Their first reaction must have been one of joy, because an opportunity to tell about oneself with few restrictions – to go ahead, let it out, the memories and the points of view – is a one-in-a-lifetime chance. The second reaction must have been fear: ‘Is my neighbourhood interesting to other Europeans? How can I make other people care about my personal surroundings? And my film will be compared to four other films!’
The final, overall result is successful. As a theme evening, the collection of five films is well composed and professionally produced. As a viewer you are generously treated to visits to Rome, Moscow, Helsinki, Brussels and Budapest – in that order. You are informed and amused. And in some sequences, during the almost three-hour-long tour of people and places in a big Europe, you feel that an artist is addressing you. As such the theme evening concept proves that high quality can be made even if the editing in the production process is kept at a bare minimum, i.e. if the filmmakers are respected and given the freedom to treat the subject in a manner that suits their style of handwriting.
There is nothing new about the genre itself. Agnès Varda told about her Parisian street Rue Daguerre many years ago, and Herz Frank has described his Jewish street in Riga. There are countless filmic descriptions of cities – from Walter Rutmann and his Berlin symphony to Johan van der Keuken and his homage to Amsterdam. Talking about yourself and the place where you live normally invites a freer and essayist filmic style as you are not linked to a character-driven, dramatic storyline.
One of the main qualities in this neighbourhood series is the dimension linked to the essayistic form where the directors go for reflection instead of a pure information spread. This has given (some of) the directors a chance to rediscover and develop the art of commenting, an often forgotten element that is overshadowed by observational style. Stylistic importance is thus attached to personal texts written and read by the directors. In his film, Italian Gianfranco Pannone cleverly ponders the urbanization of former rural areas. Finnish Pekka Uotila turns this around and talks about loneliness in the countryside where an old man can die unattended. As the homeless do in Hungarian Katarin Pázmándy’s tour of the streets of Budapest where she uses the voice-off as a narrative tool in her characterization of True Life, also the title of her film.
In general, films about neighbourhoods are so-called feel good films. You the viewer are taken to new places, shown around, introduced to new people, informed and amused. Putting all the films in the series under one hat, comparisons are obvious as well as rewarding. You get a picture of big-city life at the beginning of a new century told from a personal perspective.
From your own geographical standpoint (this article’s author is from Copenhagen, Denmark) you can cultivate your own small idiosyncrasies in terms of national sentiments. Here they come:
Gianfranco Pannone unfolds a special Italian melancholy as he remembers the places near his home where Pier Paolo Pasolini shot his ”La Ricotta”. Hurrah for the music, it’s wonderful and it reminds you of Italian cinema in the fifties. And the way Pannone depicts the quarter he lives in, as in the scene of men in white undershirts just sitting in front of the bar doing nothing, is wonderful. Why should they move about in a hot summer when an Italian bar has everything they need?
Vitalij Manskij is a big, bearded Russian male who wants to peep through his neighbours’ windows according to Vertov´s theory. He stumbles around his own flat like a big bear under protest from one of his children and walks through the streets doing a lot of vox pop interviews. Inside the houses he invites us to dinners – and yes, they drink a lot of vodka. Consequently, philosophical discussions arise.
Finland’s Pekka Uotila is – from the point of view of another person from the North – very Finnish. Not much of a talker but always commenting with a subtle sense of humour, ironical, sometimes sarcastic on the subject of what it means to be Finnish.
Tristesse is the word I associate with the film by Katarina Pázmándy. She and her characters talk a lot about what has happened ”after the change”, i.e. the fall of Communism. Not much has improved, to say the least, and some things have changed completely. A streetcar conductor remembers that the intimate relations between driver and passenger that could develop at the end of a tour are no longer possible! Now it’s money that decides the (love) life you lead.
Now it’s money that decides the (love) life you lead
The film directors with the greatest difficulties in defining their neighbourhoods are the two Peters from Brussels, Krüger and Brosens. This is very understandable, as their Brussels quarter of St. Gilles includes 99 nationalities, dirty streets, dance parties, religions – you name it… I suppose this explains why they have chosen to be present in the narrative structure and to ask the question: What is your opinion of St. Gilles? They don’t have the answer themselves, as Krüger has not lived there for very long, Brosens has already moved to Leipzig, and the people they interview have very different opinions. Yes, the film enhances the clichéd picture I already have of Brussels – a heartless city, or is it a city at all? Perhaps St. Gilles is just a village with the wrong address.
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