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The Passenger or the search for identity (FW31)

Eastern European films
A preview of Eastern European films screeening at the 47th London Film Festival. By Peter Hame

The term Eastern Europe suggests an era when the Soviet bloc and the former Yugoslavia were seen as having a shared (i.e. Communist) identity. Today, it’s much more common to see references to Central Europe, the Balkans, the Baltic States, and indeed, the New Europe. And Russia, like Britain, was never quite sure whether it was European or not. The Czech film festival in Karlovy Vary has a regular strand that is less politically charged - ‘East of the West’ - but, significantly, the Czechs exclude themselves from this ‘Eastern’ designation.

But whatever the new found definitions of academics and politicians, the countries in this part of the world have all faced the problems of transition from nationalised to ‘free market’ systems, how to convert their traditions from art cinema to commerce, and, in the smaller countries, how to survive at all in the face of Hollywood control structures. Interestingly, two of the less accommodating auteurs, Hungarian Bla Tarr (Werckmeister Harmonies) and Russian Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark), have attracted the belated interest of English critics and audiences in the past year.

Sokurov’s Father and Son is one of the new Russian films featured in this year’s London Film Festival, but audiences should not expect a second Russian Ark. Clearly a sequel to his earlier Mother and Son, much of it is given over to the contemplation of the son by the father, seeing him as the reincarnation both of himself and his dead wife. Just as Mother and Son was accused of incest and necrophilia so Father and Son has been labelled homoerotic, an interpretation denied by Sokurov who sees his fable much more as a ‘gift of God’. But given this director’s relentless and unorthodox examinations of reality, his concern with the act of seeing almost for its own sake (”the aestheticisation of the non-aesthetic”, as Yampolski puts it), his preoccupation with life and death, one should expect an art that goes beyond what has already been defined and described.