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 Critics2017

 

Let the Corpses Tan (2017), the third feature by Belgian duo Helene Cattet and Bruno Forzani, is the perfect example of a midnight movie – it’s bloody, stylish and eccentric. And it puts a new spin on a classic pulp story. Even though most of the time one might not understand the characters’ motivations and may find it difficult to follow the plot, this frenzied film will certainly never bore you.

Influenced by Spaghetti Westerns, Cattet and Forzani deliberately create pastiche, detailed and comprehensive yet undoubtedly auteurist. They pay homage to the genre by borrowing its plots and stylistic elements while also deconstructing cinema language to its purest and most thrilling form for cinema that communicates through visual expression rather than words.

In the hierarchy of Let the Corpses Tan, the narrative is clearly a second string, although there’s a lot going on. A gang of thieves steals 250 kilos of gold and plan to hide their treasure in a deserted village near the Mediterranean sea where a bohemian artist lives with her lover, who is caught in a love triangle. Unfortunately, a few unexpected guests mess things up, two police officers arrive and a crazy shootout begins. Although the plot, which is based on a novel by Jean-Patrick Manchette and Jean-Pierre Bastid, might sound familiar, there’s no shame in admitting that trying to understand who is who in this messy story can be quite difficult.

It’s obvious that the directors want us to feel lost or at least confused, which is why the puzzling plot is overshadowed by visual expression that is even more chaotic. It wouldn’t be too much to say that Let the Corpses Tan uses almost all cinematic techniques one could think of: close-ups, zoom-ins, flashbacks, fast cutting, cross cutting, and more. While some of the stylistic elements clearly quote the genre (for example, the repetitive close-ups of the eyes look very Western-like), the vibrant, busy visuals together with peculiarly detailed sound design first and foremost bombard viewers’ senses, creating a cinematic experience as intense and sometimes – let’s be honest – as garish as possible.

However, it’s not only the hyper-stylization that makes Let the Corpses Tan so powerful – the images created by the directors and cinematographer Manuel Dacosse play an equally important part. The most visually striking scene of the film reinterprets religious iconography. Here a naked woman, covered in golden dust, is crucified and whipped by men. She is still in charge, we are sure about that (after all, she is a goddess of some sort), yet she serves as a prisoner of lust. As in their most famous film Amer (2009), the directors combine sexual desire and violence, pleasure and death, and provoke their viewers’ impulses in a rather unconventional way.

Some might argue that Let the Corpses Tan is a cold genre experiment and not a film with heart and soul. And they might be right. But if it’s an experiment, it’s an exciting and bold one. With impressive ammunition of cinematic tools and barely any dialogue, the directors manage not only to recreate the atmosphere of long-forgotten European B movies, but also to remind us how daring today’s cinema can be.

 

 

Hungary, 2017
Director: Márta Mészáros
104 min.

 Acclaimed, pioneering Hungarian director Márta Mészáros returns with the drama Aurora Borealis – Northern Light after eight years of silence. With the new film, Mészáros continues to develop themes that she has analyzed across her whole career, which spans half a century: denial of the past, search for roots and parents, and the consequences of the post-war Stalinist regime. As was the case with the director’s Diary Tetralogy (which includes Diary for My Children, Diary for My Lovers, Diary for My Father & Mother and Little Vilma: The Last Diary), Mészáros chronicles the period between the end of German occupation and the Hungarian Uprising of 1956, and also its echoes in the present day. 

Olga (Ildikó Tóth), a successful Viennese lawyer, rushes to Hungary after her octogenarian mother Mária (Mari Töröcsik) falls into a coma upon discovering a political rehabilitation letter from Moscow. Olga confesses to her son Róbert that his grandfather is not his biological one. Róbert (the director’s real-life grandson Jakob Ladanyi) insists on investigating, so when Mária miraculously regains consciousness, Olga makes her mother dive into unpleasant and dark memories, which include the loves of her life, death, rape, adoption, the Soviet regime and years of denial.

