance and moral cleansing. Unlike Germany, which was forced by the international community into prolonged and painful soul-searching and social and moral regeneration, Russia has never admitted to its horrible crimes and to the despicable suffering it has inflicted not only to its own people, but on half of Europe—and beyond. Therefore, Loznitsa seems to say, the repressed guilt returns with a vengeance, destroying society from within and threatening it with implosion.

In the finale, when Georgii (or rather what is left of him: he has lost his memory, his ability to speak and apparently his mind) finds himself at the same checkpoint where he took the wrong turn. Agitated profoundly on an unconscious level by some unfathomable signs and by the violence he accidentally witnesses, Georgii shoots everyone around to death: not only the abominable road policemen and the colonel they are viciously maltreating, but also two innocent bystanders.

Unlike Loznitsa’s marvelously ambiguous collage documentaries, his fiction debut is not really open to multiple interpretations. My Joy is a film with a powerful anti-totalitarian (and one is tempted to say – anti-Russian) mission: to annihilate the myth of the Russian hero after a thorough post-mortem examination. The mythical Russian hero in all his forms—whether as fairy-tale knight or war hero; as Socialist Realist shock worker or lonely wolf from the Mafia; or even the nice boy next door—has been irretrievably lost to amnesia. Since his fellow countrymen have betrayed, used and abused him, causing his demise, they now have to live with the consequences of his death; that is, without any hope for salvation.

Yet in order to be effective, Loznitsa’s powerful message should not have defied the dramatic laws of  catharsis by mimicking on the structural level a tragic impasse. According to Aristotle, tragedy “cleanses our spirit by stirring, releasing and at last appeasing our emotions... [thus] reconciling us with our universal human lot.” By denying his viewers the initiatory cathartic experience, Loznitsa probably thought he would reinforce his message, but he has undermined it instead. The sense of a fatalistic deadlock amidst escalating doom and gloom tends to send his film right down the ally of speculative, even maliciously anti-Russian chernukha rather than elevate it to its proper place—that of a talented artifact with profound social and psychological importance, worthy of sharing the fame of Cargo 200.

Poland: Moving in Reverse
rewersThe Polish film Reverse (Rewers, feature debut of Borys Lankosz, 2009), is an absolute gem. It is one of the precious few encouraging signs that contradict the rumors about the demise of Polish cinema. It tells a simple story “in reverse”, i.e., as a black-and-white flashback, featured as a reminiscence of an old lady waiting at the airport to meet her son who lives in the US. But the eponymous reversals do not end on formal level: Sabina features as a young woman during the Stalinist terror of the early 1950s, when she falls in love with the wrong man—a handsome secret service agent, who pretends to love her in order to get access to their apartment and spy on their neighbor. Sabina lives with her mother and grandmother, astute representatives of the pre-war Polish intelligentsia, considered hostile by the new regime. Before long, Sabina realizes her huge mistake and, prompted by her mother (Krystyna Janda), a pharmacist, “reverses” the situation by poisoning the impostor. What follows is a chain of hilarious events related to the ultimately successful disposal of the body, but also to Sabina’s quite unwanted, albeit eventually accepted pregnancy. Thus, in reverse, we realize that Sabina’s gay son is actually the child of the secret service brute, whose bones Sabina hastily buried under the foundations of the Palace of Culture and Science, a staple of Stalinist architecture in Warsaw that was built at that time. The official explanation she has given to her son, however, is also a reversal—this time of the truth: the son believes that his father was a dissident, shot to death on the steps of that same building. The film ends with Sabina, the son and his American partner leaving flowers at the spot of the father’s alleged murder on their way home from the airport.

teresaAlthough it is early to speak of a tendency, it is tempting to detect one in An Earthly Paradise for the Eyes and Reverse. Both directors—too young to have lived through the traumatic moments they turn to—take historic events and reluctant dissidents from their somber pedestals to bring them to the contemporary viewer’s eye level with the help of uncomplicated stories, simple sets, good actors, and all-too-human nostalgic irony, compassion and occasionally macabre humor. 

The family angst at the centre of the Polish debut feature by Paweł Sala, Mother Teresa of Cats (Matka Teresa od kotów, 2010), looks artificial and at times sensationalist. Probably this is the unwarranted side effect of the inevitable tensions between the natural authorial drive for originality (this and the other two Polish films were all scripted by their directors), but also due to production requirements.

