Wednesday, February 08, 2012

On the Path with the RIFFers

Tonight, I attended the first ever thematic evening organised by RIFF, maybe the most inspired cultural organisation here in Luxembourg; and I'm not saying that because they are my friends, and fellow ex-volunteers, no, I'm saying it because it's true. In the first instance, check their name: RIFF stands for Rocking Integration on Futuristic Festival -isn't that totally nuts, and cool, and lovely?

Then, look at the events they are proposing this year: not some lengthy conferences or banal workshops, where you are told to do this and that, but you are the shy participant who hides behind people's backs hoping it will never be your turn, no. RIFF is proposing you to eat and drink, to dance if you feel like it, but you are not obliged to, to meet new people, have a chat, then see a film and then go home and talk about the new cultural experience you had an make people jealous. Food and drinks and dances and film, they are related to one broad cultural region per event; tonight it was the Balkan Paths event. Ow, what an event.

You have to live the experience to fully comprehend the relaxing and cosy atmosphere; I can mention that today I ate so much Dolma, Moussaka and Baklava that I couldn't move afterwards. I also took a sip of Greek coffee (or Turkish or whatever name you give it), and even took the recipes back home to try myself. The event is held in spacious Carre Rotondes every month, the next one will be on Indian culture and you can get more info and book your places at the RIFF website.

Forgive me for being carried away, my aim was not to talk about the food (but it was so good); I intend to talk about the film on a cinema blog, bien sure. Tonight, it was one of the rare times I watched a film with almost zero prior information; I sat down with no expectations or anticipation. I only knew a Balkan film was coming, but that can mean anything. The darkness around me was not as thick as usual; content, familiar faces, seated in the couches, very comfy couches indeed, waiting for a revelation. Na putu read the title; no clue whatsoever; and then it started. A very attractive young air hostess is madly in love with her boyfriend; the problem is, he's almost an alcoholic. He loses his job after a faux pas at work; the couple also has problems in conceiving a baby together. Everything seems to fall apart, until he finds a job, through an old friend from the army. Things start falling apart even more afterwards; a seemingly normal guy with a free mind and a minor alcohol addiction he could get over, if he tried, falls for an even bigger addiction: religion. In the extreme hardcore sense. 


The film On the Path (2010) tells the improbable story of an adult who is being brain-washed or converted or found the true path of God or saw the light or maybe all the above. A man who decided his previous life was a sinful one and started praying piously every morning, going at the Mosque, condemning secular life and his own girlfriend's lifestyle. The couple finds itself in front of a dead end -you understand yourself that living with an extremely religious person is not the easiest thing of all. I know these stories hold some truth, but I can never really believe them myself or relate to them. It's not so hard to convince kids that God will punish them if they don't go to church, but, after a certain age, I tell myself, everybody can figure out more or less what's in it. The book I'm reading now is the new Alain de BottonReligion for Atheists, and I hope it will help me understand what makes religion so appealing even to modern societies. It's an ok hobby, I wouldn't be intolerant, but one should not exaggerate (If you fancy religious themes, I've also written on Kadosh, and Jewish extremism).

The film is situated in Sarajevo and gives us an in depth perspective of Wahhabi an Islamic fundamentalist group that is seemingly more and more popular over there.  The film largely describes that aspect of peace and hope in life that Amar had lost and found again through religion; it equally evolves around the couple's feelings and their alienation, with side references to wartime, beloved ones that are violently gone and emotional distress. 

Na Putu has clearly amazing production values for a Balkan film and only after its closure I understood why (it's actually a German-Austrian-Serbian co production). The cinematic style did not remind me of anything; too classic to be different. But the closing credits gave away the key to the mystery. Jasmila Zbanic is a name I know very well; many cinephiles and festival circuit people do. The Bosnian director won the Golden Bear at the 2006 Berlinale with her debut feature film Grbavica: The Land of my Dreams (or Esma's Secret, as it was entitled at the London Film Festival, where I saw it); for a Balkan film and an obscure director, that was quite a deed. But it was fully worth it. Grbavica is a haunting, emotional film on post-war making ends meet and on certain, annoying memories we prefer to keep in the closet; incidents we prefer to forget, so as to forgive. It is a film that brings shivers to the spine, even more to female audience who can associate with the lead.

Now, Zbanic's new film On the Path is not bad itself; a bit tedious, but beautifully shot and wisely acted -it got Zrinca Cvitesic a Best Actress nomination in the European Film Awards, and it was also nominated for the Golden Berlin Bear, which it did not win this time. But this film has not even one tenth of the power Grbavica has. It's more of a romance falling apart with some insight on extremist Muslim practices. I'm a bit sad to admit this, but I hope Jasmila Zbanic will give us again something as overwhelming and human as her first feature. I know she can.

*Short Note: Inner peace and balance, appreciation and gratitude are good things, but they can be established out of religious environments, too. Believe me.

**Short Note No II: Thank you Irma and Anne-Laure for this wonderful Balkan workshop, thank you dancing team and cool participants, and Paulius and Tom, BEWARE: next time it will be me interviewing you!

Enjoy the non-subtitled trailer -it's interesting nevertheless:

1 comment:

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