Three to see at LFF if you like... Eastern European films

Peter Hames recommends three hot tickets at the BFI London Film Festival: a film by an established director, a great debut and a wild card.

Peter Hames

The new film from an established director…

Putin’s Witnesses

Putin’s Witnesses (2018)

What’s it about?

Based on material he shot for Russian television in 1999/2000, Vitaly Mansky’s film provides a compelling account of the 1999 presidential campaign and Vladimir Putin’s rise to power – the true causes and consequences of ‘Operation Successor’.

Who made it?

Born in Ukraine, Mansky is one of Russia’s most acclaimed documentary filmmakers. He’s the director of more than 30 films, including Under the Sun (2015), his extraordinary account of life in North Korea. His films Pipeline (2013) and Close Relations (2016) were both shown at the BFI London Film Festival.

What’s special about it?

The film skilfully combines material from earlier documentaries he’s made about Gorbachev, Yeltsin and Putin. The third film, Putin Leap Year (2001), provided a portrait of the then little-known politician, much of which was shot with his co-operation. It throws considerable light on Putin’s personality and ideas, with many scenes recorded privately with a small camera, allowing an access that would now be impossible.

As in his other films, Mansky’s observational style maintains a scrupulous objectivity that’s all the more revealing and provides a riveting insight into life in the Kremlin and the politics of the time.

See this if you like…

The best of documentary film and would like a better understanding of Russian politics at the turn of the century.

The breakthrough…

Winter Flies

Winter Flies (2018)

What’s it about?

Two adolescent boys steal a car and drive across the Czech Republic. When the elder Mára is stopped by the police, he tells their stories in flashback during an unorthodox interview with a female police officer. Their picaresque journey leads to a variety of incidents involving a dog, a female hitchhiker and a missing grandfather.

Who made it?

Slovenian director Olmo Omerzu was educated at the Prague Film School. His previous two films, A Night Too Young (2012) and Family Film (2015), premiered successfully at Berlin and San Sebastian. Winter Flies won the best director award at this year’s Karlovy Vary Festival.

What’s special about it?

The two boys are played by non-professionals, who were rehearsed outside of school for eight months, improvising and learning how to relate to the camera. They bring a genuine sense of rebellion and vulnerability to their performances. Omerzu, whose previous films focused on children exposed to the adult world, felt that they showed a spontaneity not available in later life and their encounters are both unusual and revealing.

A wonderfully entertaining road trip, this one is set in winter and the ‘winter flies’ referred to in the title appear during Mára’s interrogation by the not-so-friendly female police officer.

See this if you like…

Ken Loach’s Kes or Miloš Forman’s Loves of a Blonde

The wild card…

The Load

Watch The Load trailer

What’s it about?

Vlada is employed to drive a lorry with an unidentified cargo to Belgrade during the NATO airstrikes against the Milosević regime. Told that he is on no account to stop, he begins an unusual journey in which he encounters the history and everyday reality of a country destroyed by war.

Who made it?

Director Ognjen Glavonić also wrote the script for The Load in 2012 and has spent seven years bringing it to the screen. Funding was previously rejected partly because of its subject and partly because of its style. In the meantime, he addressed the same material in his award-winning documentary Depth Two, exploring the reality behind the discovery of a mass grave in Belgrade in 2001.

What’s special about it?

The film’s subject is implied rather than stated and reaches beyond its particular historical circumstances, with the incidents encountered on the journey reflecting the director’s own memories. Mostly directed in long takes, the film’s aesthetic is provocative and challenging. While its sense of ambiguity and pace echo Henri-Georges Clouzot’s classic thriller The Wages of Fear (1953), it depends very much on an award winning central performance from Croatian actor Leon Lucev. As Glavonić argues, half the country is still unaware of the events he addresses.

See this if you like…

The Wages of Fear or a challenging take on contemporary political realities.

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