This month the 24th Cottbus Eastern European Film Festival will envelop that other city on the Spree. Since 1991, the small but beautifully formed festival has been allowing Berlin to rub cinematic shoulders with Bishkek and Bratislava, and conjuring a unique, convivial melting pot as filmmakers and film lovers from east and west descend in droves.
This year, a dozen disparate features duke it out in the competition section. Divisive but undeniably stylish and enjoyably nasty, Hardkor Disko follows a gimlet-eyed youth as he charms his way into an affluent Warsaw family he’s hell-bent on murdering. Youthful hellraising continues in Mina Djukic’s The Disobedient, a sun soaked Serbian tale of two childhood soulmates who reunite as erratic twentysomethings in their dull, small town. Further east things get taciturn – set on the remote Kazakh steppe, Alexander Kott’s Test uses its young lead’s self-possessed presence and a vivid eye for texture to evoke timeless longing shadowed by a remorseless, sometimes overblown sense of fate, while a tough man and granddaughter battle encroaching man and nature in Georgian director George Ovashvili’s poignant Corn Island. Outside the feature competition, strong senses of place and (sometimes fractured) identity continue, from Polish director Wojciech Smarzowski’s The Mighty Angel, a grimy and pitiless study of alcoholism, to Croatian/Italian Tir’s more compassionate look at the lot of truck drivers, which will be presented by director Alberto Fasulo. Hungarian festival opener, winner of Cannes’ Un Certain Regard prize and unparalleled masterclass in dog handling, Kornél Mundruczó’s ferociously beautiful White God is an unredemptive foray into man-made savagery with a viciously cathartic finale.
This year’s queerEAST focus, curated by Georgia’s Zaza Rusadze, comprises a wild range of tone in its 18 films. Rusadze’s own A Fold in My Blanket, 2013’s Berlinale Panorama opener, uses quietly masterful lighting and plentiful touches of mid-century modern surrealism to conjure a stultifying Georgia in a curious near-future. Docs are plentiful – crowdfunded Russian effort Children 404, helmed by Pavel Loparev and Askold Kurov, makes abundant use of hidden cameras and audio confessions to express the discomfort, alienation and uncertainty of LGBT youth throughout Russia, while Logan Mucha’s East Bloc Love brings an even more highly charged focus to Belarus. Rusadze’s compatriot, Nana Djordjadze, closes the festival with My Mermaid, My Lorelei, her intriguing tale of a young boy’s love for a local prostitute. Eastern Europe’s cinematic powerhouses are feted in the regular Russian Day and Polish Horizon sections, with the programme’s meditations on corruption (The Fool) and Crimean settings (Name Me) taking on a new context in the wake of the year’s upheavals. The Specials section delves deeper: Ukraine’s situation is examined through shorts and four features, including the international premiere of Once Upon a Time in Ukraine, Igor Parfenov’s tense and voluble look at the escalation of the Maidan Square protests. With a 140-film, 30-country programme, Cottbus is less a tasting menu than a five-day feast – bring an appetite! All films screen with English subtitles.
COTTBUS FILM FESTIVAL, Nov 4-9 | times, locations and full programme at www.filmfestivalcottbus.de