Harsh Realities, Escapist Representations and a Few Suggestions for the True Way Out. Part 2

Comments on Six Movies and an Essay on a Seventh One, Screened During the 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival (2022)

An article of mine in two parts. Part 2: Comments on Six Movies Screened During the 63rd Thessaloniki International Film Festival (2022).

‘The Uncle’ [‘Stric’] (2022), by Croatian directors Andrija Mardešić and David Kapac


Most probably somewhere in the former Yugoslavia of the ‘80s a family is preparing for the Christmas Eve dinner. Their beloved uncle is coming from Germany in his retro Mercedes car to spend this special time with them. The traditional turkey is being served, but under the seemingly innocent surface, something very strange seems to be boiling between the members of the reunited family as we can notice it from the first dialogues.


Both enigmatic and impressive, the debut of the Croatian Andrija Mardešić and David Kapac ‘The Uncle’ [‘Stric’] (2022) is a claustrophobic thriller with intense black humor overtones which doesn’t hide its borrowings from the respective Michael Haneke’s family thrillers. Open to a plethora of possible interpretations – or no interpretation at all.

The institution of family as a theatrical role-playing game boringly repeating itself to eternity wherein its statutory rule consists of everyone’s consent to comply with a strictly defined set of perpetually iterating and idiotic in their essence rituals? If even for a moment any of the members fails to conform, the family game inevitably comes to an abrupt end.

Life itself as an insipid iteration of specific predefined conduct patterns, to which we adhere, not knowing how to face every single moment anew, without having the need to constantly invoke already tested and worn out models of action borrowed invariably from the past?

The phantom of Yugoslavia which, decades after its definite death, is still haunting the individual and collective memory of all the peoples that emerged after its disintegration, holding them clung to a past which they both adhere to nostalgically and detest it at the same time, tyrannizing and gnawing them to the bone? And the so-called ‘nations’ that emerged from it, some horrifying and grotesque emulations – unsuccessful in any case – of the one-time Yugoslavian model of life?

Reality defined as the farthest limit to which any kind of representation tends by definition, never being able to reach it, however true and ‘real’ it assumes itself to be? Direct inference: cinema and, by extension, all form of art might in fact be nothing more than an impossible undertaking since the very beginning.

To sum up, Andrija Mardešić and David Kapac stir the waters with their debut feature, and leave a strong imprint with the ingenuity of the basic idea of their scenario, their comprehensive direction and more than satisfactory performances of their actors, among whom, Miki Manojlović of course dominates. 

‘The Woodcutter Story’ [‘Metsurin Tarina’] (2022), by Finnish director Mikko Myllylahti


Pepe is an ingenuous woodcutter who lives somewhere in Lapland, northern Finland. Gradually, every kind of calamity afflicts him – the factory where he works closes down, he learns his wife has been cheating him with the town’s barber, his closest friend, whose wife was betraying him as well with the same barber, turns into a psychopath killer; finally his house burns down. Pepe takes his son with him and wanders about out in the open. However, mysteriously, Pepe remains cynically calm as if no external factor can have any impact whatsoever on him.


‘The Woodcutter Story’ [‘Metsurin Tarina’] (2022) is the debut of Finnish director and poet Mikko Myllylahti. It combines many of the idiosyncratic traits of contemporary Scandinavian cinema to which we are already acquainted – the singularly Finnish black humor of an Aki Kaurismäki, the surrealistic excesses of a Roy Andersson with all those sentimental outbursts which at times almost irritate us or at least make us feel somewhat awkward, and some distant echoes of the aesthetically and philosophically impeccable existential concerns of an Ingmar Bergman: The film gives a bitterly comical gaze on the futility of human life and on bad luck, its omnipresent escort and presents a reflection on the congenital ruthlessness of the human being. Pessimistic as it might be, Myllylahti’s movie is nevertheless intrepid enough to pose the question of whether, amidst all these calamities, it is still possible for us to conceive a state of being which remains absolutely aloof and imperturbable vis-à-vis any external juncture. 

