Just to balance all the other over-enthusiastic reviews:
It is indeed a very well made feature, with some very clever cinematographic ideas, however it gives a two hours of very mundane viewing experience, of a couple of guys walking around the forest, having a very non-interesting conversations or sometimes telling fantastic stories, without their merit, deeper meaning or literary qualities being apparent to me. It was interesting to see Iran's modern middle-class youth, which rarely is a subject of Iranian films. However there was no character development, any kind of psychological or social commentary. One spends most of time trying to piece together the meaning of conversations that are just part of their lives, and to figure out if some point was intended by the director in any given scene, or not?
We were utterly bored, staying in the cinema only to see how the director could solve the end. The end scene is truly beautiful though!
A playful story with nostalgic tribute to the beauties of a time past - the 1960s. At the same time it educates about the oppression and revolutionary mood in Portugal and its colonies of that time. The plot follows black Angolan playboy's quest in good life in the both fixed and fluid hierarchies of colonial life. It paints a non-ideological picture where black Angolans and Portuguese may be friends, may get laid or even be comrades in the dream for independence, at the same time as colonial racism is widespread. The revolution is not perfect either...
All this is portrayed in very unassuming plot, as the protagonist's main aim is to take the most from the pleasures of youth while avoiding politics but that is hardly possible and makes for a constant stream of unexpended developments. A very nice and well done film!
The native title of the film translates as "At uncle Idriza's". Imagine visiting your old grandparents in their village house, do not expect more than that, certainly nothing spectacular. However once you accept this fact, the film is very nice! The director's accuracy in portraying the typical is stunning! Every single detail of the people's habits, that I know by actually meeting people like the characters in the film, is there. I was quite fascinated to discover how much the same we are across families and even across countries, down to the smallest jests! This neighbourhood and these granddad and grandma could be in the outskirts of Sarajevo, could be elsewhere in former Yugoslavia, or could be in my country, Bulgaria...
There is something that sets this Sarajevo apart though - the tragic and irretrievable loss of a son seven years ago.
The war is invisible to us but thinly feels through, being part of the past of everyone there. Indeed, it is maybe the main point of the film to show us that a troubled society will naturally return back to a completely usual and inconspicuous life, yet the pain will never fully disappear within those generations.
I would think the film might be too literally close to everyday life to be exciting for its native audience (as not a native to language, I could have missed slight hyperbolisation and humour?). It would be mostly appealing to those who have left their countries in the region, as a nostalgic memory of home, and for those foreigners with genuine interest in studying Balkan life. One day when the capitalist society, God forbid, has been completely established here and the family/kin/neighbourhood relations had fully disintegrated, the film will be also of great documentary value.
This is a portrait of a border province. It is not only in vast Iran that the border lands exist in a sleepy dizziness, forgotten and forlorn by government or God. I adore crossing borders on foot or by local train because of this melancholic mood that border areas around the world instil. Yet, this film shows a point of view from the locals - for whom being on the margins does not feel like a fancy adventure at all.
The people here feel stuck - and stale. There is no future to look up to, no linear time, just repetitive dailiness. However, the film undertakes to make us share into their feelings personally, and succeeds quite well! Long still scenes - almost photographs, hopeless landscape, no events (indeed, no weddings or funerals), subdued emotions and simple talk. A story is made by tiny details only.
This film is real, touchable; and at the same time poetic, touching! It reveals the condition of a lost soul of Sofia (the city), a young man who is leaving narcotics behind but there is nothing else in our modern life here to replace them. Boredom, inertia, dissatisfaction, pointlessness, emotional routine plague the souls in Sofia of all generations, young or old. Only love might give hope...
The character is looking for this one little piece of love, maybe hidden somewhere in his heel...
The film makes keen and exact observations at people, at the cityscape, at the relations in Bulgaria. Although it tells about drug addiction, about skinhead groups, it felt like it is coming from my own life! I could recognise friends, parents, the apartments i've lived in. The details are 100% there. The actor play is very very strong (with the exception of Stefan Danailov's student, maybe on purpose?). The young man is himself, not an actor. He is showing his own life, his guts, which makes 'Eastern plays' even more dramatic.
The camera work is incredible - its an art photographer's capture of Sofia. Some will say it is ugly, for me it is ravishingly beautiful, dignified. Sofia becomes a serene participant in the story. The music is a participant as well! 'Inject me love' was not composed for the film yet it fits it perfectly. Maybe the movie will put the "underground" Bulgarian electroacoustic group Nassekomix on the world stage?
