Despite various political changes Eastern European cinema has continued to develop and displays an artistic uniqueness according to different eras. In particular, Czech Republic (Czechoslovakia before 1993), Poland, Hungary, Yugoslavia and Romania have long artistic traditions with strong histories in film production. As early as the 1920s and '30s a pioneer film tradition already existed in these countries. Following the Second World War Soviet official directives sought to suppress filmmakers, but they never became truly submissive whether artistically or culturally. Exchange with Western artists increased enduring the late 1950s and many talented filmmakers emerged during the period of upheavals in the 1960s. The richness of Eastern European cinema reveals individual nations' history and culture, while its social concerns and depictions of injustice are universal values that also account for its popularity over the years.
To tie in with the "World Cultures Festival 2013 - Lasting Legacies of Eastern Europe", the Film Programme Office of the Leisure and Cultural Services Department will present a retrospective titled "Cinematic Legacy of Eastern Europe" featuring 10 films from renowned directors of five Eastern European countries. The retrospective will offer audiences a glimpse of how art broke through the political and geographical barriers as well as showing the variety of forms, aesthetics, humanist concerns and social criticism of the various Eastern European nations across different eras.
"Cinematic Legacy of Eastern Europe" will be shown from October 18 to November 17 at the Cinema of the Hong Kong Film Archive (HKFA) and the Lecture Hall of Hong Kong Science Museum. The remarkable films to be shown include Czech director Jan Nemec's "The Party and the Guests" (1966), which was voted by the New York Times as one of the best films of the 1960s; Milos Forman's "The Firemen's Ball" (1967); major Polish filmmaker Krzysztof Zanussi's "Illumination" (1973); Andrzej Wajda's "Man of Iron" (1981), which was awarded the Palme d'Or and Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at the Cannes Film Festival 1981; Hungarian director Miklos Jancso's "Red Psalm" (1972), which won Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival 1972; Karoly Makk's "Another Way" (1982), which took the Best Actress award at the Cannes Film Festival 1982; Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev's taboo fantasy work, "Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator" (1967); Emir Kusturica's "Underground" (1995), which was awarded the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival 1995; and Romanian director Corneliu Porumboiu's "12:08 East of Bucharest" (2006), which won the Camera d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2006; and Cristian Mungiu's "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (2007), which won the Palme d'Or at the Cannes Film Festival 2007.
To complement the screenings, a seminar titled "The Cold War Years: Impact of the Albanian and Yugoslavian Cinema on China" will be held at 4.45pm at the Cinema of the HKFA on October 26. The programme's curator, Law Kar, and Professor Simon Shen will reminisce with the audience on the history and the impact of Albanian and Yugoslavian cinema on China. The seminar will be conducted in Cantonese with free admission.
Eastern Europe Cinema can be classified into four periods. Often known as "The Thaw" (1956-1968), the first period reflects internal reform in Czechoslovakia and Poland. There was also relatively more freedom in culture and the arts and this enabled the creation of films with more diversified styles and themes, such as "The Party and the Guests", "The Firemen's Ball" and "Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator". In the period of "Convergence and Divergence" (1968-1980), with the rapid development of the urban culture in the 1970s, there was a proliferation of social melodramas and comedies with parables reflecting the status quo. There were also sharp commentaries like "Red Psalm" or "Illumination", which carried a message about the thoughts and social awakening of an intellectual.
During the "Preparations for Upheavals" (1980-1989) period, interaction between Eastern and Western Europe became more frequent, and there was more opportunity for artists to get funding, both from home and abroad. Filmmakers also became actively involved in reforms, voicing their different political views and touching on taboo subjects to produce films like "Man of Iron" and "Another Way". During the "Euphoria, Disillusionment, Normalisation" (1989-present) period, the socio-political and cultural scene of Eastern Europe was thrown into turmoil after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, with countries seeking to enter into the "New Europe" and establish their own commercial studio system, as well as trying to carve a market share from Western Europe and the United States. Films of this era include "Underground", a co-production between Eastern and Western Europe, while "12:08 East of Bucharest", and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" reflect the award-winning efforts of new directors.