A poetical – albeit bleak on its surface – glance on some other, invisible at first sight, capabilities of our human mind, as well as a marvelous speculation about the possibility for another, radically different kind of existence where one remains stubbornly unadulterated by the vastness of human pettiness and cruelty.

‘The Good Driver’ [‘Добрият Шофьор’] (2022), by Bulgarian director Tonislav Hristov


Scrawny middle-aged Ivan is back to Bulgaria and his village Golyam Dervent, right on the Turkish-Bulgarian border. He is currently working as a taxi driver after having spent many years in Finland. Ivan is haunted by a disturbing past. Gradually, we learn that in olden days he took his chances in this Scandinavian country: started a business, created a family (his ex-wife and their son are still living there), but suddenly, with no explanation at all, one day he abandoned everything and returned to Bulgaria. He is now determined to do whatever it takes to correct all the errors he has committed and claim back a life which he almost possessed in a distant past.


One more touching Bulgarian movie (we also remember the documentary ‘Hero of Our Time’ [‘Geroi na nasheto vreme’] (2022) by Svetla Tsotsorkova and Svetoslav Ovcharov screened during the 24th Thessaloniki Documentary Film Festival – March 2022), about the tragedy of contemporary Bulgaria, as well as of many other former ‘socialist’ countries, in the Balkan and broader Eastern European region. Today’s ‘Capitalist’ and ‘European’ Bulgaria remains far from achieving the dream of becoming the free, democratic, and affluent country that it once aspired to be since the overthrow of socialism and the anticipated triumph of Western values. The grim reality today, many decades later, is that absolute poverty, endemic corruption, all-pervasive criminality (which is first and foremost promoted by the state and its people) have inexorably prevailed and that economic stagnation along with moral degeneration devastate both the Bulgarian society and people’s lives.

‘Dirty Difficult Dangerous’ (2022), by Lebanese-French director Wissam Charaf


Ahmed is a Syrian refugee, deeply wounded by the war, who struggles to survive by collecting metal scraps from the dirty roads of nowadays Beirut, Lebanon. He gets acquainted with Mehdia, an Ethiopian migrant domestic worker, a modern slave in essence, who has been compulsorily confined in a middle-class Lebanese house by a slave trader, a migration agent apparently working for the official Lebanese State. Ahmed and Mehdia fall in love at first sight, however, their harsh living conditions and the deeply racist and exclusionary Lebanese society do not leave much space for their love to flourish. As soon as they realize that their mutual love is the most valuable thing in their destroyed lives, they will leave the dirty Beirut and its society behind, and will wander about in a desperate quest for freedom, love and health. In the meantime, Ahmed’s strange disease deteriorates and his body is steadily converting into metal.


A hypnotically alluring movie that manages to make poetry out of the violence, the dirt, and the cruelty that characterize human nature; an imposing metaphor on the wounds of war; but even more importantly, a profound cinematic meditation on a simple fact which we obstinately avoid facing: that the terms ‘victim’ and ‘perpetrator’ are actually nothing more than a tautology; that they substitute one another constantly; the victim of yesterday is the perpetrator of today; the victim of today might well be the perpetrator of tomorrow; and so on ad infinitum

Jewish people forgot every single atrocity they went through in their recent past and quickly converted themselves into the perpetrators of the same – if not worse – crimes of today. Lebanese people – the direct victims of Jewish violence yesterday – are now transformed into the hangmen of the new outcasts, the destitute proletariat comprised of war, climate and poverty migrants who are inundating the globe nowadays. Compared to the Syrian and Ethiopian migrants, the Lebanese society belongs to the ‘First World,’ even though in the eyes of the contemporary affluent Israeli society it certainly belongs to the ‘Third World.’ And the trite as much as horrifying human game of discrimination, racism and violence goes on with ever-increasing intensity.

Under such gloomy circumstances, love could potentially be a remedy, Charaf tells us, but it has to be truly unconditional: we should first divest it completely of any cheap sentimentality or craving for mere carnal pleasure and, first and foremost, we must have it absolutely clear in our minds that if it is to be true at all, it is certainly going to be much more vulnerable, to the extent that it may not be able to last for long.

