I haven’t planned to stay in Zagreb for so long. But it happened. Maybe this is how it works with traveling that the more you want, the less it works, so the less you plan, the more satisfied you will actually be.

I came to Zagreb planning to stay here for a couple of days only and then moving to the coast which was supposed to be my starting point of the travel to the south. Nothing came out of it. Zagreb has welcomed me with the Human Rights Film Festival. Free of charge.

So not only the topic is so much mine, but also the cinema itself is so much mine. Cinema I miss soooo much! This is how it happened that the first week in Zagreb I have spent in the cinema. Literally.

Here comes a subjective classification of movies I have watched:

„The Pearl Button” by Patricio Guzman (France, Chile, Spain; 2015) 

One of those movies which I have watched mainly because it had had the English subtitles (and not all the movies had, unfortunately) as Chile, at the moment, is a place for which I don’t have too much space in myself. As the topic seemed so-so. But I went there, taking the line that one more movie will make no harm.

How much would I have lost not watching it!

The director of the movie – Patricio Guzman has created a real masterpiece. The movie is very slow, but very consequent at the same time by building the analogy of the peace and nature (water) contrasted with the conflict and lack of such relationship. The narrative about water and coexistence with it brings peace, understanding, respect, calm.

This is one of such movies that talk about crimes in a very subdued but consequent way. It doesn’t shout with pictures of cruelty but continues the narrative that leads to understanding of what has happened in Chile in the seventies and many ages before, instead. Chile, the country where I have spent only a couple of days a year ago, watching mainly what the country has to offer contemporarily, but not really wondering, where did that come from.

The story told by the movie is a story of the crimes of Chilean government on the inhabitants of Patagonia. A perfect crime. An extermination of those who had lived in peace with nature in order to be able to exploit this nature in an unlimited way.

I left the cinema stunned. Agitated. Wondering about how many tragedies we (still) don’t know about in the world and that all of them always have common denominator – power and money.

“No Home Movie” by Chantal Akerman (Belgium; 2015)

A completely different topic present at the festival was the experience of the old age. The movie by Chantal Akerman was very cerebral. Stepping into the experience of the old age as deeply and intensively as possible. Impossibly long shots with almost no action. Maybe this is how it feels when we experience the old age. When so little is happening. When we are able to do so little.

I’ve been really waiting to see the Akerman’s movie. I’ve always been interested in the women directors and the stories they are telling. Especially when the stories of the directors touch on the topic of Poland and its history. Akerman’s parents fled from Poland to Belgium during the WW II. They have been caught by the SS officers in Belgium and sent back to the concentration camps in Poland. After the war was over they decided to go back to Belgium. Akerman tells the story of her mother in the movie, filming her last years of her life. There are shots when the audience feels scared that the mother will die at this exact moment and that this is not going to be the death of the fictional character but the real one. It brings the question about the border – do we have the right to film the death? How should we behave facing death? What should we do? Akerman questions, but doesn’t answer.

“Brothers” by Wojciech Staron (Poland; 2015)

Wojciech Staron is touching quite similar topics in his movie “Brothers”, telling the story of two brothers sent years ago to Siberia who after some 70 years decide to go back to Poland. Watching this movie in Russian language (the language of the brothers) in the Croatian cinema with English subtitles was an experience on its own.

Each minute of the brothers life is full of coexistence. Being together. In and without an agreement. Both of them are over 90 years old.

Staron has caught two unique moments of their relationship. Besides the everyday life of the progressive lack of the usual fitness which influences the everyday existence, he has shown the solitude of life without the second person. The shots when one of the brothers is taken to a hospital (the hospice) and the second one stays on his own are nothing but dramatic. Everyday life grown into a new, very different dimension. The dimension of emptiness.

The brothers experience the loss also in another, very physical way – when their home burns and all the art pieces of one of them burn as well. The output of his whole life. Quite amazing is his duration though. The scene when he pulls out on of the slightly burnt painting, removes the burnt pieces and starts painting the new ones, is terrific. It reminds a bit the shrug to the fate, to the experience that have just touched him.

Those two movies have folded Poland in quite a diptych. We’ve got the male and female experience. Brotherhood and motherhood. The Jewish strand and the Eastern strand. Concentration camps. Siberia. Emigration and immigration.

The dominating motif of the festival, which doesn’t surprise at all, was migration and exile, which Europe sets itself against right now. Almost as much as the old age or maybe even slightly more. We wrestle with it but we are not quite sure which way we should make the movement into and which one will be the proper one. We somehow understand the difficulty of exile the refugees are dealing with (after all we’ve got such experience ourselves), but the increasing nationalistic movements, especially in Central Europe but also slowly in the West, indicate that we have still not learnt the lesson. There are not conclusions drawn after the Holocaust, no lessons learnt after the war in the Balkans. We still make the same mistakes. We’ve got stuck in this stupor boxing in our own bed and lying in it.