Aurora Borealis simultaneously unfolds in two timelines: a 1950’s Hungary under occupation by Soviet soldiers, and the modern day. The narrative is fragmented and often jumps between time and place chaotically. This surely serves the detective elements of the feature, but viewers are presented with many lines which do not really lead anywhere. Besides the main storyline, in which the daughter wants to find out about her own origin (and we don’t know exactly why she waited for her mother’s deathbed to start investigating), we witness Olga’s marriage and office problems, and the relationships between her, her son and his father (her ex-husband, perhaps), which seem quite underdeveloped and only distract from the main plot.

The film starts as an old lady’s very sentimental telling of the greatest love story of her life. The melodrama sometimes doesn’t work because of rapid mood changes (sliding from traumatic experiences right into joy), a few hammy lines and the implausible acting of the subsidiary characters. Those create unintentional humour and risk killing the whole drama. 

Legendary Hungarian actress Mari Töröcsik is a strong reason not to miss the film – it’s a pleasure to watch her on the screen. Franciska Töröcsik (who played the main antagonist’s prisoner in the recent Hollywood horror hit Don’t Breathe) plays the younger version of the heroine and does a good job, showing passion, shame and bitter misery. Ildikó Tóth as Olga is a brilliant actress but seems to be miscast, as her heroine is supposed to be at least 15 years older than Tóth is.

Despite its flaws, beautifully shot Aurora Borealis is still an important film as it attempts to reckon with the negatives aspects of this historical period. This is never more so than now, when women who were raped are still systemically silenced on a daily basis, and Stalin’s regime and politics are being re-evaluated and perceived in a positive light in the dictator’s home country. It is simply a pity, that the melodramatic and sometimes even soap-operatic way this particular story is told might mostly attract only older generations, who actually do not seem to need another reminder, unlike younger ones.

 

 

Roderick Warich’s debut feature 2557 is a Thailand-set genre hybrid, combining dreamlike sequences with a thriller ambience. At the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, where the film screened in the International Competition, the director spoke to us about inventing one’s own style and searching for truth.

Monika Gimbutaitė: How did you come to set 2557 in Thailand?

Roderick Warich: There are a couple of reasons why it’s set in Asia. I grew up watching Honk Kong movies so I was very interested in that environment. And Thailand is still a very rural society. Rice is the main export there, but at the same time they have Bangkok, which seems like a city from Blade Runner’s set – it has this sci-fi atmosphere, at least for Europeans. This rural culture is also very much connected to Buddhism that’s influenced by ghost culture. Thailand is kind of in the past and in the future at the same time.

 How did you develop the script?

There wasn’t a script per se, only an outline. I had blocks of narrative that I pushed around. But I was more interested in portraying experiences, trying to catch something that’s not scripted and not narrative-based.

I wanted to see a westerner drowning in a pool that is surrounded by poor people. The idea of capitalist culture that is also patriarchal, the idea of guys going to Thailand to pay girls to have sex with them really disgusted me. And that’s where I started. But if you look closer, you can see that most of the characters from the other culture are also losers. Eventually you start to lose hatred and begin to look at the system with a certain coldness.

The film changes its tone quite a few times – from drama to thriller, and from thriller to a more meditative journey.

I wanted to do something non-narrative for people who wouldn’t normally watch similar stuff to, or sit twelve hours through, a Lav Diaz film, but who still might get something out of its meditative side. Also, the film is supposed to feel like electronic music. I was talking a lot about Arca, the electronic music producer, whose music changes all the time as if it was a creature. I wanted to see if I could do something similar in my film.

There are two things that interest me in cinema: the dream-like quality and something that feels very much in the moment. That’s why the film jumps between the narrator – you can just sit with her in the streets of Bangkok and be there – and going into a dream state. At the same time, we had the idea of turning time into steam. That’s why I chose the ambient soundtrack, that’s how this dream state felt to me.

