Exile Fragments, the Growth of Extremism and the Utopia of a United Europe

The growth of nationalism, extremism, xenophobia, chauvinism, and consequently the collapse of the (utopian) idea of Europe united in diversity (Let There Be Light, The Barefoot Emperor), the necessity of communication and dialogue between social actors who find themselves on opposite sides of the political spectrum (Beware of Children), corruption as a hot issue of transitional societies (The Realm), suppressed actions of a brave woman during the criminal regime of the Independent State of Croatia (The Diary of Diana B.), or the dystopian vision of a future political system (Divine Love) – those are all topics from different competition and other programs of this year’s Zagreb Film Festival, and which are all connected by criticism towards different political and social systems.

One of the films in the main competition program dealing with this issues is the Norwegian socio-political drama Beware of Children by Dag J. Haugerud, in which the director successfully questions the political limits within so-called developed democracies and the (in)ability for tolerance of actors on opposite ideological poles through the story of a fatal encounter between the thirteen-year-old Lykke, the daughter of a prominent Labour politician and her friend Jamie, the son of a well-known right-wing politician.

After the success of the comedy King of the Belgians (ZFF 2016), the directorial duo Jessica Woodworth and Peter Brosens, bring us new (mis)adventures of the titular hero in The Barefoot Emperor, and this time in Croatian co-production. After he survived an assassination attempt in Sarajevo, the Belgian king wakes up on Brijuni, in Tito’s former residence. While trying to escape the island, he finds out he has been proclaimed the first emperor of the nationalist Nova Europa, which, ironically, turns Tito’s villa into a place of collapse of the idea of a united Europe. The premiere of this incisive political parody, completely filmed in Croatia, will officially close this year’s ZFF.

Subtle criticism of the future is also evident in the new movie by one of the most interesting modern Latin American directors, Gabriel MascaroDivine Love. This dystopian vision of Brazil in neon invokes a new world whose emergence is mirrored in the recent election of the far-right Bolsonaro for president. The film is shown in the program Together Again. A new thriller-like movie by Rodrigo Sorogoyen, The Realm, deals with politics and fiercely criticizes the corrupt post-Franco Spain. The movie has won two national Goya Awards for best director and script. The premiere will be within the permanent side program, LUX Film Days.

In the PLUS competition program, curated by highschoolers for their colleagues, we have a new movie by the Slovakian director living in Zagreb, Marko Škop, Let There Be Light, an extremely real representation of the heart of darkness of modern Slovakia marred by the rise of right-wing extremism, accompanied by the local mix of nationalism and Catholic clericalism. In the same program, domestic forces ready to deal with the past are represented by the director Dana Budisavljević. Her dramatic feature film debut, The Diary of Diana B., is about a woman who saved more than ten thousand children from Ustasha camps. It won numerous awards at the Pula Film Festival, including for best film, director, and the audience award.

This year’s special side program, Fragments of Exile, deals with the political causes of exile and authorial responses to its consequences. Always current, the question of exile reaches new heights even today, even in our close vicinity, at the intersection of intercontinental migration towards “fortress Europe” with more than half a million of stateless persons of various backgrounds. As the film critic Diana Nenadić, the program selector, says, filmmakers have always reacted more quickly to these and similar processes than the ones who should be resolving them, so the films from the program will show how some of the famous European ofilmmakers have reacted to different aspects of exile. Legendary directors such as R. W. Fassbinder and Ulrich Seidl, but also one of the most important regional documentary makers, Želimir Žilnik, have created films challenged by the direct historical conditions of exile.

In the film Katzelmacher (1969), Fassbinder, the cult renegade of the German New Wave who made over 40 films of radical modernist aestheticism until he passed away at the early age of 37, plays a Greek immigrant in the adaptation of his own drama and shows how the presence of a foreigner affects the frustrated bourgeoisie youth from a German neighbourhood. Ulrich Seidl relativizes the benefits of crossing the European border in his grotesquely realistic film Import/Export (2007), which follows the fate of a Ukrainian woman who in search for a “better life” arrives to the European West and an Austrian with the same motives who goes in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, in the docu-drama Fortress Europe, Žilnik deals with people of different nationalities who try to go west from Central Europe by crossing the border and breaking European rules.