The Watchlist: Klassiki Picks with Mark Cousins

The Watchlist is Klassiki’s series of themed viewing recommendations drawing from the cinema of Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia. This week sees the launch of Klassiki Picks, a new series of curated watchlists personally selected for our subscribers by celebrated filmmakers, writers, and actors. We’re delighted to welcome filmmaker Mark Cousins to the hot seat for the inaugural edition. Below, he introduces his typically radical and obscure picks.

Julian Díaz in Fugue on the Black Keys (dir. Drahomíra Vihanová, 1965)

I was thrilled to be asked by Klassiki to make a selection of some films from the great cultural region of cinema that is Eastern Europe and the countries that emerged from the Soviet empire. I’ve long admired films from this part of the world, their experimental nature, the fact that there were lots of women directors, the fact that they were dealing with social themes in bold ways. I’ve got a few of these directors tattooed on my arm! I’ve got Kira Muratova, who was from Ukraine, and I’ve also got Sergei Eisenstein. I’ve chosen films that have all got a kind of documentary impulse, and which aren’t the best-known.


Fugue on the Black Keys (dir. Drahomíra Vihanová)

The first film I’ve selected is from the Czech Republic [then Czechoslovakia] in 1965, directed by Drahomíra Vihanová, a female filmmaker whose work I admire. It’s experimental, it’s about racism, it was highly criticised at the time – and I think it’s daring and interesting.

Watch Fugue on the Black Keys here.


Is It Easy to be Young? (dir. Juris Podnieks)

The second film I’ve chosen is from Latvia, directed by a great director called Juris Podnieks, who sadly died six years after this film was made. It’s basically just interviews with young people in the mid-80s, [around] 1986, trying to capture the kind of absurdity, the spiritual emptiness of the Soviet Union. It’s a film about rebellion, and I think a very good one.

Watch Is It Easy to be Young? here.

The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (dir. Jan Švankmajer, 1990)

The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia (dir. Jan Švankmajer)

The third film I’ve chosen is Jan Švankmajer’s The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia: a short film, an animation, maybe a documentary too. It tries to imagine: what if we dived inside Stalin, pulled his guts out, what would we see? In this case, Švankmajer sees images, montages, music, and a history of his country. Absurd, angry, and funny, I think, in a way that was considered dangerous.

Watch The Death of Stalinism in Bohemia here.


Bread Day (dir. Sergei Dvortsevoy)

The fourth film is by Sergei Dvortsevoy, made in 1998. He is a brilliant documentary filmmaker. Bread Day is about a bunch of older people who live an isolated life in a village. Once a week on Tuesdays, a train comes, and one of the carriages has bread in it. They decouple it and push it to their village. A gorgeous, poetic metaphor [in] an angry film – once we get inside the bakery, you’ll see the camera statically observe the tensions that emerge.

Watch Bread Day here.


Far Eastern Golgotha (dir. Yuliya Sergina)

My fifth film is one I saw when I was on the jury of the Kraków Film Festival, made in 2021, by Yuliya Sergina. It’s a masterpiece, simple as that. If Martin Scorsese had directed a brilliant documentary about a wild, dangerous, crazy person, then this would be it. So: documentaries, animations, experimental films about the energy and rebellion of our times.

Watch Far Eastern Golgotha here.

 Klassiki Picks with Mark Cousins is available to subscribers from 1-22 June.