‘The Mountain’ [‘La Montagne’] (2022), by French director Thomas Salvador


Pierre is a modern Parisian technocrat. Day in, day out he works promoting state-of-the-art gadgets. Gradually, fatigue – physical and principally mental – takes hold of him. One day he decides to climb up to the nearby Alps mountains. Captivated by what surrounds him there Pierre surrenders irredeemably to the Mountain. He abandons his job, his family, all the things he used to possess, civilization and society in their entirety, and becomes one with the magical inner power of Nature as expressed in the Mountain.

While he is literally being absorbed by the landscape – the strange glows and the ice creatures with which he unites and becomes one are a cinematic metaphor combining uniquely philosophical insight and aesthetical delight – he will also discover love personified in Léa, a beautiful chef of an alpine restaurant. But this time love is going to be poetical, sublime and transcendental, in the image of the most profound entrails of the mountain itself. And Pierre will disappear transforming himself into something that we all ought to be: an organic, vital part of Nature and the Mountain instead of those degenerated, artificial and suffering beings that we currently are.


Αt the opposite end of the so-called ‘Third-World’ with its many insuperable problems lies our affluent and so-called ‘civilised’ world; an extremely technical, artificial and, for this reason, unendurably boring and senseless civilization, whose only tangible – although in essence intangible, for all its triviality and superficiality, – achievement are all those millions of useless plastic gadgets with which it goes on barraging us relentlessly. Soon, the human animal gets sick, unable to keep on living a life obviously devoid of any reality or meaning whatsoever and then, Nature emerges as the ultimate refuge for us; our last possibility for physical and mental recuperation.

‘World War III’ [‘Jang-e Jahani Sevom’] (2022), by Iranian director Houman Seyedi


Shakib has lost his wife and son in an earthquake several years ago. Still trying to come to terms with this tragical fact he makes a living working as a laborer at a construction site. Soon, he comes to realize that it is in fact the set of a film about the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis. Unwillingly, he is forced to participate in the film as the main protagonist, Hitler. A deaf-mute friend of his, Ladan, asks him to give her shelter at the film’s set, so that her repressive husband, loses track of her for a while. Shakib, after a long thought, succumbs and hides her in the basement of the house the director has provided him with. When his stratagem goes stray in a tragic manner, Shakib will have to denounce what momentarily seemed to be a new identity and a new life for him, and stand all alone in front of authority, power and society.


Seyedi employs the ruse of ‘a movie within a movie’ in order to pose important questions about the nature of representation in art and the often elusive boundaries that separate it from reality, similar to the respective hypothesis posed by Andrija Mardešić and David Kapac in ‘The Uncle’; additionally, he is meditating on the implacable power that authority and society exercise on us, and the few chances we usually have to oppose it; at the same time, his movie is a really profound comment on the repressive character of the modern organized art industry: in the post-industrial, fully mechanized and technological society that we live in, art has also been reduced to a mere factory, sharing the same rigid hierarchical structure and the same ideological precepts of productivity, efficiency and profit with any traditional factory of the Fordist era; hence its equally repressive and totalitarian character.

However, Seyedi’s most important philosophical insight is probably the one that is related to Hanna Arendt’s widely known argument about the ‘banality of Evil.’ Real life indeed might be a mere representation or, vice versa, representation might actually be approaching reality in the limit, but one thing is for sure: that we haven’t managed so far to transcend the apparently connatural Evil we carry inside through any kind of artistic or other representation, however hard we’ve tried.

Seyedi’s movie is impressively multi-layered, brilliantly philosophical in its investigations enigmatic in its profound enquiries, surprising in its plot twists, poignant in its deep humanism and sensitivity towards the poor and the weak ones, a trait to which contemporary Iranian cinema of course has so much accustomed us, and at the same time fruitfully meditative as to the problematic inner nature of the human beings; so prone to changing sides ethically and ideologically, constantly shifting from the position of the victim to that of the perpetrator and vice versa. And, at this specific point Seyedi’s ‘World War III’ certainly shares a common problematics with Wissam Charaf’s ‘Dirty Difficult Dangerous.’


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