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The ‘New East’ in Film

Tuesday 16 February 2016

This Spring, we’ll be venturing into the wide expanse of land stretching from Eastern Europe, Baltic countries and the Balkans, through to Russia and Central Asia – the ‘New East’. To introduce our new bi-monthly film series, we speak to The New Social about the thought-provoking, challenging and vibrant cinema emerging from today’s ‘New East’.

‘The term itself, ‘New East’, is not in itself un-problematic. While the terminology to describe this region is itself not static, this series is driven by curiosity and a desire to discover great cinema in countries whose filmmaking remains relatively unknown to foreign audiences.

While much has been done, and continues to be done, in the field of visual art and theory in relation to the Soviet or socialist experience in Eastern Europe and beyond, contemporary cinema has fared less well. The films in this programme, many of which have been picked directly from the international film festival circuit and will be being screened in the UK for the first time, focus on authentic, personal storytelling by emerging and established filmmakers. What unites them is an attempt to navigate the ‘post-socialist’ or ‘post-Soviet’ space in which they are situated, and the history which they have inherited and which still haunts any attempt at self-identification.

The series starts off with Yuri Bykov’s The Fool (2014), a tragic and moving story of one man’s stand against a society that has become rotten and apathetic throughout all of its social and class layers. With distinct echoes of Dostoyevsky’s classic The Idiot, with whom the protagonist shares an unshakeable moral stance, Bykov’s latest film tells the story of Dima Nikitin, a young plumber and would-be construction worker, and the eponymous hero or fool of this modern take on social and moral depravity and corruption.

One night, Nikitin is called out on what appears to be a standard emergency call to a housing estate where the plumbing has suddenly exploded. Once there, Nikitin discovers to his horror that the danger reaches far beyond some bursts pipes, and that the whole building itself will collapse in a matter of hours, putting in danger the building’s 800-plus population of social outcasts, alcoholics, impoverished pensioners and disaffected youth. Faced with impending catastrophe, Nikitin quickly realizes that the cast of characters in front of him, from the bureaucratic machinery of the state to the demi-monde inhabitants of the housing complex, has no desire to help or be helped.

With its tragic tale of a single man helplessly taking on an unfathomable beast that is tainted through and through with corruption, The Fool has inevitably been compared to Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan, not least as the two films came out almost concurrently. Yet while Leviathan was hailed internationally as a masterpiece and enjoyed a certain amount of distribution outside of the international festival circuit – while also equally vilified by the Russian authorities – The Fool arguably presents an even starker and bleaker portrait of a society gone astray. Here, there is no respite for the characters, no space to momentarily blanket themselves in the natural sublime of the sea and wide-open spaces. The urgency of the situation that is palpable throughout The Fool is not least driven by the fact that the entire story takes place over one night, in a race against time.

We hope that this film and others in the series, as well as the accompanying ScreenTalks, will spark a desire in audiences to delve deeper into the bizarre, raw and bold world of the ‘New East’. And, that it will be an occasion for dialogue with some of the key people who are ensuring that the ‘New East’ is such an exciting source of contemporary filmmaking.’

New East Cinema begins with The Fool (Durak) + ScreenTalk with director Yury Bykov on Wednesday 27 April.

New East Cinema is a film series presented in collaboration with Calvert 22 Foundation, curated by The New Social: a cultural collective bringing contemporary cinema from eastern Europe and beyond to London.

The Fool, dir. Yuri Bykov (2014) Russia
Viktoria, dir. Maya Vitkova (2014) Romania, Bulgaria
Celestial Wives of the Meadow Mari, dir. Aleksey Fedorchenko (2012) Russia
The Owners, dir. Adilkhan Yerzhanov (2014) Kazakhstan