Film Scouts Diaries

2010 Festroia International Film Festival Diaries
Part 5: Spunky Kids…

by Henri Béhar

SETUBAL, PORTUGAL, June 8, 2010 - Years after the war, Southern Bosnia is still scarred by the conflict: families are irrevocably broken, poverty is abject, crime a way of life. More concretely, the land itself is pockmarked with shrapnel and residue from various exploding weaponry. Resourcefulness being the only choice for survival, one often sees children rummaging through landfills to find anything that can be sold. That is the case of nine-year-old Alicia, the leading character in Degan Sorak's In the Land of Wonders (Slovakia, Official Selection), first seen near a NATO military training range as she and her uncle collect scraps of grenades to sell on the black market. As is fairly well known but most often hushed, those weapons often contained low-grade uranium. The uncle dies of cancer. The girl is also diagnosed with cancer and the prognosis is not good. With no money for therapy, the girl's mother pretends she found a job in Germany (she actually becomes a prostitute) and leaves the girl on her own. Alicia hooks up with a fellow named Roma and immediately sets up the rules: if he wants to get rid of her, no one will notice she's gone. If he doesn't, he'll have to take care of her. Impressed by her spunk, Roma agrees… and the film turns into a bittersweet road movie. It could easily end up as a massive tear-jerker (fear the remake, folks!); mercifully, Marija Stjepanovic (Alicia) is spunky enough and dry enough to nip that temptation in the bud.

The kids in Jacek Barcuch's All that I love (Poland, Official Selection) are waging another kind of battle, seemingly of lesser importance, but potentially life-changing nevertheless. The place is Poland and four teenagers decide to form a punk-rock band, dreaming of performing in a festival that is to happen in a town nearby. The year, however, is 1981, and in response to massive strikes organized by Solidarnosc (the movement driven, among others, by Lech Walesa), the ruling Communist Party is about to impose martial law throughout the country. The frame is therefore set up for a Confrontation between Law and Order (such as they are) and Freedom of Expression (individuals' aspirations), both personal and artistic. It's as predictable as the capitals in the previous sentence imply, but saved by the young actors' energy and sincerity.

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