Although, the directing and some of the actor play may require a bit more attention, this is a brilliant film! I cannot but disagree with Tom of UK - it is how this story ends that is the gem making it so uniquely good! This film is such an insightful and multifaceted satire on our recent past that I think it will be loved in all postcommunist countries.
A little explanation: The men required to build communism in the Balkan region were heirs of societies still somewhere on the verge between traditional society and capitalism. Naturally, for these people the great ideas of social justice quickly degenerated into rather provincial worries about personal status, gaining 'material comforts' (money wasn't of much use in that system but there were 'comforts'), or moving up in the newly evolved social hierarchy of the socialist state. In fact, these are worries quite similar to the preoccupations of the petty bourgeoisie as criticised by earlier artists in the West.
In the fictitious story of 'Mao-Ce-Dun', the traditionally outcast gypsy community learns how to exploit the Socialist system of authority in order to gain many small benefits. The film's brilliance is that this is the story of any communist citizen, however here it is taken to the grotesque thanks to the straightforward and colourful mindset of the gypsy. Also, in a typical gypsy fashion Mao's father becomes a convinced communist, one that is more enthusiastic than the communist officials in the town. This leads to the end scene that also is a commentary on the grim factual history of those times.
It never became clear to me what is the main topic of the film! There was a number of divergent themes that seemed to fight for the director's attention. Alas, none of them were developed successfully.
As one example: Diulgerov tried to present one indeed very pressing problem of modern Bulgarian society - the pseudo-nationalism that is gripping a significant part of the nation. However, he did not -discuss- the problem, did not offer criticism or even a solution. He presented it in the most naturalist and banal way - by having all the characters of his film talk as chauvinists. At that, their behaviour was exaggerated and felt quite artificial. I would think Mr. Djulgerov wasn't sure that otherwise the audience would get it. Since the chauvinist line comes in without a logical introduction or preparatory context, one feels it is pointless and simply brutal.
Lack of context and introduction, naturalist stereotyping, artificiality (include lots of bad acting here) plague all the other topics in the film. Additionally, I was irritated by the rather forced peppering with "Balkanic exotics", sometimes making it look like a bad copy of Kusturica's style.
The film quietly touches on so many issues of living together with another, of having a family, of having an unfulfilled desire for creativity. Most of all, it is a very human story presented in a very human and intimate manner. The director is obviously a master of his art. The characters are very full, yet they are not revealed entirely and keep surprising us until the end. They are quite independent. In fact, despite a 12 year married life, they do not know each other that much either!
Even in translation, the dialogues between husband and wife remained brilliant and with some peculiar sense of poetry! I can only envy the farsi-speaking audience!
Roya has a vivid imagination for tales and stories, with which she entertains her cute young son and daughter. However, she is not satisfied with being just a mother and a housewife. She starts going to a film-writing course in the University. Her husband has his own apprehensions about the literary ambitions of his wife. The two of them try to keep their love and family together, while stumbling at their differing expectations, fears, and cracks of communication.
The central topic of the film is a much discussed one: the difficulties that face those women in the more patriarchal societies of the Middle East that want to express themselves publicly /artistically as independent persons. A number of now famous writers had to fight with the reluctance of their more conservative husbands to be overshadowed in public life by their gentler partner. Also, they've had to balance their individualist pursuits with the overbearing social duty to be devoted to the family. In this film, the husband is not conservative, their standings in the family are on par, but still issues pop up. This makes it all the more interesting for a European audience, as well as, showing a more realistic portrait of the middle-class family in modern Muslim countries.
Although this is a drama, somehow it had a light feeling to it (except for the final parts). It felt lyrical, a bit like a fairy tale, and the same time homey and very realist.
Serbian cinema is again at the tops! This was a love story of the kind nobody else would think to put on screen. Yet it is so much more closer to those (un)happening in reality. Very sad and very deep and very simple film. Just a day of a few people in their late youth, in a Belgrade suburb of tower blocks, illustrates the throes of an entire generation caught in the postcommunist period (or shall I say, the postcommunist abyss).
Leaving everything behind and starting a new life somewhere else is not as easy as we know it from the movies. Staying, on the other hand, is a limbo. But when your heart is so kind, is ever a new beginning possible?