How did you approach working with a non-professional cast?

I can’t say what made me choose them, they just have that something. Actors, on the other hand, are like empty vessels, they try to fill themselves with their characters. Robert Bresson wrote that there is a certain truth that you may capture in a non-actor, the truth that you can never capture in a professional actor. And I believe that.                         

The way the camera is positioned most of the time sets a frame of tension. In certain scenes I just let the actors ramble for hours and tried to find something that felt real, in other scenes I was following their tempo. And sometimes they really didn’t know what was going on.

And in many scenes we can’t hear the dialogue.

I’m not a verbal person and I don’t really believe in words. I believe that the atmosphere itself creates truth and the words are just noise. Human communication is noise [laughs].

 

 

Poland, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, 2017
Director: Denijal Hasanovic
98 min.

Denijal Hasanović’s debut feature Catalina, screening in the 1-2 Competition at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, tells the story of an eponymous Colombian girl (Andrea Otalvaro), who after failing to extend her visa in France, moves to Sarajevo to work on a project related to the Yugoslavian War Crimes Tribunal. She believes this study will help her get a job and legal residence at her university in Paris. In Bosnia and Herzegovina she meets interpreter Nada (Lana Barić) and her married lover Marek (Andrzej Chyra), whose lives have also been affected by wars. Denied access to the Sarajevo Mission’s archive, Catalina stays at Nada’s place, while trying to figure out her life again, and the two become friends. Just like Nada and Marek, Catalina has dealt with war in her home country and feels alienated.

Hasanović, who moved to Poland from Bosnia in the 1990s, has previously shared writing credits on Polish film Retrieval (2006) and the Icelandic drama Thicker Than Water (2006). Catalina, a Polish-Bosnian-Croatian co-production, tells a story of three emigrants, who all live with war traumas to some extent, despite coming from different countries and cultural backgrounds. All outcasts, these characters form an interesting kind of bond, helping each other out in unexpected ways. The film starts with Catalina being thoroughly checked for contraband at the airport. We feel the humiliation of the procedure. After the scene, though the audience might expect Hasanović to proceed with such overtly political issues, but he leads the story into another direction and avoids these aspects, instead concentrating on the relationships between his characters.

At one point in the film, Nada asks Catalina: “Why war crimes? Nobody’s interested in them anymore.” And Hasanović, as director, presents an involving study not so much of such crimes as their long-term consequences. However, Catalina is not a deep treatment of its subject, but a slice of an emigrant’s struggling life. Hasanović, perhaps intentionally, avoids giving the audience more context. We never fully find out Catalina’s and Marek’s backgrounds, unlike with Nada.

Newcomer Andrea Otalvaro is credible and easily arouses empathy among the viewers as naïve Catalina. But it is Lana Barić’s Nada who truly steals the movie. The Croatian actress expresses a wider range of emotions and her heroine is strong and vulnerable, rough and compassionate at the same time. The picture might have also been called Catalina and Nada, as the female characters are equally developed, and it is their relationship that lies at the core of the film and moves the story forward. Andrzej Chyra doesn’t get as much time as his colleagues but has his moments in few, but important scenes. As Nada’s mother, Serbian actress Mirjana Karanović proves once again that some actors don’t really need much screen time to demonstrate their greatness.

 

 

Before directing his debut feature, Hungarian filmmaker Peter Politzer gained considerable experience as a film editor. That is why it is not surprising that, in Manhood, the director's main storytelling instrument is montage. He tells us a tale of three generations of people living in Budapest. If D.W. Griffith, in his 1916 movie Intolerance, employed parallel editing to emphasize thematic similarities across different epochs, here Politzer articulates the continuity of phenomena.

Manhood follows three men at various stages of their life in Budapest. Samu (Samu Fischer) is a 13-year-old football fan who dreams of becoming a successful athlete. Deszo (Martin Szipal) is a 91-year-old man whose life is associated with photography and love stories. Forty-year-old bassist Frank (Peter Vass) has a life full of difficulties. Politzer visualizes these lives with a geometric and sculptural visual accuracy. When Deszo speaks in voiceover, while we observe his activities , the impression is that he has been deprived of the right to speak.

