Shortlist: films from the new east at Cannes Festival

Shortlist: films from the new east at Cannes Festival

The new east is represented in all its diversity at this year's Cannes with a Soviet classic even nominated for an award. Anton Sazonov reviews the festival's highlights

22 May 2015

If Russia stole the limelight with Leviathan at last year’s Cannes, after Andrey Zvyagintsev picked up the award for Best Screenplay, then the 68th festival is dominated by not one but several films from the new east. With boundary-pushing genres and provocative themes from both established and fledging filmmakers, the competition this year is more heated than ever.

Son of Saul (Hungary)
Director: László Nemes

Category: In Competition

Although the festival’s main prize — like football’s Premier League — is usually won by an established name, the programme this year feautures several names that have never previously been a part of the festival. From Hungary, Nemes’s Son of Saul is the director’s feature-film debut. The film tells the story of two days in the life of the imprisoned Saul Auslander, a member of Auschwitz’s Sonderkommando, a special division of the Nazi camp tasked with accompanying the prisoners to the gas chambers and then destroying the corpses afterwards. One day, Saul identifies one of the murdered children as his own adopted son, and goes out of his mind trying to save the dead boy from cremation so that he can give him a proper burial.

The Treasure (Romania)
Director: Corneliu Porumboiu

Category: Un Certain Regard

Corneliu Porumboiu is a favourite among Cannes selectors. The festival’s ties with Romania started with the Cinefondation competition, which was won in 2004 by the director’s student short A Trip to the City. All in all Porumboiu has received five prizes from three films at the festival. If previously Porumboiu, one of the key figures of the Romanian “new wave”, shot social-realist films, now we see the director pushing beyond the boundaries of the genre. The Treasure is a story about a family man by the name of Kosti, who leads a peaceful life together with his wife and 6-year old son, when he gets caught up in a search for family treasure in his garden. In digging up the garden, however, he uncovers skeletons in the closet.

One Floor Below (Romania)
Director: Radu Muntean

Category: Un Certain Regard

Director Radu Muntean is another successful representative of the Romanian “new wave”, but not so successful by Cannes standards. One of his works, The Tuesday after Christmas — a melodrama about a complex love-triangle — has already participated in the Un Certain Regard category, but did not receive any awards. The protagonist of Muntean’s new film, Sandu Patrascu, appears to have witnessed the murder of a neighbour on the floor below him in his apartment block. Patrascu suspects that the murderer is another of his neighbours, but he is not certain of it, and so he becomes hostage to the potential killer and his own conscience. It is a voyeuristic semi-detective story of crime and punishment which again demonstrates how adroitly Romanian filmmakers can express their own unique cinematic language, and find beauty in all manifestations of everyday life.

The High Son (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia)
Director: Dalibor Matanic

Category: Un Certain Regard

Zagreb filmmaker Dalibor Matanic has made seven feature films and six shorts, two of which have previously been shown on the Promenade de la Croisette. His new film sees the combination of three different love stories, which are split across three decades. The action unfolds in two neighbouring villages in the Balkan countryside, burdened by the history of national conflict in the region. The setting of all three stories are one and the same — a Croatian man and a Serbian woman are not able to have a relationship without provoking the wrath of the local community: not in 1991, not in 2001, and not even in 2011. The general themes of the film are forbidden love, the dangers that it bears and the strength that it provides. According to the director, he saw the main mission of his film as an attempt to unite these two conflicting nations through the universal human emotion of love.

Panama (Serbia)
Director: Pavle Vuckovic

Category: Out of Competition

There is a Cannes tradition that gives the student filmmaker who wins the Cinefondation programme the right to show their feature-film debut in the Out of Competition category of the festival. Russian director Taisia Igumentseva experienced this first hand a few years ago with her award-winning short Road to… and her first feature Bite the Dust. Now it’s Serbian filmmaker Pavle Vuckovic’s turn. It has been 12 years since his short Run Rabbit Run won the Cinefondation prize. Vuckovic’s new film is of a more provocative nature. The protagonist Jovan starts seeing a girl named Maja and they have an open relationship, but Jovan becomes captivated by the girl against his expectations. When he discovers a provocative video of Maja on her Facebook page, his frustration boils over. According to the director, he wanted to depict how relationships have changed among the young generation; the growing estrangement, and the flight from real closeness and openness — these are the main concerns behind the film.

14 Steps (Russia)
Director: Maksim Shavkin

Category: Cinefondation

Shavkin’s film was an unexpected choice for many of the Cannes selectors, as it broke the established regulation regarding festival selection: his short had already participated in the Moscow International Film Festival, where it had even won the top prize in its category for best short film. The heroine of the film is Anna, a young provincial girl who has been studying and living in Moscow for some time, but simply cannot get her feet on the ground. She returns to her home town and prepares to move from her communal apartment to her boyfriend’s flat, but the past unexpectedly catches up with her in the form of her ex-boyfriend, who radically changes Anna’s plans.

The Return of Erkin (Russia)
Director: Maria Guskova

Category: Cinefondation

The graduate film of a student from the Moscow Film School (she is herself a native of Buryatia) sees another competitor from Russia in the Cinefondation category, which only serves to highlight how much of a lottery is involved in the Cannes programme selection to which thousands of short films from all over the world are submitted every year for consideration. The film is set in Kyrgyzstan, and the director uses mostly amateur actors for the main parts. The main character, who has been sitting in prison for a murder is set free. The leitmotif of The Return of Erkin is the protagonist’s attempt to readapt to everyday life, when he has so little that connects him with the everyday — no family in the form of a wife or children, no people around him, nor work.

Welcome, or No Trespassing (USSR)
Director: Elem Klimov

Category: Cannes Classics

One of Klimov’s late films — the anti-war drama Come and See — is well-known and much loved in the west. Steven Spielberg himself is said to have been inspired by a viewing of this film before the creation of such masterpieces as Schindler’s List and Saving Private Ryan. Klimov’s debut film, a black-and-white absurdist children’s comedy about the adventure of an unfortunate pioneer with a long but memorable name, was little-known outside the borders of the former Soviet Union until now. Up to this point the president of the festival, Pierre Lescure, and the selectors had never included Klimov’s work in the official programme for the Cannes Classics category.