Eastern European cinema, particularly the post Soviet Union has brought to the world many fantastic masterpieces throughout the years. Despite 2016 being considered not the best year for a lot of reasons, this can not be said for cinematic creations of the year and particularly the cinema of Eastern Europe that have claimed multiple awards throughout the various festivals.
Despite the acclamation, a lot of these great movies were not given the worldwide spotlight they rightly deserve; and thus, here is a list of 10 Eastern European movies from the past year you may have missed but would definitely want to look up.
10. Sieranevada (Cristi Puiu, 2016)
In Sieranevada, unlike Puiu’s previous feature based on a dying man, the protagonist, Emil, is already dead and the plot revolves around his funeral and memorial held forty days after his passing. The three hour long movie is set nearly entirely in the apartment where the service is held, as slowly slowly the characters unravel themselves and their relationships.
The whole movie is an insight on the familial situation, as the characters deal with the tragedy of the passing as well as their own private dramas.
Beginning as a close family traditional Orthodox memorial dinner, everything slowly seizes out of control as the apartment soon becomes packed with some rather irrelevant people, with everyone getting so carried away by the going-ons that at points the death of the family’s patriarch seems to be completely forgotten until some of his own secrets float up to the surface along with everyone elses.
9. The Happiest Day in the Life of Olli Maki (Juho Kuosmanen, 2016)
The Happiest Day in the Life if Olli Maki is a first feature film of Juho Kuosmanen and a brilliant sports bio-pic about the boxing fighter Olli Maki (Jarkko Lahti). Kuosmanen uses black and white to capture an intimate perspective of the not so well known Finnish fighter and his personal struggles that overthrow the physical struggles in the ring.
The documentary-like movie follows Olli Maki up to a possibly life changing fight that forces everything out of him, as he is encouraged to drop down from the lightweight to the featherweight category in order to claim the worldly title, all the while being severely pushed by his non compassionate manager Elis Ask (Eero Milonoff).
The process leading to the fight pushes Maki more than the fight itself as he is forced to succumb to the pressures of press and the high-society as he is placed on a pedestal by his country, glorifying his victory against American champ Davey Moore (John Bosco Jr.) before he has a chance to earn it, which in itself is impossible.
8. Zhaleika (Eliza Petkova, 2016)
Living in a rural village that has frozen in the past can never be easy, particularly for a young woman who is not willing to give in to the old customs and traditional views. Lora (Anna Manolova) is a young teenage girl living in a tiny Bulgarian village whose traditionalism and conservatism are a barrier wall to her finding her identity as she realises she can’t and doesn’t want to fit in.
Being rebellious all her life in minor ways that were an irritation to her family, simply causing them to turn red at points, her drive intensifies after the death of her father Stoyan (Stoyko Ivanov), when she refuses to wear the traditional mourning scarf “zhaleika”, bringing shame and embarrassment to her family as she is terrorised about it by both them and other members of the village.
Petkova revolves her film around this stark contrast of the old and young, the old ways and the new as her protagonist fights for her life and her future, trying to mould the harsh reality she is placed in.
7. Losers/Karatsi (Ivaylo Hristov, 2016)
In the lovable Bulgarian coming-of-age story of Losers, Hristov creates a wonderful black and white drama about teenagers that ponders upon the questions of love and youth. Set in a small rural town, the movie is based around four high shool students: Elena (Elena Telbis), Koko (Ovanes Torosian), Patso (Plamen Dimov) and Gosho (Georgi Gotzin). The four friends share a common idea of thinking themselves an outcast group of ‘losers’.
However, when a rock band visits their provincial town, everything changes threatening the once stable relationships of the friends who find themselves trapped in the complications of new love, torn friendship and the complexity of growing up.
6. On the Milky Road (Emir Kusturica, 2016)
Kusturica’s latest movie is everything you would expect from the Serbian director of Black Cat, White Cat. Beautiful landscapes and rural life shots accompanied by chaotic and ridiculously hilarious and loud sound accompaniment as well as purposefully awful CGI that lighten up the quite tragic scenario.
On the Milky Road is a fairytale drama “based on three true stories and many fantasies”, set during the Bosnian War telling the story of the romance between a milkman, Kosta– played by the director himself – and a young and beautiful woman (Monica Bellucci) who is forced to marry his fiancée’s brother.
The movie is a comical interlude of the various love affairs, war and the last hour chase scene as Kosta tries to flee with his beloved from the various forces that do not want them together, as they flow through the walls of reality and fairytale never quite making a distinction between the two.