After a hectic few weeks, the chance to watch a film in peace was too good to miss, even if it was related to our Central European Cinema course. Wesele actually translates as ‘Wedding Reception’ (I read somewhere). Although a new script by the writer/director Wojciech Smarzowski, there appear to be references to an Andrzej Wajda film from 1973 which was itself based on a play from the turn of the century (19th/20th). Certainly this has all the elements of a traditional wedding farce/black comedy, especially one set in a rural village.
The film trundles along at a fair pace with everything fuelled by copious amounts of Slovakian vodka. As the events unfold, they bring ruin to the bride’s father who works on the basis that any problem can be solved by bribery. Perhaps his worst mistake is to be too mean to pay for anything legitimately and so all his cut-price plans backfire. The film is clearly some form of satire with lots of symbolism. The central narrative premise is that the father has bought a new Audi cheaply via an in-law of the local priest as a wedding present for the couple. But the deal requires the grandfather to give up two hectares of land — which he decides not to do. That land should be the crucial element suggests a traditional tale about peasants and access to land (although the real reason that it is so valuable rests on a familiar modern development).
Apart from the endemic corruption and alcohol consumption, the other striking features include the venal priest and the call to all the men to release their macho desires. This isn’t unique to Poland by any means, although the combination of Catholicism, vodka and nationalism is probably unique to the region (i.e. parts of Central Europe). I was at various times reminded of Bunuel (the peasant’s orgy in Viridiana) and Milos Forman’s The Fireman’s Ball – partly because of the array of older and less ‘beautiful’ characters and the occasional, almost documentary inserts of ordinary people having a good time. The final shots of the guests departing, taken from a high angle, also made me think of a Cuban film, The Waiting Room (in which bus travellers are marooned in a provincial bus station). All these three films represent communal celebrations which in some way (certainly not the same way in each film) explore the nation as community.
I’m sure I didn’t get all the jokes but the Poles in the audience certainly laughed. It was a digital print and therefore in the National Media Museum’s largest screen. In the more intimate atmosphere of the smaller cinema it might have been a different experience. Exhibitors Dogwoof are showing their Polish films in one-off shows in small towns across the UK. I wonder what it is like watching this in a rural area in the UK?
I’m looking forward to our discussion of Fateless. I don’t know what to expect, but I got the impression that most people were moved by the film. I’m still mulling over what writer and director Imre Kertész and Lajos Koltai were saying about Jewish identity in a Hungarian context. I discovered this passage in an interesting web account of an American filmmaker’s fascination with Hungarian Cinema:
History, the staple of Hungarian cinema, now presents an obstacle. Director Diana Groo (26) explains that today’s filmmakers are searching for new topics and new stories and that they are not allowed to retell the stories of the past. “We are the third generation after World War II. Our parent’s generation could talk about communism and they were closer to their parents war experience. For us to talk about the past is very unusual. As a result, our generation is not just searching for money, but also for an identity and topics that will appeal to a broad audience. We no longer have a common landscape. Everybody is searching to express him or herself. The style of a 1990s director has to be completely different from Szabo, Makk, Jancso, Elek or Rozsa.”
What sets Diana apart from many of her colleagues is the fact that she is Jewish and that her heritage still carries plenty of baggage in Hungary. “The Prime Minister,” Diana recalls “recently said that only those who follow the Christian-Hungarian tradition and are proud of the states foundation are Hungarian.” As a result of this continued conflict, Diana aspires to continue the socially relevant trend of Hungarian filmmaking. History must indeed answer to man. Diana sees her heritage as an asset, an inner conflict that translates to story. When the iron curtain came down, she along with many young Jewish Hungarians immigrated to Israel but there, Diana felt too comfortable. “To be Jewish in Israel is different. It’s like, I’m here – it’s okay. I don’t have a conflict any longer. I started to miss the conflict. It was my identity. To be Jewish in Budapest is much more interesting because you have to fight.” It’s no surprise that Diana chose this struggle as the topic for her stories. She recently came to New York with a documentary on the former Jewish Ghetto in Budapest and she is currently working on a documentary about the young Hungarian Jews who emigrated to Israel only to return to Hungary. For her feature, Ms. Groo is developing a love story about a chance encounter between a Jewish girl from Budapest and a Jewish man from New York. The film will compare the bonds of heritage via New York and Budapest. (Laurent Rejto on http://www.farmhousefilms.net/hungarian_cinema.htm)
“I started to miss the conflict . . .” reminds me of the two occasions in Fateless when György tells us that his favourite time of day in the camp was that hour between the return from the factory and the evening meal. I take this to be a reference to the sense that the the contrast between hard labour and relaxation was so important because being in the camp became part of his identity. Only if this was the case could the relaxation be enjoyed. Without the camp there would be no magic hour.