Everyday struggles and extremely grey humour. Welcome to the east!

There is no job more thankless than the prophet of doom, nor one more necessary. […] [I]n an age when every conflict can be accessed or flicked away with the swipe of a finger on a smartphone, such cries of injustice generally constitute just another shout in the wind. The compunction to tell the truth remains, which is why Sergei Loznitsa’s body of work is so indispensable: It refuses to be complacent. The Ukrainian director’s Donbass is a natural follow-up to A Gentle Creature [HIFF 2017]: […] they’re both screams against a society that’s lost its humanity and can’t be bothered to care. […] Donbass recounts the corrosive nature of the conflict pitting Ukrainian nationalists against supporters of Russia’s proxy Donetsk People’s Republic in eastern Ukraine. No one comes out clean, but how could they, when years of manipulation have malignantly stirred animosities on both sides? […] Donbass [results] in
Screenings

The Load (2018)

Far away, behind the darkened Kosovan hills, bombs fall […]. The rumble and crackle sounds out a moment later, and it’s indicative of Serbian director Ognjen Glavonić’s ruthlessly rigorous approach to his austere debut fiction feature: The fireworks are never in the foreground. Instead, we follow a small truck wending its way down the hillside. […] This is Kosovo in 1999, when the NATO bombing campaign has been going on so long that it’s become part of everyday life […]. This thriller-ish setup, in which Vlada [powerful Croatian actor Leon Lučev […]) must journey through treacherous territory to deliver a sensitive load, makes obvious reference to Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic The Wages of Fear (or William Friedkin’s remake, Sorcerer, if you prefer). But after the initial drama […], it unfolds very differently, as a willful anti-thriller. […] The story unfolds not through ratcheting tension or life-and-death stakes but through an accretion
Screenings

Mug (2018)

Małgorzata Szumowska’s [Mug] delivers the pleasure of vigorous storytelling. It is scabrous, mysterious and surprisingly emotional – inspired partly by the giant statue of Christ the King in Świebodzin in western Poland, completed in 2010, the tallest statue of Jesus in the world and a fierce religious and nationalist symbol. It is the face of patriotic Poland, and this is a film to put you in mind of Eliot’s lines about preparing a face to meet the faces that you meet. Szumowska’s movie imagines a guy named Jacek (Mateusz Kosciukiewicz), employed as a builder on a giant statue like this as it begins to loom surreally over the landscape. He is an amiably scruffy, long-haired metalhead living at home with his extended family […]. Jacek has a girlfriend (Małgorzata Gorol), but the person who seems to love him most is his sister (Agniezska Podsiadlik). All these people have something in
Screenings

Night Accident (2017)

A hushed, heartsore, wholly immersive story of tentative human connection across a generational gulf, [Night Accident] […] fully deserves to take up the baton for [Kyrgyzstan’s] distinctive and exciting national cinema […]. Its deceptive quietude imbues the most banal of incidents […] with fascination, and lets faces and actions convey the simple but increasingly evocative narrative with almost silent-movie elegance. […] Though shot through with a strain of stone-faced humor, it saddens the soul a little, but it’s a wise and soothing sort of sadness: a story about a last chance. The unlikely hero of this defiantly unheroic tale is referred to mostly as “old man,” […] and is played with dignified but forlorn solemnity by Akylbek Abdykalykov […] One night, he loads an ancient shotgun and sets out on his rickety motorcycle […] to kill the businessman who took his family. But an accident occurs, and he hits a
Screenings
There’s no room for prudes in the illuminating film Touch Me Not […], where characters grapple with the pleasures and pains of their naked bodies and how they relate to them. This first feature by young Romanian writer-director Adina Pintilie, who also appears as herself in the film, is striking for its intelligence, self-assurance and originality. Each scene is set in a space neutralized by the whiteness of Adrian Cristea’s calming sets, some of them appearing to be digitally retouched. Just the opposite effect is achieved by the jarring modern soundtrack that pops up for brief intervals in the most unexpected places, destroying the illusion of watching a documentary. Deliberately refusing to position itself as fiction or non-fiction, the pic walks an ambiguous tightrope made more unsettling by its charged sexual content. It’s hard to say who of the characters is an actor and who isn’t, so realistic are the
Screenings

Ága (2018)

Bulgarian director Milko Lazarov’s second feature […] is an exquisitely shot and very moving film about an ageing couple who appear to exist alone on the edge of the world, stoically surviving on the icy tundra in a way of life that may be about to end. The film isn’t explicit about its setting, though Yakutsk, in Siberia, seems a good bet. It opens with a slice of cheerful entertainment, as an old woman resplendent in traditional costume gives a virtuoso performance on a Jew’s harp, her ringed fingers dancing across her mouth. When she finishes, she smiles at the camera; it’s impossible not to clap. Lazarov then switches mode from the sweet to the near mythic, and an image of a man alone in the wilderness – or at least, alone with his dog. In the far distance, Nanook (Mikhail Aprosimov) sleds across a wintry landscape in which it’s
Screenings