Feature and documentary competition of Batumi International Art House Film Festival focused mostly on Eastern Europe, Georgia and countries of Caucasus region like Armenia and Azerbaijan. For festival newcomer BIAFF looks like great opportunity to explore some kind of independent cinema that presented by bigger festivals mostly on exotic quota. Sharing nowadays region reality that consists of European social and economical trends mixed with Soviet past creates curious perspective for a viewer. Of course, there are lots of Eastern Europe problems that shared worldwide – like rise of right-wing populists or modern family crisis. But specific of competition program is invitation to look deeper, to take experience in shoes of someone who takes it like a daily routine.
Probably the best example of this you could find in a gloomy story of “Let there be light” by Marko Skop, Karlovy Vary Best Actor and Ecumenical Award winner, that also took BIAFF Grand Prix. Milan, the main character, has three kids in Slovakia and construction work in Germany. For Eastern Europe it’s quite an ordinary story and consequences are also predictable: Milan is losing connection with his children and has no idea what’s going on with his elder son, whose schoolmate commits suicide. Circumstances of tragedy remains unclear – it’s some kind of detective part of story, where right-wing military youngsters and patriarchal homophobic church included. Actually “Let there be light” tells a story of society that for now has no self control: teenage suicide became cynical better-to-forget thing because of rape made by military young people, future leaders at least of their social group. Marko Skop comes to Haneke’s “White ribbon” territory, but instead of making parable shows our possible future where family cannot be protection anymore and xenophobic wild local traditions rules again.
Azerbaijanian documentary masterpiece “When Persimmons Grew” by Hilal Baydarov from Visions du Réel Film Festival is another example of sophisticated deeper view. Two hour timing is quite risky for doc, but not in case of slow life fixation, where runtime became important part of narrative structure. Elder lonely mother comes every day to railway tracks waiting for her son to help her with persimmons harvest. No doubt there’s a lot of staged parts like mother’s overpoetic shots in her house that looks older than cinema itself. But this docu-fiction manner makes film stronger in dramatic way: we share with heroine her meditative waiting and rhythm of life synchronized with rhythm of nature. There’s also one of coming through festival motives – reminder about modern world eclectic, where places that haven’t changed by centuries still exist.
Revealing the truth seems like the main theme of so-called Masters competition – festival of festivals program that includes films from Cannes and Berlinale. Okay, there is definitely more than one kind of truth and you’ll take it in a very different ways – like in the case of “Golden glove” by Fatih Akin and “Mr. Jones” by Agnieszka Holland. Extremely violent “Golden glove” that made audience sick at this year’s Berlinale attacks with experience that you didn’t want to had – dirty and miserable life of serial killer Fritz Honka who killed women in Hamburg in the 70s. But it’s important (and still very unpleasant) to see film like this because of the new wave of serial killers stories with great audience success – from “House that Jack built” by Lars von Trier to “Mindhunter” by David Fincher. Even Trier’s misanthropic opus looks a little bit glamorized in compare with “Golden glove”, where uncomfortably naturalistic violent scenes make almost whole film sense. But yes, it’s also revealing the truth – the truth about modern visual culture that makes us less sensitive and totally unready for a real violence at the same time, and in this condition realistic thriller can make a new word on used and reused topic. “Mr. Jones”, biopic of Gareth Jones, full of disastrous cliche, is an interesting example of the great idea that confronts mainstream film language – and totally loses this battle. Actually it’s impressive confirmation that in cinema of post-truth era medium is still the massage, and most powerful stories have no chance to reach audience and make changes if their storytelling left on bad political thriller level.
Ken Loach once again reveals socialistic truth of hardworking life in “Sorry we missed you”. Dardenne brothers’ “Young Ahmed” shows rise of Muslim radicalism in teenager’s mind. “The Traitor” by Marco Bellocchio polemizes with “Godfather”-like traditions of romanticizing Cosa Nostra and Paolo Sorrentino ironic look on Giulio Andreotti. On one hand, all of this films combines revealing the truth with deeper look on story subject, and on the other hand, most of the program look-deeper-films tells lots of hidden truth. Invisible human beings become main subject of “Projectionist” by Yuriy Shylov and “Life it be” by Vakhtang Kuntsev-Gabashvili. Both works tell about poverty and loneliness, where very specific sense of humour and some place for hope still exist. After BIAFF is over you realize that incomparable films somehow was united by festival program in complete picture that will not make new trend or some art revelation, but will give an alternative look into European festival main themes with accent on regional subject. And sometimes this experience might be like useful reloading, if you feel a little bit tired of following big festivals global trends.