“Unidentified” by Marija Ristić, Nemanja Babić (Bosnia & Hercegovina, Serbia, Kosovo; 2015)

The movie “Unidentified” tells the story of unsettled past by talking about the Serbian massacres in Kosovo in 1999. But it doesn’t talk about them in such a subtle way as “The Pearl Button” does. Oh no. Quite a contrary. It’s a documentary full of blood and violence. Violence shown in a very literal way. It was such a movie after which I’ve sent a message to my friend and asked him: “Please, come here and tell me that everything is going to be fine because I stop believing in it myself”.

“Lampedusa in Winter” by Jakob Brossmann (Austria, Italy, Switzerland; 2015)

“Lampedusa in Winter” tells the story of a group of migrants from Africa who got stuck at the island in the winter time and anybody had an idea what to do with them. Lampedusa from a few years ago reminds of today’s Greece. The island with 5 thousand inhabitants took on their shoulders the whole migration’s wave. The same way as does today Greece, one of Europe’s poorest, if not the poorest, countries. Lampedusa reminds also about today’s Lesbos. Incredibly meaningful scene is the one when the migrants decide to undertake a strike by sitting in front of the church and waiting. It tells more than anything about what the migrant’s fate is about. About waiting. About the lack of self-agency. About the continuous, persisting waiting. That’s what they do, passive, denuded from humanity, puppets.

At the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tel Aviv I’ve seen once a very good videoart, I don’t remember neither the name of the artist, nor its title. The movie, which was few dozens minutes long was about the corporate offices all around the world. About the people who are always in a hurry and have no time for anything. About omnipresent and constantly clangorous mobile phones, computers clinging with the sound of the incoming e-mails. What connects these two pictures is the exhaustion and malaise drawn on the faces of both of them. Those two movies create a perfect diptych about the the situation of an individual involved in what the world has to offer.

“Superior Orders” by Viktor Oszkár Nagy, András Petrik (Hungary, Serbia; 2013)

The European Union border between Hungary and Serbia, illegally crossed by migrants looking for a better life in the EU is the topic of the Hungarian movie by Viktor Oszkár Nagy and András Petrik. The border becomes a stage with three actors: the illegal migrants, the police and the civilians helping the police to catch the migrants. The civilian patrols with the night-vision aid cover the border territory. For every illegal migrant caught there is an award awaiting. It brings quite some associations with the SS-collaborants during the WW II, doesn’t it?

“Hotline” by Silvina Landsman (Israel, France; 2015)

The motif of migration has also been present in the Israeli-French production “Hotline”, telling the story of the illegal migrants from Africa, crossing the border to Israel. The illegal migrants in this tiny country have no rights at all. Quite the opposite – they end up in jails for committing the crime of illegal border crossing, an escape from the death camps in Egypt. It looks like Israel, similarly to Europe, has also not done its homework about Holocaust. Not only towards the Palestinian, but also any “others”. It willingly finances the one-way tickets for those who decide to leave the country. Europe would gladly do the same, I daresay, if only there was a place where we could send all the Afghans, Syrians or Iraqis making the port in Greece.

“Fatima” by Philippe Faucon (France; 2015)

Last but not least, comes the story about searching for the identity. Maybe the most important movie of this festival? Who are you, Europe? Who are you, France? Do you have a face of eponymous Fatima, a French migrant of Algerian origin, raising two daughters on her own, left by a husband, who chose a new life with new, younger, more beautiful wife?

Fatima doesn’t know French (where was she supposed to learn it?), lives in a suburbian ghetto where are the same rules as there were back in Algeria. Her daughters, however, represent already a different generation, which gets so radical at the moment by not belonging anywhere – neither belonging to Algeria anymore, nor to France yet. We can watch the fight between the older daughter, struggling to reach the better version of herself everyday and the complete nihilism of any values represented by the younger one. Who are those two girls? Who is their mother? How often do they question their identity?

So much suffering all around. We keep searching for happiness and pretending that everything is ok. There were moments when I really felt like leaving the cinema, not being able to watch what is happening in the world. We don’t face the problems. We pretend they don’t exist. We lose decency. We’ve already lost the ordinary human dignity. This is what this festival was for me about.

I’d like to thank the organizers for the selection of the movies and for the English subtitles provided.

Zagreb, 14 December 2015