'Besa me mucho' runs a hundred times, it is the only soundtrack. The grey concrete blocks are unexpectedly beautiful, it is the only landscape. The petty post-communist gangsters are confusingly human and sympathetic, it is the main characters.
Stefan Arsenijevic fairly got the director's award of the 2008 Sofia Film Festival 'for the humanity and lyricism of his style'. The other Serbian entry, 'Hadersfild', was also a very powerful film.
I have mixed feelings about this film. While I was watching it, I didn't like it. Now I am thinking that maybe I have few objective reasons to consider it poor. The author seems to achieve her goals well.
My main regret was that the theme is shared with many recent Balkan films: yet another feature hammering on about decay of the society, the general failure of human lives here, the inadequacy of people to forge their destinies. This squalid perception of the present day seems to be spread in all (slavic) countries on the Balkans. I get enough of it in the every day conversations, I'd prefer if not all our film productions focused on it too.
This particular film is about three sisters in their 20s, left in their poor town Veles to take care of each other after their father had died years ago. Each is looking to find a future for herself in a different way. However, each of the ways involves escaping from the current reality. The oldest is looking for a marriage at any cost, the pretty - to emigrate to rich Greece, at any cost, the mute who is the protagonist escapes in her dreams (but she suffers most).
These three sisters are little mirrors of the Balkan people, thoroughly unhappy with our present situations, thoroughly feeling helpless and trampled on. The other focus of the film is about the patriarchal bringing up still characteristic for that generation, and how it shapes the woman to be quite vulnerable.
I suspect it is a success for the film-makers, that the managed to portray the lovely city of Veles as having such a gloomy atmosphere. Similarly, the sisters live in a hundred years old house that instead of charming feels rather depressing. The protracted unfolding of the story is also intentional to put us in even lower mood. The only light comes from the the lyrical character of the mute youngest sister, who is our story-teller.
"The Edge of Heaven", original title "On the other side", takes up a number of ideas from Faith Akin's previous film. But it takes them also in a new unexpected direction - with a political view (on Kurdish problem, on Europeans), with additional protagonist types - now the conflicted German Turks are joined by 'naive' Germans proper and 'seen-too-much' Turkish (Kurds) proper. All of the characters were very well constructed and, as representative types of their social groups, offered much material for the audience to reflect upon.
Indeed, a knowledgeable audience would find this film to be replete with commentary on our social and political reality, the Anatolian and the European, and on the respective preconceptions and stereotypes. Some of the commentary is tragic, some is ironic. Here, in Bulgaria, the audience laughed and applauded when the German granma said with all her conviction to the Kurdish girl that everything in her country will become alright once they join the EU. On the other hand, an émigré Kurdish audience will probably applaud a very moving and full of suspense depiction of the Kurdish struggle in Turkey, which is however frank both to Kurds and to the Turkish authorities. It included small cameos from the conflict that are for the first time openly publicised: for example, the revolutionaries as they are taken out of their hideout to be arrested by the police, announce their names to the street and the world, in apprehension of being disappeared by the authorities; minutes later the crowd of passer-bys claps to the departing police vans in a popular approval of the suppression of kurdish struggle...
Still, the myriad political and social themes are only a setting to a much more personal story. The opening of one's soul, the crossing of inner walls that separate us from those who love us. This story is repeated three times, in different context, for the three characters who remain alive to cross 'to the other side': the German mother who accepts her daughter's ideals, the German-Turkish son who forgives his father, the Kurdish girl who takes the love of her friends over her revolutionary commitment. However, the director allows no one of them to consume their redemption within the film's running time - their characters remain tragic.
It is a very powerful film. As a friend said after the screening, it tramples over you like a steam-roller. The emotional mix of the previous film "Head-on" had me cry, but crying releases the pain. This one doesn't let to release the tension even at the final scene. It will stay with you for days after.
The synopsis in the Sofia Film Festival informed that it is a film about the trade of babies: "although giving a trustworthy picture of the whole process, its focus is on the moral dimensions of the problem". Unfortunately the synopsis was just a good wish to the director. The film did not deliver any of it.
The baby trade, indeed an existing and serious problem, was used just as a pretext for yet another plain Bulgarian film lamenting the ugly post-communist life. It joins an already long sequence of films like that. Bulgarian film-makers seem to take some sort of masochistic satisfaction in making features about the new class of rich capitalists a.k.a criminals, inventing a plenty of brutal characters and sickening stories, but no serious content beyond that.
