Once again, talent from just across the Oder to the furthest reaches of Siberia gathers 120km south of Berlin for the Cottbus Film Festival, an annual celebration of post-Soviet films and filmmakers.
Among the 12 features competing this year is Ungiven from veteran Croatian director Branko Schmidt, a dour, naturalistic study of an elderly couple’s post-war struggle to rebuild their lives.
Romantics will find their tastes catered to (and tissues dampened) with Polish director Bartek Prokopowicz’s partly autobiographical Chemo, a tale of blossoming love beneath the malevolent shadow of cancer.
Hungarian cinema has been hailed as ‘back’, and two films featured in competition certainly show the country’s eclecticism. On the social realism end of things, there’s Lili Horváth’s The Wednesday Child, following a teenage mum’s attempt to get custody of her son thanks to a micro-credit scheme and the social worker behind it. Polar opposite Liza the Fox Fairy, Karoly Ujj Mészáros’ debut feature, is a quirky noir comedy involving a lonely, cursed home nurse with an uncanny love for Japanese weepies, the possessive dead singer she cohabits with, and a police detective with a passion for Finnish Schlager and home improvement.
Another pick, Croatian director Dalibor Matanic’s The High Sun, is a beautiful if highly discomforting decades-spanning tale of two Balkan villages and the thin-barbed wire fence between them.
A special focus on Eastern European cities includes Inna Denisova’s Back Home, a personal account of the political turmoil of Crimea’s largest city, Simferopol, and while Warsaw Stories’ six intertwining storylines may not be the freshest of concepts, it’s nice to see Poland’s capital get the anthology treatment.
In the globalEAST section, Dutch-Polish co-production Nude Area stands out as a distinctly arthouse love story between two adolescent girls told entirely without dialogue through an endless series of lingering, static shots and sensual close-ups. And a focus on Islam includes Kacper Czubak and Iwona Kaliszewska’s 20-minute documentary The Strongwoman, a powerful portrait of a Dagestan Muslima’s daily life which relies on the down-to-earth wisdom of its protagonist to express the resilience it takes to be a woman in those patriarchal mountains.
If none of that sounds enticing, never fear – with around 200 films submitted to the festival for its 25th anniversary, all with English subtitles, there’s bound to be something for even the choosiest.
COTTBUS FILM FESTIVAL, Nov 3-8 | Times, locations and full programme at www.filmfestivalcottbus.de