The director dramatizes this scenario with black-and-white imagery, although the film seems more gray than black-and-white. This is partly a reflection on our routine and hopeless life. A soundtrack of jazz compositions partly neutralizes this tension, as does humor, which adds comedy.

We can ask a question: what is the ideological or political base of Manhood? The answer is difficult, because the director does not make the meaning or message of his stories clear. The story is not complex. The cinematographer's camera is watching the events and observing heroes from a spiritual perspective. However, it is important to have a deep study of the background where they have to exist. Their "idea of success" is elusive, because the high class determines it.

In this case, Politzer's cinematic language is only descriptive and he just fixes the lives of heroes. Sometimes such narrative techniques are justified, and the film becomes interesting from many perspectives. But in this case, this solution is ineffective. The emotional and intellectual self-reflection on this film becomes difficult for the audience. There is no key episode (a direct and radical scene) in which we see that the protagonists have more or less identical problems; This is the reason for the film’s lack of catharsis.

 

 

Slovenian feature film The Miner, directed by Hanna Slak, had its international premiere at the 2017 Warsaw Film Festival in the International Competition, following its September release in Slovenian cinemas.

Inspired by real-life events, The Miner is that rare kind of film that bears witness to painful history and has a deep significance and emotional investment for those who made it.

It brings to the big screen the story of a coal miner who in 2009 discovered the remnants of around 4,000 people who were buried alive in a mine in Slovenia sometime after World War Two. Far from being a thriller, this film is instead a drama about the consequences of war, and the fight of simple people against a system that has little respect for truth and human lives.

Besides shedding light on this shocking discovery and questioning the way in which the authorities handled it, the film respectfully pays tribute to the bravery and integrity of the miner who made the discovery and tried to make it public, despite being shunned and reproached by Slovenian society. As Slak herself said when presenting the film in Warsaw, few Slovenians want to remind themselves about this painful history so are reluctant to see the film - but those who do are able to gain a better understanding of it.

Fortunately, the film pays as much attention to cinematography as it does to its subject. Through visual aesthetics, the director manages to produce a unique experience for viewers, and tense scenes that are emotionally resonant and engaging. There are some interesting choices of music and sounds that startle the audience from time to time, helping them feel the emotions right along with the characters. Camera movements and lighting help the viewer to feel present in the scenes, especially those taking place inside the mine. There is also nice play with visual metaphors and flashbacks that set the film apart from social realism. The actors’ strong performances further involve viewers, so that they can really feel what it was like to be those people, in those circumstances.

 

 

Bosnian-Polish director Denijal Hasanovic discusses the themes and process of making his debut feature Catalina, an intimate story of three people from different countries, cultural backgrounds and with different war experiences who all live with trauma.

Can you tell us where the initial idea for Catalina originated?

I spent a lot of years of my life as a refugee and then as an immigrant. When you are living this kind of life you meet this kind of people, and hear about these kinds of destinies. That was the first seed of the story. Later, I got this image in my head of a person coming out of an airport early in the morning all alone, and with that I began to figure out how to tell it. In translating this story to film I avoided any kind of political issues, mostly because I thought there are better kinds of media - such as newspapers and TV - to convey that kind of story. I was more interested in the inner drama of characters, and intimate moments of friendship, love and solitude in the lives of these three people. Of course you can also find some other ideas in the film like looking for roots, being an outcast, and being displaced.

Because of your personal experience of war trauma and emigration, was it hard to build the three main characters?

 Yes, in the beginning it was hard, because it is part of who you are. This is why I at first couldn’t figure out who this person was in the image at the airport and what was going on; the story was part of me. I think that is actually the most difficult moment in writing a story, when you have to find some separation between yourself and the topic, story, and characters.