The story is quite artificial, much of the actor play also feels artificial (I would blame more the director than the actors). Although the topic should offer a lot of material for inner drama and reflection, there is little psychological deepening for any of the characters. Certainly, they don't seem to notice any 'moral dimensions' about their actions.
Watermelons, boats, boats from watermelon rinds - clearly this is a film about childhood! About that special kind of childhood of the East or maybe of the Past!
In childhood every detail is full of meaning, full of amusement, the near future holds grand plans and dreams, in childhood myths can have very real appearances, and there are many many summer minutes to spend with your friends, on the dried meadows of the village or maybe on the imaginary sands of the coast...
A childhood in the East: where townsmen are too poor but have their pride, where they still pay a lot of attention and appreciate the small details, where life repeats its slow rhythms and the future is blissfully far away. In the East myths still can have very real appearances, and there are many many daily moments to spend enjoying the simple blessings of God while waving off the flies in the hot air, chatting with your watermelon customers, or taking a nap!
I should warn you that just like our childhood, the film has no specific finale, it ends unexpectedly, taken away by the circumstances. One day we realise it has been gone for some time already, while we had still so much more plans and business to do with it...!
A humble, monumental and so necessary memory of times that will one day pass, and places that will soon change! Ashkolsun arkadashlar!
Bizarre, humorous, touching and again - bizarre! A girl is married by her family to the cousin just across the border. Everything is done by the rules and custom! ...as far as possible when the aunts have to shout across the no-man's land with megaphones! ...The future husband is extolled, the virtues of the prospective bride are enumerated, ...the soldiers manning the watchtowers are blushing.
However, Lamia is a very strong girl with a bit of a mind of her own.
While walking the dirt-track from the Lebanese to the Israeli checkpoint in a white wedding dress, she does not cry. In patriarchal societies the bride is given up to her new family for good (And allow me to stress here, not "Muslim" but "Patriarchal" society, for these customs did not differ much in many lands of Christian Europe at the time when people still extracted their bite of bread with year-long toil over the unforgiving earth). Thus, countless brides cried upon leaving their father's doorstep. So much so that mourning for the forsaken family has become a formal and important part of the wedding ritual (or "hadn't her family loved and cared well enough for her??" the neighbours will gossip!)
Lamia refuses to cry, leaving not only family but an injured yet proud fatherland behind the barbed wires. From now on she refuses to do many more things expected from her - by her relatives or by us! ...Because the white kite is still there - flapping with wings in her soul! It won't stay for long pierced on the barbed fence.
The whole film is built with lightedness, with enjoyment of life, with a touch of humour, despite the serious problems it centers on. This contrasts starkly with another recent palestinian film on a related theme - "Atash". But this is the lightedness of the young yet not roughened heart. It accepts everything without hind thoughts or preconceptions, it is still able to see the beauty in anything that surrounds it. This heart, thanks to an amazing director, transforms the film itself! It offers to us to see unprejudiced the beautiful characters, the striking landscape (the absurdist military border even adds to this!), the flying kites, the happy-despite-everything children and the great music!
The main story is braided with so many other important lines, though they may be barely noticeable! They are warm tributes of the director to the local life, to the locals, to their style. If I have to mention just one of these cameos that stayed with me, it is the deep and honest love between a sister and her small brother! Through the sum of all cameos this film becomes a fully fleshed and very loving portrait of a society in transition between Tradition and Modernity. Society that even put in the transitional confusion, and in the odd border situation, does not loose identity and character. Imagine your old mother coming to visit you, the emigrant to London, and on the airport clearing the baggage security with dozens of home-made jars of baked paprikas, mashed aubergines or quince conserve. This is the homey taste of this film! : )
Finally, it is a film about Love! About many loves, in fact. Even the man getting drunk and sleeping with prostitutes every night because his village was annexed by the Israelis on the day of his wedding and he never saw the wife he was married to! This was love too.
Another post-yugoslav film defending the humanity of the Balkan peoples in the light of European accusations that they are innately violent and blood-thirsty. It attempts to prove instead, that War is larger than man! The War easily defeats him into a monster that plunders his own house and seeks the murder of his own best friends.
