Saturday, October 14, 2006

Roads to Koktebel * *

I picked this movie up from the library, knowing nothing about except that it was a recent Russian movie that made the rounds of the international film festivals. It has no story really, but follows a homeless father and his 11-year old son during a segment of their journey from Moscow to the man's hometown on the shores of the Black Sea. Clearly there is a long back story as to how the man and boy came to be where he is. We piece this together a bit. The man was an aeronautics engineer who grew up on the Black Sea in a town that had an airbase in WWII. Somehow, he made it to Moscow, we never learn how, probably for university. He lived in a nice house with his wife, and when she died, he became an alcoholic and his son's life as well as began a black spiral downward. This movie is a few short weeks in their life as they make their way to Koktebel (the village on the Black Sea), walking, riding the train, hitch-hiking.

KoktebelBy itself, this film was not that interesting, to me. It is interesting instead in that it is a nice example of a certain type of Eastern European film-making style that is not part Western style. In typical western film-making, there is a plot. Act I sets the stage, Act II conflict/problem is introduced and tension builds, Act III conflict is resolved in some way. Many eastern european films do not use this style. Instead we are plopped into the middle of some character's life, we watch it for awhile, then we leave. In this style of film-making, 'plot' is a meaningless concept. It results in a more nuanced film. Slowly over the film we learn, perhaps, something of the characters -- or perhaps like in life, their motivations remain a mystery to us. While watching such films, I am often reminded of the cliche, "Be here now". These films are often full of shots where we focus first on the character and then pull and watch the wind blowing through the grass -- for a loooong time. It's like meditation. Be here now. So, you might be thinking, 'Do people in Eastern Europe really watch such films?' Well, yes, there are film geeks everywhere. But the following story is somewhat telling. The Czech Republic is snickered at in Eastern Europe film culture for being the "Hollywood of the East" because they make hollywood-esque films (that being films decidedly unlike Roads to Koktebel). The motto of the Czech National Film Institute is a subtle recognition of this criticism and sticks its tongue out at it: "We make films people like to watch."

KoktebelBack to the film, the other reason Roads to Koktebel is interesting is because it is part of a series of films exploring the complexity of Father/Son relationships and the meaning of Father for sons. The Return and Father and Son are two fairly recent (2003) Russian films exploring this relationship. They are very different than what you'd find in a U.S. movie.