Catalina’s diary is very melancholic and poetic, almost sounding like an emigrant sevdah. How did you achieve that? 

I added the diary to the story quite late. While developing the main character, I figured out that she needs to have this inner drive to express herself through writing and I started writing it for a script. But months before we started shooting, I asked the main actress to write her own diary, when she was still in Colombia. I asked her to be honest and write anything that happened to her, and that is what she did. She was writing almost every day, so when we started shooting I asked her to translate it to me and then I picked up some moments from it that were very suited to the character.

The actors are very diverse. Can you comment on the casting process? 

It was very difficult, not only in terms of making final decisions, but also in terms of organisation, pre-production and so on. I decided that I first have to find the main character Catalina. I believe in something Kieslowski said about doing casting: “You simply have to find a person, and than your job as director is done.” That is the only way to create emotional truth: to find this person that already has this character deep within themself. In Andrea [Otalvaro] I found what I was looking for. She is someone who on the one hand has this childlike purity within herself and on the other hand has this adult experience of survival, which is a very rare combination.

How did you manage to do this co-production between Poland, Bosnia and Croatia, which have quite different cinematographies? 

After finding my second producer in Poland it became really easy. When we started to look for partners in Bosnia we wanted to find somebody both professional and who is as a person warm; who understood these personal drama stories. If you have people who understand each other it is easy. The most important thing was to make them feel as one. The main difference between these cinematographies is the size. Poland has a good market, so you can comfortably live by doing films. In Croatia and Bosnia you can’t make so much money. This is the reason they also have a different kind of focus. Poland is trying to make movies for a general audience and in Croatia and Bosnia films are a bit more arthouse, aimed at festivals. But regardless of whether it is a commercial or arthouse project, dedication, passion and love for movies are what drives them. If they weren’t like this they would probably do something much less stressful, and much less life-consuming.

 

 

Social realist drama Daybreak by Albanian director Gentian Koci, which won the best actress award for Ornela Kapetani when it premiered at Sarajevo Film Festival, competed in the 1-2 section at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival.

Daybreak is a very harrowing story about what it takes to survive. What inspired you to tell it?

This story comes from my inner sensations, condensed from my daily observations of people walking on the streets of Tirana and other European cities. I tend to observe their faces and try to wonder how they feel; what their struggles are. I wanted to awaken the political nerve of people. I strongly believe that the pressure on them comes from the political and socio-economic structure and the indifference of those with power over them. I seem them as part of a chain. Because of pressures from above, the links of this chain break and people start to fight against each other, in order to keep the small things they have in their lives at any cost.

What reaction do you hope and expect audiences to have?

I believe artists are idealists at their core. I really hope that this film could make the audience deeply reflect on things happening around them, on their relations with other people, and on how difficult it is to survive in the society we’re living in. From these kind of reflections I really hope they could find the strength to change something, even if it’s a very small change in their lives.

The tagline for the film is “When the going gets tough, the tough get going”. Did you intend main protagonist Leta to be morally ambiguous?

None of us is perfect. I don’t like to create black-and-white characters. I prefer grey zones, because there you have both visible and invisible elements of a character. All of the characters are grey somehow; they are with Leta and try to help her, but they have to keep their own things together. Because of the socio-political system we’re living in, we are with each other and at the same time against each other. The audience has to ask themselves important questions about the characters’ complex intentions.

Ornela Kapetani is outstanding as Leta. Did her performance come easily?

It was very difficult of course. We had so many long takes. But she’s a very talented actress, and we worked really closely to build a character who reaches that level of psychological realism. I was very happy to find her after a lot of interviews and video casting.

What inspired the documentary feel of Daybreak?

