The Watchlist: Klassiki Picks with Animus Magazine

The Watchlist is Klassiki’s series of themed viewing recommendations drawing from the cinema of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. For the latest edition of Klassiki Picks, our series of curated watchlists personally selected for our subscribers by celebrated filmmakers, writers, and actors, we’re delighted to welcome Elena Lazic, founder of Animus Magazine. Below is an abridged introduction to Elena’s selections; Klassiki subscribers can watch her video introduction in full here.

Mari Törőcsik and Imre Soós in Merry-Go-Round (dir. Zoltán Fábri, 1956)

It’s my absolute pleasure to be asked to do Klassiki Picks. Through Klassiki I’ve been trying to watch more films from Central and Eastern Europe. For one, it’s great cinema. And another reason is that my parents are from the Balkans, and I’ve been trying to reconnect with that part of my family through film. Klassiki is a godsend for me in that respect.

 

Kristina (dir. Nikola Spasić)

This is a documentary-fiction hybrid that follows a transgender woman in Serbia. This film is absolutely striking, first of all because of the subject matter. Serbia is not the most welcoming country, in general, for any minority. As someone who has roots there, it was so beautiful to see a film that was so respectful about someone who’s transgender. One quality I find particularly striking in this film is that it’s absolutely not didactic: it’s such a thoughtful, sensitive, vivid exploration of what being transgender might mean. This character has constructed her life in such a way in order to survive, because she was rejected by her parents. The film has such a hypnotic quality. It’s very calm, and formally striking; you get absorbed into its rhythm. It’s also a hybrid of fiction and documentary: we don’t really know where one begins and the other ends, but it doesn’t really matter.

Watch Kristina here.

 

Safe Place (dir. Juraj Lerotić)

In some ways this film reminds me of Kristina: it has a similar formal rigour and imagination. It won several awards at festivals in Europe, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. Coincidentally, it’s also at the frontier of documentary and fiction, because the director basically plays himself. The film is about what happened to him and his brother, who suffered from mental illness and passed away. You follow 24 hours in the life of this man trying to protect his brother from himself; later on their mother joins to help. It’s such a beautiful film. You see these people doing everything they can, but through this limited time frame and limited interactions: you just get glimpses of the relationships between these people. It’s a critique of the healthcare system in Croatia, but it’s not didactic at all. It’s very naturally done, very believable and lived-in. You can think with it as you watch it; it engages you. It’s also a critique of family. It’s a film I think about all the time, and I’ve written about it for Animus. I was completely devastated by it but also inspired.

Watch Safe Place here.

The Kidnapping of the Sun and Moon (dir. Sándor Reisenbüchler, 1968)

The Kidnapping of the Sun and Moon (dir. Sándor Reisenbüchler)

I discovered this film quite recently, but it left such a strong impression on me. It’s a very direct experience: most of the films I’ve picked are very vivid rather than intellectual, with a tactile and sensorial element. This film absolutely fits that bill. It’s a short animation. It has an element of naïve or folkloric art: it’s inspired by Polish cut-out art. It tells a story that’s like a fairytale, with most of the fairytale elements taken out. There’s no princess and no knight – but he kept the dragon. In any case, you don’t watch this film for the plot. It’s all about the rhythm and the images. There’s a sense of directness and purity to the film. Even though it’s a film for children (though I think a child watching this would be quite traumatised), it has all these openings for meaning: on the one hand it’s just a classic fairytale; on the other, it was made in 1968, and it has this sense of revolution, of a new world. The director went on to make a bunch of other films that are all absolutely gorgeous. There’s one he made called Farewell, Little Island, which I was thinking of choosing – but it’s so depressing and affecting. Check it out if you want, but it’s intense!

Watch The Kidnapping of the Sun and Moon here.

 

Merry-Go-Round (dir. Zoltán Fábri)

This film is more famous, but it’s not that easy to find. I’m so glad that Klassiki was able to programme it. It tells the story of a girl living in a poor Hungarian village in the fifties. Her dad is very domineering and has agreed to marry her to some guy she doesn’t like; meanwhile she has her eyes on another guy and they can’t be together. Put that way, it sounds really banal. But the film shows in a beautiful and really modern way how people suffered in those situations. The film stays with the female character the entire time. We feel with her. And it’s not just awful, it’s full of ups and downs: she has moments of sheer euphoria, including on the merry-go-round itself in the famous early fair scene. What I think is so modern about the movie is that you’re with her whatever her state of mind: she’s fantasising, she’s dreaming; a lot of the time with her father she’s passive in order to survive. In the end, she has to make the choice to free herself, to take the risk.

Watch Merry-Go-Round here.

 

I Even Met Happy Gypsies (dir. Aleksandar Petrović)

That brings me to the last film, Aleksandar Petrović’s I Even Met Happy Gypsies. The connection I see between these films is the focus on women and the militant desire to portray them as characters who are just as important as the men. They’re not just victims, they’re people. The main character is a Roma man – he reminds me of Jean-Paul Belmondo, not to bring Western popular terms into it – who’s struggling to survive. His job is to sell feathers, which is something that Roma communities did a lot in Yugoslavia. The film starts up close with these characters, so at first you don’t necessarily realise the social pressures that force them to live like this. The film only zooms out at the end, when one of the characters goes to the city. You realise that you’ve been watching the story of the Roma people; how the way they live is reduced to such a simple idea, and how violent that is. You realise how much richer their lives are. We’re missing a lot of the picture when we use these racist clichés and stupid simplifications. Again, it’s such a vivid film, so dynamic. The cinematography is brilliant; you’re so close to these characters. They don’t feel like strangers. And the restoration is gorgeous.

Watch I Even Met Happy Gypsies here.

Klassiki Picks with Animus Magazine is available to subscribers from 14 March – 4 April.