The film follows the fate of a group of besieged Serbian soldiers coping with their imminent death in parallel with the stories of how they ended up as soldiers. Yet it manages to do this in more light-hearted way than one would expect! Maybe because humour has been always the last resource of the downcast, at least in this part of the world!
Balkan people may not be murderous savages, but they are masters in fashioning absurdity, and they appreciate absurdity when it happens to them. In this, the film characters stand next to the director, even when facing their own deaths. Absurdity of a fine sort fills the entire film, one might guess what is expecting him from the witty title itself properly translated as "Beautiful villages burn beautifully". I am only afraid it might lead the audience to believe that Bosnian war is portrayed here with more artistic license or exaggeration than is the truth...
"Lepa sela lepo gore" shares the same theme as the bosnian film "No man's land" and ends (very movingly at that!) with the same message - an outsider is not in position to judge or qualify those who have lived through the conflict for their actions. He has no moral right neither to blame nor to forgive. While "No man's land" relates this issue directly to the habit of international media and western audiences to qualify sides in conflicts they do not understand, this film remains less committed to the contemporary. Instead it poses the same question to all of us as humans.
This could be a film about the clash of the modern liberal culture with the traditional patriarchal society, in this case an oldish catholic village in rural France in the 50s. A contemporary reading could be the clash with the conservative Muslim countries in the Middle East that we witness today. The portrayal of such process that is affecting the lives of millions of people around the world (practically all traditional societies face this challenge as they are stripped off their isolation) as so a small and innocent story - the arrival of a chocolate-maker in a peaceful village - I thought - was a brilliant idea!
However by the end of the film I wasn't at all sure if the author was that deep.
Great films question the default values of their societies - sometimes showing us how ridiculous they (we) are, sometimes bringing them down with hammers, sometimes reinforcing them at the end but not before a critical examination. Chocolat was clearly not a great film. It turned out to be yet another western self-glorifying story showing controversial issues very one-sidedly and neatly resolved, disguising propaganda (that of political correctness) as objectivity. Just the kind of films that Oscars like, indeed.
Chocolat had simple and clear message - liberal is better than religious, those freed become happier (enjoy chocolate, sex, equal rights, etc). On the other hand Catholics are xenophobic, hypocrites, oppressing their wives. The issue of why is missing. They are i) simply bad/stupid/manipulated people, or ii) motivated in the meagre ways that a non-religious viewer could imagine, in this case - holding in power. This is bound to offend any viewers who understand motivation coming from a different perception of the world.
Any great film on this topic made in a liberal country, has to ask "are we right to believe that we are superior to others?", has to show us the event as the other side feels it, the side we are never compassionate with and we feel justified to go and change.(the oppressed, the zealots, the backward, the non-democratic). Just as the great film from a non-liberal country questions the zeal, oppression, etc. of its society. Unfortunately the liberal countries are far behind in both courage and open-mindedness in film-making compared with those we look down upon.
The film is a good and detailed recount of the events and life in the last days of the Nazi leadership (although, of course, one must be wary that reality *might* have been quite different from the understanding of filmmakers living half a century later).
It may serve as colourful illustration to the text-books but for me at least - it remains just there.
Indeed - I might not have been prepared enough as an audience but the fact remains - I wasn't touched by most of the drama and tragedy happening for 3 hours in front of me. The only moment that humanly moved me was when Hitler awarded medals to the youth soldiers. The obvious discrepancy between the Icon you are willing to die for, and the shabby disgruntled old man in front of you must have been quite distressing!
During the film lots of people blow their brains out yet we don't go through the process of their decision and emotion. Clearly it was not the intention of the director - he avoided any kind of association with the protagonists (maybe today, 60 years later, this still would be TOO scandalous???). Thus he placed us in the position of a street passer-by. For sure all the cast are great and they obviously lived through it (the Hell) but we are offered only the outside shell of their condition - as if Herr Hirschbiegel just happened to be around with a video camera while things were happening.