Working on documentaries before helped me to envision the style of the film, because I wanted to shoot the scenes in a realist, concrete way, as if I could capture the actual reality of things. From the beginning I had a clear idea of what style the film would be, and aesthetic choices I would make. I wanted to cut away all cinematic language artifice, and make a deal with the audience. They’re coming into the dark theatre to watch a movie but will follow the story with their own eyes, without feeling this kind of intermediary presence or even over-presence of the director. Of course this made my work very difficult, especially when it came to working with the actors or my DoP, and sometimes we were on the edge, but I just went for it. In terms of other filmmakers, Abbas Kiarostami was an inspiration.

 

 

Zaza Urushadze’s The Confession was the first overcrowded screening at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, most probably due to the director’s previous success with the Oscar-nominated Tangerines, which won the audience award when competing at the 29th edition of WFF. However, judging from the audience reaction, The Confession does not seem likely to have the same fate.

The script, written in two weeks (with, as the director remarked at the screening, no further improvisation done while filming), follows Giorgi, a filmmaker-turned-priest (Dimitri Tatishvili), and his assistant, Valiko (Joseph Khvedelidze), who have come to serve in a remote village in the Georgian countryside, after the death of its local priest. Having the “remote village” mentioned, it might be somewhat expected that the film portrays the dull and empty village society, where the intrigue comes as the only entertainment, but also as both the cause to confess and the consequence of the confession. And in fact, the film does that. Yet, there is more added to it: the film shows the revival of the church as the centre of the village’s social life, followed by the rise of the priest’s position and therefore his responsibilities, as, through confessions, he becomes “the one who knows” – and the one who knows is, of course, the one who must act. This rise of the church is achieved through the priest’s initiative to screen films and reach out to the villagers through cinema. This meta-cinematic element might lead to the conclusion of how Urushadze himself sees the purpose of film today – as a potentially powerful social and political tool. However, it would have been fully meta-cinematic if only The Confession  provided such influence itself, which it does not.

Instead, the audience is shown to some extent a melodramatic and comic drama that touches a lot of important topics, such as the already mentioned position of the church, religion and cinema in society as well as in a particular person’s life, the role of the priest in society, the pressure of keeping the secret, etc. The Confession has an engaging and easy to follow narrative, which very slowly and unexpectedly reaches its most disturbing part towards the very end of the film, very much recalling Thomas Vinterberg’s The Hunt (2012). It is only when the film depicts the accusation of sexual harassment and paedophilia that it finally comes to life, with a paced-up, vivid tempo and flashing plot twists. Yet, this, the most striking part of the film, seems to happen and conclude too fast. Possibly the director’s attempt to cover as many topics as possible resulted in a slightly superficial overview of a small town — which indeed, does resemble society in general.

On the other hand, convincing performances, primarily by Tatishvili, paired with multiple close-ups of all the protagonists — which makes it seem as if cinematographer Giorgi Shvelidze’s camera is aiming to capture the soul of the character — add to the value of the film. Still, it feels like the whole impression, not taking the unsuccessful meta-cinematic approach into account, would have been much stronger without the elements of comedy mostly based on repeated gags by Voliko. These elements do make The Confession easier to watch, and add up to the positive hope (in the faith-in-humanity-restored manner) with which the film ends, but at the same time they make the heavy burden of the film’s topics too light to carry.

 

 

Using an area’s name as a title for a movie might be an indication of directorial confidence, but it may also suggest a filmmaker trying to bite off more than they can chew. How does one portray a district with all its quirks and vibrancies? That’s the question Modi Barry and Cedric Ido must have asked themselves while making their debut feature La vie de Chateau. Presented in the 1-2 Competition at the 33rd Warsaw Film Festival, the picture feels like a faithful portrayal of everyday life of working-class people living nearby Chateau d’Eau metro station in Paris. The film’s fast pace, witty dialogues and freaky story may attract some viewers, but Chateau’s lack of narrative cohesion will be off-putting for those who just wanted to feel the pulse of the neighbourhood.

