Eastern & Central Europe

This fall Block Cinema presents several new films from Russia and the former Eastern Bloc, highlighting a new wave of critically acclaimed narrative films from the region and several fascinating documentaries. A number of the films explore the complexities and realities of contemporary life, as people still struggle to find a place in the 21st century. Others cast an eye to the past, investigating subjects and themes that would have been unthinkable only a short time ago. Acclaimed Romanian director Radu Muntean’s Tuesday, After Christmas is a modern take on marital infidelity; the Czech documentary Matchmaking Mayor is a hilarious look at the efforts of a small town mayor confronted with a population problem. Pop culture is center stage in Cinema Komunisto, about Yugoslav dictator Tito’s obsession with movies, and in Hipsters, a musical comedy about comrades captivated by American-inspired swing dancing in 1950’s Russia. The series also encompasses two singular talents of World Cinema, Ukrainian filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa, who is represented by his first fiction feature, the powerful My Joy, and master director Béla Tarr, whose stunning film The Turin Horse, may be his last.

Tuesday, After Christmas

Friday, September 30, 2011 7:00 PM
(Radu Muntean, 2010, Romania, 35mm, 99 min.)

Radu Muntean, one of the leading figures of New Romanian Cinema, crafts a simple yet affecting film about a man, Paul, who must choose between his wife and his mistress (a beautiful young dentist). Muntean’s carefully observed drama epitomizes the style of the Romanian new wave, particularly the use of long takes that allow for small details and nuanced performances to take hold. The film’s dissection of contemporary middle-class mores pivots on the authentically felt anguish of Paul’s wife, Adriana (Mirela Oprisor, in a breakout performance), as she learns of her husband’s infidelity. “A remarkable, pitch-perfect work.”—Los Angeles Times

Tales from the Golden Age

Thursday, October 6, 2011 7:00 PM
(Hanno Höfer, Razvan Marculescu, Cristian Mungiu, Constantin Popescu, and Ioana Uricaru, 2009, Romania, 35mm, 155 min.)

An omnibus film, produced and co-directed by acclaimed filmmaker Cristian Mungiu, Tales from the Golden Age presents six stories from the final years of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s rule. These tales, contemporary urban legends based on true events, focus on the absurdity found even in the most oppressive regimes: A small village goes to extreme lengths to ready itself for a Party visit; a policeman attempts to surreptitiously kill a pig by gassing it in his kitchen, and a pair of photographers find themselves in hot water after retouching a photo of the President. Here, Mungiu and his collaborators honor the sustaining humor of their country, in a way unthinkable before. 


Friday, October 14, 2011 7:00 PM
(Valery Todorovsky, 2009, Russia, 35mm, 125 min.)

When a communist youth group tries to break up an underground dance party, one of its members, Mels, falls hard for a beautiful partygoer. Soon, Mels begins sporting a pompadour and rockabilly-style Western garb, to the horror of his grey-clad comrades. With a playful nod to early Soviet musicals (most notably Grigori’s Aleksandrov’s 1936 film Circus), director Todorovsky’s brightly colored and energetic musical is rooted in 1950s Russia, but its story of young love, changing times and finding community through pop culture transcends borders and eras. Hipsters won the Russian Academy Award and prizes at several international film festivals. 

Matchmaking Mayor

Thursday, October 20, 2011 7:00 PM
(Erika Hníková, 2010, Czech Republic/Slovak Republic, video, 72 min.)

Czech filmmaker Erika Hníková’s documentary focuses on the hilarious efforts of a meddling mayor in a small Slovak village. Exasperated by a dwindling population count that threatens the future of the tiny town of Zemplínske, the mayor, an ex-army general, launches a campaign to address the problem before it’s too late. His targets: the disinterested single townswomen, and the shy men who seem forever destined for bachelorhood. His mission: to orchestrate the mother of all singles gatherings. But can he and his patient aide-de-camp get anyone to actually show up, or will the town become a victim of its own romantic apathy?

Preceded by:

A piece of summerA Piece of Summer

(Marta Minorowicz, 2010, Poland, video, 24 min.)

The Grand Prix winner at the Clermont-Ferrand film festival, this charming short documentary focuses on the tight bond between a boy and his grandfather as they enjoy the last days of summer in a remote Polish mountain village. 

My Joy

Friday, October 28, 2011 7:00 PM
(Sergei Loznitsa, 2010, Ukraine/Russia, 35mm, 127 min.)

Documentary filmmaker Sergei Loznitsa’s ironically-titled narrative debut is a journey into the dark side of Russia—both past and present. The story of a truck driver who has literally and figuratively lost his way, the film deals with corruption, thievery, prostitution, murder, and loss of identity. These harsh themes are tempered by Loznitsa’s languid pacing and quiet observational style (traits he developed in his non-fiction filmmaking). This contrast makes for a riveting experience and gives the film’s unexpected ending so much force. It is a Grimm’s fairy tale, but one decidedly for adults. 

Cinema Komunisto

Thursday, November 3, 2011 7:00 PM
(Mila Turajilic, 2010, Serbia, video, 101 min.)

Communist leaders seem to love movies, but Yugoslavia’s Josip Tito took this passion to extremes. During his reign, Tito utilized the state-run film industry as a propaganda tool to shape his nation’s identity to his own liking. It was national mythmaking, and the Yugoslav dictator favored heroic war movies and westerns. Tito read scripts, imported A-list actors like Orson Welles and Richard Burton, and obsessively watched a film every night for 32 years. Through interviews with filmmakers and Tito’s personal projectionist, amazing film clips, and visits to the now-defunct Avala Studios (one of the largest studios in Europe), Cinema Komunisto is a riveting look at one man’s attempt to make illusion a reality on a grand scale.

IN PERSON: Director Mila Turajilic


The Turin Horse

Saturday, December 3, 2011 2:00 PM
(Béla Tarr and Ágnes Hranitzky, 2011, Hungary, 35mm, 146 min.))

The latest (and possibly last) film by Hungarian master Béla Tarr (Sátántangó) is a remarkable meditation on perseverance. Co-directed with his wife and collaborator Ágnes Hranitzky, The Turin Horse grounds itself in close observation (the weathering of a face; the sound of the wind) as it charts the uneventful lives of a man and his daughter as they futilely continue to work their small farm. This simple tale is made even more powerful by its spare style—its haunting black and white cinematography, near lack of dialog, and minimal action all, mirroring the protagonists’ disappearing world.

Special advance screening courtesy of Cinema Guild.