Still it is a step in the right direction - breaking out of the black&white demonisation of Nazi members which is a default in post-war European society.
this is a lovely portrait of the patriarchal balkan society of ottoman times! (it is set in late 1880s, some 10 years after Serbia acquired the Nis area, but European modernity hasn't quite come yet!) or a myth about it. beautiful myth of the festivity and colourfulness of the bygone times, a myth that every people on earth needs! I am so glad that we also acquired one, and so well made (the dialogue, the set, the costumes, the soundtrack!), and done true to our own spirit (the dialogue, the body language!!!)! Indeed, being an internationally overlooked region has this among its advantages - we didn't have Hollywood making our myths! cf. Braveheart for the Scottish and so many other examples
and I say "we", because this portrait will easily be recognised as "own" in any of the Balkan countries! When I was showing it to a friend from far off Cyprus and she exclaimed in surprise "oh! your countries are really like this? but it looks the same as us!!!". yes, unfortunately the walls of hot and cold war have been impenetrable ever since those 1880s until very recently! today we have the first chances to rediscover our neighbours.
I think bulgarians will especially enjoy listening to the language. It is much lighter to understand for the unaccustomed than standard Serbian, yet familiar words are delivered with a charming softening of the consonants and the quince-taste intonation patterns of the Serbian language! (some local commentators mentioned that the dialect is not performed very well by the non-native to the area actors.)
Heh, almost everyone discusses language! Indeed, as colourful as is the visual, twice as much is the beauty of expression! This is typical for the XIX. century Balkans and for our "national classics" of literature. Unfortunately, it is not humanly possible to translate, but still I warmly recommend Zona Zamfirova to foreigners! Even if you miss on everything else, the brave eye-flirt between the two young, and the excited help of their friends for the good of love will make you remember your own first 'falling in love' and it will have your heart beat!
PS: I speak of myths, but the film is based on a novel of the time (looks like a satire on the then contemporary patriarchal society?), and I am very excited to read it soon!
Knowing that I was going to a Steven Spielberg film, I was expecting something perfected to manipulate the audience into tears: a carefully engineered drama, a bit too pushy sentimentality, and between that lots of action professionally choreographed to keep you amused. At the end, a director's message too loud and bolded for my taste.
However I was completely and totally surprised! Instead we got a realistic, serious and questioning film! Everything that the audience had to gain as a message and a contemplation was hidden naturally and subtly - in the characters' fullness.
Five ordinary recruits in the military - not the trained Mosad field operatives - have decided to give up themselves for those things that give life a destiny, a cause and fulfillment: ...duty, beliefs, Past, Future, feeling for obligation to the ancestors and a sacrifice for those to come after...
Just as any ordinary Jews would.
Yet, as they proceed with their mission, that world gradually falls apart. They loose touch with the myths that shaped their life, that motivated them to accept this mission on the first place! The ordinary men are strongly affected by the very nature of the deeds they have taken upon themselves, even if they still find those deeds fully justified. They slowly break out of their ordinarity and innocence. ...to whatever is lying beyond. In several excellently acted shots Avner, returning home and hailed as a hero, discovers the abyss that has grown between his evolved self and the eulogical pride of his peers, family and superiors. What used to make sense to him, as it still does to his countrymen, has dissolved by too many a crossing the limits. Crossing the limits when exceptions -had- to be made. Exceptions from law and from conscience. From righteousness.
For, in each murder the agents are not lucky enough "to simply kill an enemy" (today the laguage would be even more distanced - perhaps "eliminate a terrorist"). We are intimately with them as they have to take the ultimate decision to convert the breathing, fleshed, intelligent, warm, human, talking in his fright with body most sincerely, human. Human, to this moment full of memory and hope - ...to convert him into a dead corpse. To choose the moment they will cut away a future: now or 2 seconds later? ...or never.
Although later they try to avoid the shock of face-to-face execution by planting bombs, the Fate (director) each time leads them and us to discover the target as a human being. The overpowering blasts are incredibly realistic, both physically and psychologically!
The cinematography is amazing, the cities of Europe are recreated in a feast of visuals! With slightly unrealistic beauty they possess some fairytale quality! Spielberg manages to create a mythical dream about 70's Europe! He made me wish to go back in time when the terrorists, secret services and even cities were more innocent, human and romantic. Nostalgic.
This is contrasted by the series of powerful still shots of the consequence of murder. However they are all unenforced as if slipping unintentionally in the field of view of the camera. The most symbolic ones as if unwittingly distracted the cameraman's attention from his task of filming and made him stop there for a second, on an image that in my opinion could take its place in a photography exhibition. Thus every single death makes its point to us as well as it does to the protagonists.
