VIFF 2019: Beyond the Iron Curtain

With almost 30 years having passed since the fall of the Iron Curtain, our collective memory may be starting to fade but its impact can still be witnessed through the lens of films coming from many Eastern European countries.

From stories of modern oppression, echoes of bygone wars, and the tenacity of survival, VIFF’s World Cinema includes some of this year’s best glimpses into life beyond the wall.

From the other side of the world to here on the west coast, here are five VIFF films that provide a taste of Eastern Europe:

From Russia: Beanpole

An unforgettable take on war’s human costs, this visually poetic and beautifully photographed drama is set in a Leningrad of near-intolerable privation in the aftermath of Russia’s WWII “victory.” Lanky nurse Iya (Viktoria Miroshnichenko), nicknamed “Beanpole” for her tall, thin body, works in a hospital and suffers PTSD-related seizures that leave her unconscious. When fiery Masha (Vasilisa Perelygina), the woman soldier Iya worships, returns from the frontlines, their intense relationship – tinged by a tragedy that occurs during one of Iya’s episodes and subject to the many horrors both of them have lived through – takes centre stage. As the desperate citizenry scrambles to survive, can the women return to a life even resembling normalcy?

Purchase your tickets for Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 6:15 PM at International Village 10; or Friday, October 11, 2019 at 12:45 PM at Vancity Theatre.

From Romania/France/Germany: The Whistlers

The Romanian New Wave goes global in the latest eccentric yarn from acclaimed director Corneliu Porumboiu. A standout of this year’s genre-heavy Cannes competition slate, this twisty gangster noir opens on La Gomera (one of Spain’s smallest Canary Islands), where a corrupt Bucharest policeman is sent against his will. In a downright whimsical turn, he’s there to learn the region’s aboriginal whistling language, which he needs to pull off an elaborate plot right under the noses – or rather ears – of the Romanian police.

Purchase your tickets for Friday, October 4, 2019 at 2:00 PM at International Village 10; or Monday, October 7, 2019 at 6:45 PM at Rio Theatre; or Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 4:00 PM at International Village 10.

From Hungary: Those That Remain

With this film, director Barnabás Tóth gives us an intimate drama, a tribute to survivors of the Holocaust, and a most unusual love story.

Budapest, 1948: Aladár is a grim but kindly doctor, living a widower’s life and doing his best not to think about the past. One fateful day, a woman brings in her teenaged niece for examination: Klára is an angry misanthrope who scorns authority, but she’s nonetheless smitten with this much older man. Aladár becomes her tutor, friend, and father figure, but their relationship is a dangerous one – not just because of romantic tension, but also because the Soviets now rule Hungary and close surveillance is becoming the norm…

As the movie progresses, we get glimpses of the traumas that molded the two characters: WWII has taken family members from both of them, and those horrible losses become part of their bond. Hajduk is superb as the downtrodden doctor, and Szőke imbues her teen rebel with a true radiance. Serious and often sad, yet also attuned to the joys of life, this is a lovely film.

Purchase your tickets for Friday, September 27, 2019 at 1:15 PM at SFU Goldcorp; or Saturday, October 5, 2019 at 7:00 PM at SFU Goldcorp; or Thursday, October 10, 2019 at 11:15 AM at Vancity Theatre.

From Serbia/Slovenia/Croatia/Bosnia and Herzegovina: Stitches

Just when Ana relents, under her husband’s pressure, to finally let go of the darkest, least resolved period of her life – the years following the reported death of her infant son, moments after he was born – a new piece of evidence pulls her back in. In this dramatization of Serbia’s multi-decade adoption scandal, 18 years have done nothing to erase Ana’s determination. But she’s the last one to care. Illustrating Ana’s heightened focus through sounds and synchronicities, director Miroslav Terzić stages this story of doubt and corrupted bureaucratic crawl in a cannily realistic fashion.

Purchase your tickets for Thursday, October 3, 2019 at 1:00 PM at SFU Goldcorp; or Monday, October 7, 2019 at 9:30 PM at International Village 10.

From Georgia/Sweden: And Then We Danced

Georgian traditional dance – the sheer physicality of which is frequently jaw-dropping – takes centre stage in Levan Akin’s gay coming-of-age tale that is as courageous for its celebration of homosexuality in a country that still considers it “deviancy” as it is beautiful in the way its saturated colours and depth of field, so typical of Georgian filmmaking, suit the movements of the dance.

As well as being both emotionally and thematically evocative, with years of pent up longing and repressed self-identity expressed in the tilt of a hand or a sideways glance, the fact that Georgian dance is hyper-masculine and staunchly nationalistic – while featuring both same-sex and opposite-sex duets – allows for sexual tension to heat up the rehearsal studio. As the characters come to terms with their sexual desires and identities in some remarkably interesting ways, Akin privileges Merab and Irakli’s spirit and resilience, and the joy of the dance.

Purchase your tickets for Thursday, September 26, 2019 at 6:30 PM at Vancouver Playhouse; or Saturday, September 28, 2019 at 1:30 PM at International Village 10.

Don’t miss the chance to see all of these sensational films at VIFF 2019!

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