Eastern Europe films tell bleak tales at Cannes
Bleak films of murder, police brutality and Soviet dictatorship -- some of them three hours long -- are among the central and eastern European offerings furrowing brows at the Cannes festival.
"Some people make comedies. Others have a different point of view," said Ukrainian director Sergei Loznitsa, whose film "My Joy", about impoverished peasants and sadistic cops in snowy rural Russia premiered on Wednesday.
"A single artist cannot present all the points of view at the same time," he added, to justify the unremitting bleakness of his film, set in Russia but filmed in Ukraine -- the first Cannes entry ever from that country.
The ironically titled "My Joy" is in competition for the Palme d'Or, the top prize at the world's biggest film festival, which is awarded on Sunday.
Film magazine Screen called it "an intriguing but often messily impenetrable dramatic debut... It's hard to imagine that many viewers will consider their patience sufficiently rewarded."
Hungarian director Kornel Mundruczo is meanwhile tapping the central and eastern Europe region's gothic associations, which date back at least as far as Bram Stoker's Transylvanian vampire Dracula.
Mundruczo's Palme entry "Tender Son", a modern retelling of the Frankenstein story, screens on Friday.
Mundruczo recruited Rudolf Frecska, a 17-year-old orphan who had never acted before, as his male lead: a lost young man who murders a family while searching for his father.
Frecska "was kicked out by his parents when he was two years old and grew up in an orphanage," Kornel told AFP. "This shows in his face and you feel it and understand it."
Mundruczo sees central European countries as a "bridge" between east and west and used a western classic, Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein", to tell a story set in a crumbling Budapest apartment building.
"Eastern and western Europe, on paper it's getting closer and closer, but 'inside' (psychologically) it's further and further away," Kornel said, acknowledging that grim subject matters risk fulfilling a gloomy stereotype.
"That sadness, deepness... for the Hungarian people is very close," he said.
"Sad but true."
Another Hungarian film screening in Cannes is Pal Adrienn by Agnes Kocsis, about an overweight nurse working in a ward for the terminally ill. It is screening in the festival's emerging talent section, "Un Certain Regard".
Romania is strongly represented in the festival meanwhile -- with heavy subjects and long treatments.
Andrei Ujica's three-hour documentary "The Autobiography of Nicolae Ceaucescu" consists entirely of archive footage -- much of it originally recorded as propaganda -- telling the story of the late Communist strongman.
The 58-year-old film-maker said his out-of-competition film offers new insights into the man who ruled Romania from 1965 until his death by firing squad on Christmas Day, 1989.
"I did not want to make a documentary on Ceaucescu but a movie about dictatorship," Ujica said. "I believe that we can get closer to the complex essence of historical events through artistic means."
Showing in "Un Certain Regard" last week was "Tuesday, After Christmas", a naturalistic drama about adultery filmed by 38-year-old Romanian director Radu Muntean.
Last week Romania's "New Wave" supremo Cristi Puiu returned to Cannes with a crime story, "Aurora" -- just over three hours long and also showing in "Un Certain Regard".
In the movie, 42-year-old engineer Viorel "decides to make justice as he understands it, brutally intervening in other people's destinies," Puiu said.
"It's a cold movie (and a long one)," wrote the movie industry magazine Variety. "But it's undeniably the product of a master."
© 2010 AFP