This achievement is mirrored in the dialogue! The film abounds with crystallized one-liners by people fully aware of the tragedy of their self-destruction. Also, remarkably, the writers did an effort in putting us in the context of Israeli and Palestinian emotional worlds, to spare us from abstract moralizing and judgement on their violence and readiness for self-sacrifice. Unfortunatey, this "from-above" attitude is commonly prevailing in the placated West of today when watching on TV the news from Middle East.
The very special in this film is the total openness towards us, the sincerity! We see those people in their world and they are not afraid to let us touch to their hearts in a something that to us might seem naivety. This sincerity and welcoming is something typical in the Balkans although it has been spoiled to a varying degree by the drive for modernisation and "Europeanisation" ever since the XIX. century. Yet it still bears its mark on the people here, and, in some spots it is preserved in its purest form! One of these we see in "Letter to America".
Although it is a feature film it feels like a documentary. Only the main characters in this story are actors. It is filmed with real people in real places that the author came upon in her search in the mountains. To a foreigner it might look as a fantasy, and the people we see are indeed living in magic and mysticism - but in their magic they are far more real than our civilisation!
You will see a lot of very old people who live by even older ways. I hope your soul will gain a little bit from experiencing this pagan-orthodox tradition where happiness, life and death are perceived in very different way from what we have become accustomed to.
One of the old heroines says to the main character, a visitor to the village just like the viewer, "I am not afraid of death! Why should I be afraid of death - I have made ready my newest and best dress! Here - come - I will show it to you! ...I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of people. Sometimes there are bad people..." These words reminded me about conversations with my own 92 years old grandmother.
One should be in a relaxed mood when going to see this film. Be there to tranquilly cherish the moments of life and the film will open itself and offer you all its hidden prizes.
Someone mentioned the landscapes are bleak... The film is isomorphic to its landscapes. Bleak and lovely at the same time. Little bit depressing for those who choose to stay at a distance, to look at (film or landscapes) as at exhibits. For those who step in, it becomes precious in its touching ugliness. As you enter, ugliness is redefined. We are able to adore and love what we thought ugly before when we lived in the world bombarded by artificially selected beauty. We appreciate the naturality, the simple yet awkward reality of landscapes, of characters and of situations. The directing and actors are both excellent and succeed to achieve this reality so difficult to balance on screen!
There isn't more talk than necessary, more expression of emotions or velocity of thought than a real living person would allow - not any of the tricks directors have to use to keep us interested. Yet the film is not boring. Because we can feel and understand the characters on screen as fully as we can a human being next to us! We can recognize little parts from the happening in the memories of our own life.
In one sentence: The film really tastes like a yesterday's lunch.
It compares very much with another Balkan film I commented on negatively - the Greek "Ulysses' Gaze" by Theo Angelopoulos. It also aspires to demonstrate the epic and tragic 20th century fate of a Balkan people - this time the macedonian bulgarians - yet it also fails to touch the viewer emotionally. He is just presented with the suffering rather than be let to share it and live it. The attempt to squeeze 4 different epochs of the turbulent Macedonian history (from 1920s to 1990s) in 2 hours dilutes any quality that could make a film good or any messages it might have.
However I quite liked the only message that got through for me: it does not matter who holds the power - the serbians, the bulgarians, the new Macedonists, or the New Democracy. Its always the decent people who will be under and be abused: power attracts only scum - this is something that quite much pervades all our lives today in any Balkan country.
One thing which annoyed me was that the characters spoke in modern standard Bulgarian rather than the speech of their place and respective times. The film is co-production of Bulgaria and Republic of Macedonia but as far as I could see, only the author of the novel on which it is based and 3 or 4 actors were from Macedonia. Ironicly, all macedonian roles were played by Bulgarian actors, while the Serbian characters (i.e. the very bad guys whose main goal was the suppression of macedonians) - by the macedonian actors.
The idea of this film is great and more productions should follow its steps of exploring and fitting together the Balkan tiles! Our nations have been separated by barbed wire and self-delusion for very long time - even during the "internationalist" Communism. For decades the world next to our immediate borders has been blackouted. We are well acquainted with the life of USA or Russia, but not of Serbia or Turkey! As result we have forgotten that until 130 years ago we all lived in one and the same country and so we share one way of life, of work and of merriment. This I discovered personally for the first time a few years ago when I first crossed the Border with a sinking stomach!
As a traveler myself, the first-hand-view of this film, a lot of it shot with a hidden camera, looked strikingly familiar! It is a very crude documentary - more like a diary of Adela (the film-maker)'s journey. I think such genre of film-making could have great future if intelligently produced!