Charles (Jacky Ido) is a thirtysomething self-described entrepreneur, the head of a bunch of men whose job is to promote a local beauty salon to women passing by. With the younger guys from the street looking up to him, we observe his admirable king-of-the-pack position, while his burst of anger when he discovers that his supposedly one-of-a-kind jacket is just a regular, worthless rag shows his overzealous care for elegance and class. He’ll find himself in a bit of a trouble when his employees start questioning his authority and the salon’s manager schemes to replace him with another street solicitor, Bebe. A conflict arises as Bebe’s style of doing business (he’s more into sporty tank tops than fancy shirts and jackets) is different to Charles’. The looming beef has its moments, but at some point the motif completely disappears. Much like other plotlines in the film, it stays unresolved.

Other inhabitants of Chateau are depicted with little to no nuance. There’s the owner of the salon, Dan, who asks Charles to spy on his wife and see if she’s cheating on him; there’s Moussa, trying to convince Charles to do business with him. Some bits and pieces are presented as a backstory for the characters, but the rapid jumping from one person to another makes it hard to focus and care for either of them. There’s a compelling dynamic between Charles and a Kurdish barber, whose salon the main protagonist wants to buy. Barry and Ido offer an interesting take on the lives of Parisian immigrants, juxtaposing the Kurdish poet as an exiled man unable to cope with the happy-go-lucky Charles, who roams the city as a proud Parisian.

The movie’s upbeat and playful atmosphere may attract some viewers wanting to take a break from more serious works on the festival circuit, but its predictability and lack of clear structure makes it hard to say what the directors were getting at. Playing it safe is not Charles’ modus operandi, but the directors didn’t follow his style and took an easy way out framing the film as a comedy of errors, where coincidences spring up like mushrooms and one bad decision leads to another.

At times, the score is perhaps too hammy, trying to suggest to the audience when to laugh. The mostly hand-held camera diligently follows the characters, offering us a lot of close-ups on actors’ faces, while not that much time is spent on the streets, which is an odd choice for a movie about a city’s area. But then, what’s a neighbourhood without its inhabitants? Just a few blocks of flats indeed.

 

 

Polish director Robert Gliński has spent 35 years making films about socio-political themes in Poland and Germany (Nazi occupation, the collapse of communism, and working-class problems under capitalism), many of which were period pieces or coming-of-age dramas. In 2014, Gliński succeeded to merge his two approaches in adapting Stones for the Rampart, Aleksander Kamiński’s well-known novel about a group of scouts during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. With his latest film, Be Prepared, the director once again tells a coming of age story, this time focusing on the rise of nationalism.

Gliński’s twelfth feature tells us a story about a group of present-day Polish boy scouts spending their summer camping in a local forest, learning the basic skills of surviving in nature, responsibility, friendship and also about important figures in Polish history. Every year, the camp also welcomes new recruits from less wealthy families outside of Poland: for the latest edition, they end up getting a group of young Nazi hooligans from Ukraine. The peaceful camp suddenly becomes torture for its more virtuous residents, when Polish scout Tomek (Maciej Musialowski) dies under suspicious circumstances. As one of only three people who know of Tomek’s death, senior scout Jacek (Mateusz Wieclawek) must investigate the murder on his own.  

Gliński has made a teenage horror-cum-mystery movie with a deeper message, but his good intent has gone wrong in every possible way. Be Prepared combines hand-held footage in black-and-white, as if shot by the scouts themselves, with a more conventional storytelling perspective. The found footage scenes try to get us closer to the characters, bringing horror vibes into the movie. In their imitation of such footage (irrational, shaky camera), these scenes are more irritating than useful in any way.

But the in-film amateur footage is not the only thing that is black and white. Be Prepared is filled with characters that are either good or bad, which in the end doesn't really matter because they are all built on a bunch of stereotypes. Focusing on senior scout Jacek who desperately wants to be authority in the camp, other characters are ignored. Piotr (Michal Wlodarczyk), leader of the hooligans in the camp, appears to be malevolent just for the sake of it, so we never actually get any deeper psychological insight as to what is happening within him. The camp leader is there only to tell scouts (and us, the viewers) the camp rules and there is also a young on-site nurse, Ewa (Magdalena Wieczorek), who serves more as a sexual object than a fully developed character. Other scouts and other hooligans (and some illegal fishermen who are also around) pop up from time to time just to remind us why Jacek, Ewa and Piotr are in the forest.