Czech director Jan Nemec is known for his outspokenness and experimental spirit. "The Party and the Guests" features a group of men and women who are forced to attend a wedding party while enjoying a picnic. The film was shot on location using black and white cinematography. Its use of natural light adds exaggeration to the characters and gives an indirect Kafkaesque critique on the bureaucratic system. Milos Forman created notable Hollywood films like "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" (1975) and "Amadeus" (1984). In his "The Firemen's Ball", long suppressed emotions explode into uncontrolled proportions at an annual service celebration. With brilliant black and absurd humour, the film satirises bureaucrats, the stupidity of commoners and the melancholy of those awakened.
Polish director Krzysztol Zanussi has long been active in the European filmmaking scene. His works often focus on the relationship between science, philosophy, society and men. Arguably his important film, "Illumination" features a young scientist who finds himself having doubts about the role of science. Consequently he leaves the laboratory to live the life of an ordinary person, and finds new inspiration in life. The film was shot in documentary style and uses a "real-life" man to re-enact his own experiences in the film. An influential filmmaker worldwide, Andrzej Wajda's works are known internationally for their strong historical contexts and dynamic drama. With a mix of documentary and fiction "Man of Iron" was shot on location in Poland's striking shipyards, and Lech Walesa, union leader and later President of Poland, also features in the film.
Director Miklos Jancso was a front man in Hungarian New Cinema. With his unique visual style he specialises in telling stories of a cruel and ugly nature with a lyrical filmic style. "Red Psalm" focuses on a group of peasants staging a protest against the landlord to ask for fair treatment at a festive occasion. The film carries minimal dialogue, yet it contains scene after scene of simple, beautifully staged mis-en-scene. Also a major figure in the reform of Hungarian cinema, Karoly Makk's "Another Way" is a film of sensibility and rationality. It features two female journalists who turn from co-workers to lovers, but are persecuted for their struggle for the freedom of speech and sexuality.
Yugoslavian director Dusan Makavejev is renowned for breaking from tradition. In his famous taboo work, "Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator", one illicit romantic rendezvous affair of a female switchboard operator sets her on the path of no return. The film employs prose, poetry, theatre, surrealism, absurdity, eroticism and farce to shape a fantasy-like parody. A new star in European cinema, Emir Kusturica's "Underground" became an "East-West European" co-production epic after the fall of the Eastern Bloc and was regarded as a showpiece for New European Cinema. It tells the story of a group of Yugoslavians escaping the Nazis by living a sunless underground life.
Romania Cinema has long been regarded as the one that followed the rules and was dominated by conservative works, and it was not until 2001 when a new wave of filmmakers rose up and started to gather awards at major international competitions that they captured world attention. Romanian new wave director Corneliu Porumboiu's "12:08 East of Bucharest" offers a new perspective on controversial topics using a sharp viewpoint. It features two guests being invited to speak at a phone-in talk show, but each has his own very different perspective on history. Director Cristian Mungiu is a master of genre filming techniques as well having an international vision. His "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" reflects the past and present. It is a story of a university student trying to seek abortion as well as an allegory on the orthodoxy of people’s minds in the new era. With suspense and black humour, the film also reveals certain cultural characteristics of Eastern Europe cinema.
All films have English subtitles. "The Firemen's Ball", "Illumination", "Man of Iron", "Love Affair, or the Case of the Missing Switchboard Operator" and "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" have Chinese and English subtitles.
Tickets priced at $55 are now available at URBTIX. Credit card bookings can be made at 2111 5999, or on the Internet at www.urbtix.hk . Detailed programme information and discount details can be found in "Cinematic Legacy of Eastern Europe" or "World Cultures Festival 2013 - Lasting Legacies of Eastern Europe" programme booklets available at URBTIX outlets. For programme enquiries, please call 2734 2900, or browse the webpage at www.lcsd.gov.hk/CE/CulturalService/filmprog/english/2013ee/2013ee_index.html .
Ends/Friday, September 6, 2013
Issued at HKT 11:00
A film still from "The Party and the Guests" (1966).
A film still from "The Firemen's Ball" (1967).
A film still from "Illumination" (1973).
A film still from "Man of Iron" (1981).
A film still from "Red Psalm" (1972).
A film still from "Another Way" (1982).
A film still from "Underground" (1995).
A film still from "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" (2007)