However she had higher aims in mind, and I think she failed to achieve those. That resulted in a rather more grave depiction of the Balkans, present and future, than they really are.
The persons which Adela sought in each country were from different social backgrounds - from an educated actor or opera singer (Turkey and Albania) to vulgar rascals in the local pub (as you could conclude from their initial chat on "nowadays girls"; Serbia) to nationalists the biker type (Bulgaria). Clearly neither of those could represent the attitudes of a whole nation towards its neighbours. The author should have looked for some way to make this point. Note, that while outsiders might perceive this documentary as a depiction of the Balkans as a whole, the home audience will look at it as a sequence of separate reflections - one on every neighbour - and take those reflections home. However, they are quite onesided!
The two most embarrassing episodes both happen at the end so they set the grim concluding mood. Although there were moderate and some very intelligent statements (Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia), they are overshadowed by the emotional effect of the shocking. Unfortunately the same happens in our lives and politics as well, and that is precisely how we got the recent resurrection of turmoil.
And my last point: in the beginning one might be inclined to wrongly believe that the "true" history of the song will be relieved to him at some point. This doesn't happen and it leaves a certain degree of disappointment later. Although the pattern becomes somewhat clear for the viewer following the many partial information suggested, it is never explicitly summarised. Presenting the results from a dedicated scientific research in an epilogue would have been an invaluable addendum!
Despite the many drawbacks this film is very important for revealing the true Balkan world to the rest of the world. And to ourselves! I hope more film-making of this sort follows up. However, although it is 100% reality, it is still a tiny bit of a huge colourful mosaic! Please, don't draw your understanding of the Balkans only from it. The best way, of course, is to visit and study those countries for yourself! Believe me, you will enjoy it! :)
SPOILER: The following might be interesting for you after you have seen the film:
In some later interviews in Bulgarian media Mrs Adela Peeva said that Iranian and Lebanese colleagues who saw the film confirmed that this song also exists in their countries. There is a speculation that it may have been originally a Jewish song carried all over the area by the Jewish migrations - "because it sounds most impressive when performed on a certain type of Jewish flute".
I am surprised that so many people commented positively on this film!
Mr. Angelopoulos was trying to be epic and grandiose but he is just hollow. I had the impression that all the time he was saying: "O mortals, behold how much we, Greeks, have suffered over the century!" Yet, maybe except for Sarajevo at the end, there was not a single scene in this film, directed so that it will make one share a compassion for the things you see. Until the orchestra and fog of Sarajevo, all the feelings in this film remained declared but unfleshed.
Many people here compare it to Underground. But Underground made me cry. While Odysseus only made me angry and later made me indifferent.
By the way, it made me angry because it portrays a very unobjective helleno-centric view of the developments of the region. I do come from this region and I do have a pretty good knowledge on its history so this film cannot deceive me, but it would probably deceive thousands of viewers worldwide! I wouldn't complain about such an ethnocentric narrow-minded view from an average Greek citizen - all our nations are faulty in this regard. But definitely not from an artist claiming the standing of Mr. Angelopoulos!
In fact, if you wonder how the infamous "deep-rooted tribal hatred" of the Balkans comes about - you might want to watch exactly this film as an example of an instrument to that end! The main suggestion of the film is that Greeks are the only fine people on the peninsula (similar feelings run in every country in the region). Despite, or because of that, they are awfully mistreated by the barbarians of the north for a hundred years. The barbarians of course are types living in total misery - both material and spiritual.
In fact I think the fighting/dancing is a bit too much. That said I will move on.
It is the first film I see that is at the same time built on the symbol - the idea that you should give only a sign of the happening and leave the audience feel the remaining content and charge by its own merits - but the symbols themselves are so expanded and living that one might even not notice there is something else behind.
I also enjoyed that this film managed to promote in the western countries the ideas of holism which are quite distant to our individualistic philosophy. The thread that we are parts of the whole, and at the same time we are the whole itself, is pervading Hero on every scale - from the allusions on the fundamental link between martial art, calligraphy, music, go...; through the marvellous half-word dialogue between King and Nameless; to the final scene of insight, and then sacrifice. I am glad this different view on the world is expressed in a film watchable for the wider audience. I hope it will help make us more tolerant to other cultures in todays times of civilisational conflict.