Maybe the biggest disappointment in the film is the revelation of who killed Tomek (and others, at later points), mostly because the murderer doesn't really get much screen time. The killer is a secondary character that has no real motivation for his deeds, but that doesn't make any difference for Gliński because the whole film is just a stage to say a few thoughts about the rise of right wing politics in the world. Be Prepared takes 90 minutes to express, through dialogue in its final moments, a thought that our biggest enemies don't come from the outside, but rather from within.

 

FIPRESCI Young Critics Warsaw Project

Monika Gimbutaitė, Lithuania
Monika Gimbutaitė, born in 1993 in Lithuania, graduated from Vilnius Academy of Arts, Art Theory and History programme. For three and a half years she held the position of a programme coordinator at European Film Forum Scanorama. She is currently working as culture journalist for 15min.lt, the second biggest news website in Lithuania.

Alexander Gabelia, Georgia
Georgian film journalist and activist. He's a political refugee from Abkhazia. Alexander studied history of cinema and Cinematography at Ilia State University. He writes about cinema and culture in various prints and online outlets including LIBERALI.GE, AHA.GE and he’s a cinema reviewer for on-line magazine – www.magnettemag.com. He’s been also involved into Tbilisi International Film Festival and Cinedoc Tblisi.
Arman Fatić, BosniaArman Fatić is Bosnian film critic/journalist currently based in Maribor, Slovenia where he is studying philosophy at Faculty of Arts Maribor. He is a writer for several websites/magazines across balkans some of which are ziher.hr, snl.ba and pulse.rs. His main fields of interest as a film critic are society problems in general and philosophical/religious symbolism in movies. 

Jakub Wanat, Poland
Film-lover, cinema-goer, festival-fanatic. Both cinema and writing are my biggest passions, so I decided to combine them, which basically means I killed two birds with one stone.  It all started with MAGIEL, Poland's biggest students' magazine, where for almost two years I was the head of the film column. I was chosen as a Polish representative in the Venice Days jury at the 2017 Venice Film Festival. I'm also the LUX prize ambassador and a proud member of the Scope100 project. I had a chance to write for Cineuropa, naEkranie and regularly for my blog. I'm studying both e-business and film studies, also having some time to work at a Polish start-up. 

Mikhail Morkin, Russia
Moscow-based film journalist. He is a chief editor and critic for Kinomania.ru. His work has appeared in The Hollywood Reporter Russia, RussoRosso and Film Sense. He also worked as programmer assistant at 2morrow Film Festival. Born in Moscow in 1991, he holds a specialist’s degree in Linguistics from MSPU and is currently studying for master’s degree in Transmedia Production from HSE.

Mina Stanikic, Serbia
24 year old film and theatre critic based in Novi Sad, Serbia. Although finishing medicine studies, she took up career as a cultural journalist, starting in Kultur!Kokoška, a culture-dedicated web magazine, slowly becoming focused on film and theatre criticism. Her articles have been published in various cultural magazines, mostly in Serbian language. Mina is alumna of 11th Talents Sarajevo, where she took part in Talent Press program, writing and publishing in English. In film criticism, she has particular interest in debut films, and the following transition from short to feature filmmaking.  Mina works as a PR for the Film Front, International short film festival in Novi Sad, Serbia. 

Romanita Alexeev, Moldova
Romanița’s relationship with the film world isn’t limited to her fascination for it. It also extends to her fascination with other people’s fascination for it. She has started her journey in this industry by studying film production and acting at the University of Salford, United Kingdom. Later on, she returned to her home-country, Moldova, where, at the present moment, is directing and an online/tv series about Moldovan film industry.