teresaThe film begins promisingly, with the fast-paced arrest of two brothers, a sequence that is shot and edited with extraordinary expressiveness and energy. Moving methodically in reverse (sic!) from the present time of the arrest to earlier events—in itself an original structural device—the film reveals a family tragedy rife with Oedipal tensions and sibling rivalries, catalyzed by the ineffective and confused presence of a traumatized and weak paterfamilias, who has the notorious privilege of having been one of the few Polish soldiers to participate in the Iraq war. Even this brief overview reveals a narrative overloaded with trendy, sensationalist issues. However, the further back the film moves, the less psychologically comprehensive the brothers’ degeneration into cruelty and matricide becomes. The sweet, but passively ambiguous presence of Ewa Skibinska as their mother makes things even more confusing: do they kill her because they believe she loves her cats more than her sons, or is the murder the result of pathological jealousy, or is it a way of punishing her for being so loyal to their good-for-nothing father? The film’s title, rife with promising references to several great Polish films—Jerzy Kawalerowicz’s Mother Joan of the Angels (Matka Joanna od aniolów, 1961), based on the intense horror story by Jaroslaw Iwaszkiewicz of mystical possession and exorcism in a 17th-century nunnery; and Janusz Zaorski’s Mother of Kings (Matka Królów, 1987), one of the jewels of the post-Solidarność “Cinema of Moral Concern”, venturing boldly into the forbidden territory of the early communist purges from the second half of 1940s—does not help one either to decipher the meaning of this otherwise intriguing film. In any case, theBest Actor Award, given ex-aequo to Mateusz Kosciakiewicz and Filip Garbacz for the roles of the two murderous brothers was quite well deserved.

Croatia: Sex in the Family
just between usUbiquitous heterosexual promiscuity is usually the stuff of comedies of manners. Not unlike its great predecessor, Jean Renoir’s archetypal The Rules of the Game (1938), the Croatian entry Just Between Us (Neka ostane medju nama) by veteran director Rajko Grlić pokes fun at the irresponsible hedonism of its characters. While sympathetic to the director’s attempt (or need) to make a marketable product by relying entirely on sex, but knowing his wonderful films from more than 30 years ago, Bravo, Maestro (1978) and You Only Love Once (Samo jednom se ljubi, 1981), I waited impatiently for the moment when he would reveal his true intentions and take this accumulation of sex ad nausea to another level—that of a social satire or absurdist comedy, or anything that would justify Grlić’s name in the credits as both scriptwriter and director. While on the eve of WWII Renoir implied heavily and prophetically that his characters’ nonchalance was a sign of serious social malaise with potentially tragic consequences, Grlić simply identifies with the sexual athletics of Miki Manojlović’s successful businessman Nikola, caught up between his young wife, his mistress, old and new flames. Thus the film remains on the level of the perennial sexual rivalry of Nikola and his younger brother, and the intertwined (and, shall I say, interchangeable) string of women in their lives. No wonder that the Best Director’s Award to Grlić caused a few raised eye-brows.

Romania: The Winner
auroraAfter the exceptional success of The Death of Mr. Lazarescu (Moartea domnului Lazarescu, 2005) [2] Cristi Puiu’s new film Aurora, co-produced by Romania, France, Switzerland and Germany, received the East of the West competition award. It runs three hours and follows almost in real time the goings and doings of Viorel over the course of twenty-four hours. Written and directed by Cristi Puiu, who also cast himself in the role of Viorel, the film shows the main character killing four people—his wife’s notary and his girl-friend, as well as his in-laws—before giving himself up to the police. In interviews Puiu insists that his goal is to de-glamorize and demystify the male serial killer as featured in American cinema, and show him for what he is: a banal, uninteresting bore, repressed and full of complexes. His film, however, might be better described as an experiment in creating a new aesthetics, capable of grasping the macabre post-Communist reality in a manner more adequate than that provided by Hollywood genres and conventions. This goal he shares with his colleagues from New Romanian Cinema, whether they recognize it or not. The experiments with a cinema of process, that is with time, emerge as a central feature of this new Romanian film aesthetics. The passage of time is unnervingly palpable in Aurora: Viorel is anally retentive, so the filmmaker’s meticulous attention to detail is justified. And the murders are far from being important foci in Puiu’s narrative: the first double murder is captured in long to medium shots, while the in-laws are killed in their own house, but off camera. Thus, manipulating  time through long-takes and alienating frame composition, Puiu allows for a glimpse into the psychological make-up of Viorel from the outside inwards, so to speak, and let us see the world the way he perceives it: infinitely bland. Objectively, however, Viorel’s life is far from bland: he has a mistress; a good job; a loving mother; two beautiful daughters. Judging from the amount of books and CDs in his apartment, he has interests beyond his immediate survival. The point is that nothing—neither his divorce, nor the inundated bathroom of his apartment, neither the fourfold murder nor his surreal confession before the police—seems to ruffle the flat surface of his existence. An extreme case of psychological color-blindness, Viorel becomes synonymous of the depressingly bland post-communist reality, while the long takes and slow editing pace allow the viewers to take a good long look at the absurdities of that reality, and decide for themselves whether it is Viorel or his environment that is crazier.

Christina Stojanova
University of Regina, Canada


1] KinoKultura Special Issue #4 on Czech Cinema (2006) features a review of Zelenka’s Buttoners (Knoflíkáři, 1997) by Stojanova, with an intro devoted to the Czech New New Wave. Also see Stojanova’s interview with Třeštíková and review of Remunda and Klusák’s previous documentary Czech Dream (Česky sen, 2004).

2] See KinoKultura Special Issue # 6 on Romanian Cinema (2007).

Christina Stojanova © 2010

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Updated: 05 Oct 10