Saturday, May 19, 2012

A Communist Past: First Impressions of Prague

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Since arriving in Prague a few days ago, I have been thinking constantly about its Communist history. This is a topic I do not know much about as I have never studied it in detail as I have Romanian communism. Walking through the streets of Zizkov, an up-and-coming neighbourhood filled with trendy café’s and vintage fashion boutiques, I am drawn to the graffiti, the old buildings that seem to be left in ruins, the strange characters passing by… I wonder how communism manifested in former Czechoslovakia. Nicolae Ceausescu, the Romanian communist leader, tore down historical buildings throughout Bucharest in order to build commission style flats in their place, perhaps a scheme that related to his obsession of increasing the Romanian population. In the old town of Prague the buildings are left in place, cultural history is celebrated proudly through artists like Mucha and Kafka. There is Art Nouveau architecture embellished with sculptures of ladies with beautiful long hair that have witnessed centuries of happenings. After spending a few weeks in Vienna, a romantic city of grandeur and elegance, I have come to the conclusion that Prague is not dissimilar to a medieval fairytale. It is charming to the same extent as Vienna, but there is a darkness that exists within its streets. The Viennese have looked after their city and it is in pristine condition, whereas Prague is gritty. Could this be due to communism and the idea of being left behind without any significant progression into the future? This is certainly the case in Romania and it is a main feature of my research in New Romanian Cinema. Anyway, I have opened up many questions for myself and I guess the first step is to watch more Czechoslovakian and New Czech Cinema.

For the time being, here is some preliminary research:

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Letters to Florin Piersic

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

Florin Piersic is a highly respected Romanian theatre and film actor. Having contributed his talents to numerous theatre productions and over forty films, it is no surprise that he was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Transilvanian Film Festival in 2009. A few months ago my grandmother, Silvia, wrote a letter of appreciation to Florin detailing her admiration towards his work and reputation as a renowned artist. She did not expect a response, however, about a week ago she received a letter in the mail. At first she did not quite know what to do with the letter so she placed it on the coffee table and sat beside it examining the writing on the envelope. After a while, my grandfather, Liviu, told her to "open it already" and reluctantly she did. I will not go on to dictate what was written, but let's just say Florin certainly has a way with words, an eloquent way of writing. I am so glad that he replied to my grandmother's letter because she is a woman who has devoted her life to learning and experiencing Romanian art and culture. Today is her birthday and I wish her to have the most beautiful day, la mulţi ani Tia.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Director's Profile: Béla Tarr

By Olivia Maria Hărşan

It was not long ago that I became fascinated by the work of Hungarian filmmaker Béla Tarr after a friend gave me a copy of his seven-hour epic Sátántangó/ Satan's Tango (1994). I have not yet watched this film for two reasons. I prefer to read as much information as I can find on a certain director, screenwriter, cinematographer, actor or movement before watching a film.

The second is that I am still deciding whether to watch the film in one sitting, or several, because like many Eastern European films, the subject matter is confronting and heavy. It consists of long takes detailing a close absorption of the characters; their psyche, appearance and thoughts are dissected and exposed on screen.

Tarr's latest film, A torinói ló/ The Turin Horse (2011), portrays a similar vibe. I actually saw this film last year at the Melbourne Film Festival and, apart from the technical difficulties experienced at the Forum Theatre screening (lights turning on and off constantly... screen turning black... sound being muted) the film was highly impressive. 

Not everyone will enjoy Tarr's style because his films are difficult to absorb, but they are one of a kind and deserve to be appreciated, if not enjoyed. Tarr is a unique auteur and, apart from his critically alleged Tarkovskian influences, his approach belongs to him, and him only. Watching his films is an experience like no other in which the devastation of human existence is slowly dissected.