Festival Preview: Disappearing Act IV

Ben Umstead, East Coast Editor
Since 2009, The Czech Center in New York City has led a group of European Cultural Agencies in presenting a festival with one of the most intriguing and peculiar names around. Disappearing Act is a name that evokes wonder and melancholy; a sense of cultures past and present; of peoples amalgamated and gentrified; of something fleeting and then absent, yet still existing somewhere, firmly defined by the ephemeral and mercurial nature of magic; of creating something that is of the euphoric truth. In other words, the act of telling a story.

Starting this Wednesday, April 11th, and running through the 22nd, 25 films from 21 European nations will be screened in several venues across the city, including an opening night event at The IFC Center. This is your rare chance to see some of the most vital films coming out of the Czech Republic, Romania, Belgium and Serbia -- amongst many others. And rare because many of these films have yet to find distribution in the United States. And minus opening night, all screenings are free, so there's really no excuse not to check out at least a few of these titles.

Today, Dustin Chang and I give you a 7 film preview, a small, but eclectic sampling of what to expect from this, the fourth annual edition of the Disappearing Act European Film Festival.


The_System.jpgTHE SYSTEM (Germany) | Opening Night Event, April 11th, 7pm at The IFC Center (Tickets $13) 

An intriguing premise and the presence of rising star Jacob Matschenz does little to help this film about a low-rent hood who finds himself in cahoots with his dead father's Stasi partner, now turned businessman. It is actually the once compelling political ghosts of curtains past that brings the film down; fizzling out in fits of standard exposition and trite plotting, all the while sidelining its characters with tired archetypes and easy cliches. What could have been a complex, darkly humorous and even poignant story about the sins of the father befalling the son, ends up being a rather middling affair. - Ben Umstead

cinema_komunisto.jpgCINEMA KOMUNISTO (Serbia) | Screens April 12th, 6:30pm at Bohemian National Hall

Enlivened with a bright and bubbly spirit, Mila Turajlic's documentary is a nostalgic love letter to, and chronicle of, a Yugoslavia that only existed on film. Creating its narrative from a seemingly endless mountain of film clips, archive press material, and present day interviews with old guard filmmakers and actors -- plus Marshal Tito's own personal projectionist -- Cinema Komunisto is that rare documentary that entertains and informs on equal measure. - BU

white_white_world.jpgWHITE WHITE WORLD (Serbia) | Screens April 18th, 7:30pm at Bohemian National Hall

White White World is a pseudo-musical that is so utterly joyless, and in a way that is far too obvious when hammering its bleak point home, that I had a hard time taking it seriously... despite its own character-crippling seriousness. Plodding along in the murky waters of Greek tragedy plots past with a Serbian folk quality that may be of interest on an anthropological level, it is a well produced film that I'm sure has an audience out there. I'm just not occupying a seat in that theater. - BU

petite-chambre_the_little_room.jpgTHE LITTLE ROOM (Switzerland-Luxembourg) | Screens April 21st, 3:30pm at Bohemian National Hall

The Little Room is a film about aging and loss, directed by two female Swiss filmmakers (Stephanie Chuat and Veronique Raymond). Unfortunately for them, it invites inevitable comparisons with The Mourning Forest, the Cannes Grand prix winning film directed by Naomi Kawase, which shares the same subject matter. Here the setting is snow covered Switzerland and the Alps instead of the green forest of Japan in summer. Sad faced Florence Loiret Caille plays a nurse and grieving mother and the great Michel Bouquet plays a stubborn old man who refuses to be looked after. It would've been a lot better if the directors restrained themselves on exposition through dialogue. - Dustin Chang

Wasted_Youth.jpgWASTED YOUTH (Greece) | Screens April 21st, 5:30pm at Bohemian National Hall

The financial crisis in Greece is leaving an indelible mark on its citizens' psyche. Argyris Papadimitropolous and Jan Vogel's Wasted Youth reflects this grim mood, leading up to the riot that erupted in 2008. There are two story lines: one about an aimless young skater and the other, an overworked, underappreciated cop. You can already draw a conclusion. With long, handheld takes and a realistic approach, the film strongly resembles Gus Van Sant's work. Brooding yet not too distanced for us to feel alienated, Wasted Youth is a subtle and poignant work that is a stark contrast to the current crop of mischievous, sensationalistic Greek films (Dogtooth and Attenberg come to mind). - DC

memory_lane_ben10.jpgMEMORY LANE (France) | Screens April 22nd, 5pm at Bohemian National Hall

Dreamy in tone, melancholy in mood, the twentysomethings of Memory Lane walk their suburban streets at night, under an almost ethereal glow. There is virtually nothing pretentious or hip or desperate about them. Sure, some of them play in bands, work at the library or in a bookstore -- typical fare for the age, especially in cinematic portrayals -- but in the hands of Mikhael Hers this all feels far too natural and nuanced to matter. Hers is a director who doesn't carry a judgmental bone in his cinematic body. He is a filmmaker of the little moments; fascinated and excited by the glances between two friends at a party, or as they walk home; of those gradual moments that build until they're holding each other's hands and it is the most natural thing in the world; the thing to have always been. This kind of everyday magic is a key ingredient in making Memory Lane absolutely one of the best films about people in their twenties I have ever had the pleasure of seeing. It is always a great compliment to the filmmaker and his cast when I can say, "I would very much like to spend more time with these people." -- For these are not just my people, these people are me. - BU

medalia-de-onoare1.jpgMEDAL OF HONOR (Romania-Germany) | Screens April 22nd, 7pm at Bohemian National Hall

Romania, at least in films, seems like the bureaucratic purgatory discarded by the former Soviet Union, while its citizens are left to fend for themselves. In this Tuttle/Buttle black comedy, an aging pensioner Ion Ion (Victor Rebenguic) is falsely awarded a medal of bravery in WWII that he does not recall. He at first is suspicious about it, then elated, then outraged by the government recalling the medal because it was supposed to be given to a different Ion. Filled with funny little details about living in a squalid former communist country, and with plenty of humanism, Medal of Honor is definitely worth checking out for the fans of Romanian New Wave. - DC

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For a complete list of films and venues please visit the Czech Center's official website. And remember, screenings are free, but seating is on a first come, first served basis, so please arrive early.   
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