Pick of Serbian, Estonian and Russian film at Cottbus festival

Article published on Nov. 17, 2010
Article published on Nov. 17, 2010
'Germany’s second most important film festival' according to the former German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier celebrated its twentieth anniversary between 2 and 7 November this year. Top prize at the 'young European cinema' festival went to 'White White World' by Serb director Oleg Novkovi. Retrospective

The Cottbus film festival was launched shortly after the reunification of Germany in order to follow how young film-makers from the post-communist countries would deal with the complex changes in their country. Strong social cinema, a sharp profile and a precise glance at east and west ensured a high standard and international recognition for the festival. It has become the most famous sector gathering for eastern and central European cinema.

'White White World' (Beli beli svet), according to Cottbus

This year 18, 500 viewers were able to make 140 cinematic discoveries from over forty countries. A different emphasis is placed on each of the twelve sections, for example on Russian production – Russkiy Den, Polish avant-garde films – Polskie Horyzonty or the 'east-west-relationships in international cinema' in the globalEast section. The top accolade of the competition carries a prize of 20, 000, euro (£17, 000) which was awarded to former Cottbus winner, the Serbian director Oleg Novković.

Cottbus best film: White White World

White White World ('Beli beli svet', 2009) is a joint Serbian, Germany and Swedish production. The jury emphasised the 'particularly courageous and unparalleled cinematic language, which illustrates the daily suffering of the outsider through a powerful aesthetic experience.' In fact Novković’s film carries conviction with strong images of the mining town of Bor in Serbia. The landscape which is fissured by mines and chimneys is the setting for the story which is laced with elements of Greek tragedy. The characters Rosa (Hana Selimovic), a rebellious young woman, her mother Ruzica (Jasna Ðuricic) who after long-term imprisonment for the murder of her husband is released from prison and former Boxer King (Uliks Fehmiu), Rosa’s father - although he is unaware of this, all form a fatal love triangle. Both women love the violent king, who falls in love with his own daughter, gets her pregnant and in the end goes blind. Through songs the otherwise taciturn protagonists express their inner conflicts; at the end of the film an entire miners’ choir - residents of the town of Bor - sing about the tragic ending of the story.

In contrast to the French films 8 Women ('Huit Femmes', 2002, François Ozon) or Love Songs ('Les chansons d'amour', 2007, Christophe Honoré), no kind of estrangement is added by the singing, rather the characters’ sadness and despair are intensified. They express their feelings through song because they would never be able to convey them with words. Why are all of the characters so closed, comes the audience question. 'I don’t like transparent characters,' explains scriptwriter Milena Markovic. 'In Greek tragedies man looks catastrophe in the eye from birth.' The alternation between broad long shots of the mine landscape and close-up shots of the characters plays around with your feelings; the film seems to show both documentary reality as well as a close, theatrical production of several conflicts.

Estonia: hypocrisy of do-gooders

A further discovery is the film The Temptation of St. Anthony ('Püha Tõnu kiusamine', 2009, Veiko Öunpuu) whose leading actor Taavi Ealma received the outstanding actor award. The film also impresses with its experimental aesthetics: presented entirely in black-and-white, it has long tracking shots and fast changes of scene, many odd occurrences and a sub-storyline which only develops after a while. The film poses the question 'what is a human being?' Is it somebody who does not help a man covered in blood, but lets him sit in his expensive car with white leather seat covers? Is it somebody who goes to his boss to object to the dismissal of hundreds of factory workers claiming 'they are still human beings!' Is it somebody who can only answer: 'I thought the therapy would have helped you' to his mentally ill wife after a seizure. Tony wants to do everything correctly, but due to his simple-mindedness and naivety the situation worsens; the people and animals he loves die. The film is a pitiless reckoning with the hypocrisy of do-gooders; dismembered hands, consumed people and a depressed priest are the morbid components which make this film a 'descent into hell to the abysmal depths of humanity'.


With a total of three awards, the jury’s favourite was the Russian contribution Another Sky ('Drugoje něbo', 2010, Dmitry Mamulija). The intensive drama (due to the lack of dialogue) about a shepherd and his son received commendations from the international festival jury, the best debut film award as well as the FIPRESCI prize (International Film Critics Awards).

Read about The parallel (and mysterious) world of Russian film on cafebabel.com

The Cottbus film festival was convincing with a great range of films and its keen focus on eastern Europe. Another peculiarity is yet to be mentioned. Due to the fact that all of the films are shown in their central or eastern European original language and most only have Russian subtitles, the audience receives headphones so that they can follow a simultaneous interpretation in German or English. Cinema narration live is an unusual cinema experience.

Images: ©Cottbus Filmfestival 2010