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The Berlinale Blog: Calling post-communism

Looking back with hindsight at Eastern Europe pre-1989 needn’t always be an exercise in angst. Eve Lucas considers the discreet charms of films from Romania and the Czech Republic.

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Zamatoví teroristi

Romanian New Wave director Corneliu Porumboiu’s Al Doilea Joc (The Second Game) must be one of the festival’s more unusual films (which is saying something): a 90 minute commentary by Porumboiu and his father of a 1988 Ceausescu-era game played in a blizzard between two crack Romanian teams Dinamo and Steaua “supported” respectively by the secret police and the army.

“You couldn’t make a film out of this,” says Porumboiu Sr. – who refereed the game. “Let’s see,” says Porumboiu Jr. And here it is: 90 minutes of voice-over that veers happily from meta-textual references to the massive elephant-on-the-field (police state politics) to soccer skills, advantage play, pitch conditions and back again to comparisons between film and soccer: both produced for mass consumption. Not once do we get a glimpse of father and son watching the replay: all we see is those other players, in the snow. And the lonely ref. But as play progresses, the purely imagined space of a living room with armchairs, a TV and maybe a couple of beers acquires its own realities. Ghosts past take their place: Porumboiu child who was always scared for his father, anticipating the consequences of a “bad” call; the younger father for whom systemic restraints were just part of the job; contemporary affection and male bonding sharing the sofa with the shadow of an era that’s already distant, with sufferings as grainy as black and white TV. As the match draws to a goalless close, we realize that we’ve been watching several contests: politics versus sport, childhood versus age, communism versus what came after. The real referee in all these games is memory, of course: the mnemonic muse of unreliability. The stuff of dreams.

Like the yellow ball on a black and white screen… there are things that require a second look. Zamatovi Teroristi, (Velvet Terrorists) is another strangely angled view of a communist past, seen this time through the eyes of three men imprisoned in Czechoslovakia during the 1980s for anti-regime crimes involving the (planned) use of explosives. Three episodes, with three different directors at the helm, make highly individual use of the increasingly popular docu-fiction genre, following these retired revolutionaries through work and play, hinting at the by now residual trauma of prison time, allowing them to re-stage their minor crimes with a modified objective: the admiring female gaze. An amusing linkage of politics and lust, Velvet Terrorists is also an irreverent exercise in post-communist lethargy and an unexpected alternative to the East European desolation encountered elsewhere.

Al Doilea Joc (The Second Game) screens Feb 13, 19:30 (CinemaxX 4), Feb 14, 12:30 (Arsenal 1) and Feb 16, 15:00 (Cubix 7)

Zamatovi Teroristi, (Velvet Terrorists) screens Feb 12, 21:30 (Delphi Filmpalast), Feb 13, 11:00 (CineStar 8), Feb 14, 15:00 (Cubix 7), Feb 15, 19:15 (CineStar 8)