Kinoeye: New perspectives on European film

Vol 1
 Issue 4 
15 Oct
2001

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Ferenc Moldovanyi's Deza-Femijet (Kosovo 2000) [2001]KARLOVY VARY
The wounds that never show
Ferenc Moldoványi's Деца-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000)

Moldoványi targets the tenderest points of our emotions to reveal the iniquity of war and the pain of readjusting to life beyond it. Andrew James Horton examines his approach.


War is fascinating. Horrible, yes, too. But also fascinating. Its images fill screens both big and small, and countless words are printed on the subject. And while these images are repugnant to us, they also draw us in.

War, after all, is an extreme and inexpressable mystery. As frequent as it may be in global terms, the experiences it involves are some of the most remote and difficult to understand in the context of everyday life. And something in us drives us to try to comprehend the incomprensible in human existence, be it the giddy heights of passion, the cold mind of a serial killer or the adrenalin rush of extreme danger (all of which are also common elements in film plots).

Hungarian documentarist Ferenc Moldoványi's latest film Деца-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000) [2001] attempts to look at two manifestations of inexpressable mystery in the experience of war: the total and seemingly irrational tragedy that it sows in people's lives and the less commonly explored territory of where such indescribable hate can possibly stem from.

The title of Moldoványi's film is the word for "children" given first in Serb and then in Albanian, with a place and date to pin the film down to the conflict he wishes to dwell on.[1] As its name suggests, the film portrays the plight of the younger members of Kosovo's inhabitants, drawing on accounts from both Serbs and Albanians (although the latter group have a far stronger representation).

Two tales of a city

The film starts by alternating sections of image and word. The imagist parts use just simple black and white images, evoke a small section of the current, post-war lives of various Albanian children. Then we hear stories of how their relatives were murdered. These accounts are told with a range of emotions: some are wearily dispassionate in how they narrate their tale, some can barely look Poster for Ferenc Moldovanyi's Deza-Femijet (Kosovo 2000) [2001]at the camera and break down. The stories gush out of some spontaneously; for others it is a more painful process that requires help. There's no way to verify these stories, but that is besides the point. Moldoványi is trying to portray the psychological scars rather than the events which caused them. (The idea for the documentary came from seeing a Hungarian psychologist on television talking about a then forthcoming project to help Kosovan children overcome the psychological traumas of the war).

While the children speak, we the camera looks at them face on or we see colour Super 8 films that the children themselves have made to illustrate their testimony.

This narrative rhythm of visual poem followed by documentary account is broken when the film moves from reflecting on the past to looking at the present. The second part of the film looks at Mitrovica, the infamous "divided city." Starting first with the Albanian south and then moving to the Serbian north, before making a brief diversion to Belgrade to speak to young Serbs who have fled the wrath of the Albanians.

For Moldoványi, the largest logistic problem was evidently finding Serbian stories to balance the Albanian ones: there is far less time spent focussing on Serbian children and Moldoványi has clearly had less material to chose from. Not only are the Serbs a minority in Kosovo, they also on the whole have a clear mistrust of the international community (including documentary film-makers) as a result of the NATO intervention.

Countless people tried to talk him out of filming on the north side, the danger of this being illustrated by KFOR being set on fire by disgruntled Serbs while Moldoványi was doing research in the city. Moreover, during the course of making the film Moldoványi himself was arrested in Belgrade and accused of spying for the Albanians and the Americans (he had an American visa in his passport) and interrogated by the Serbian secret police, who accused him of being an "enemy," a reference to Hungary's membership of NATO. Eventually he was found guilty of working in Serbia without a permit (he was seen holding a Super 8 camera in Belgrade railway station) and told he should spend 28 days in jail or pay a DEM 100 fine. Needless to say, he paid the fine. [2]

In the light of these difficulties, it is remarkable that Moldoványi has obtained as much material on Serb stories as he has, with the testimony of Jelena Masić and her sister Miljana being an emotional coda to the film.

The wounds of the innocent being used

In comparing the after with the before in these children's lives, Moldoványi emphasises how childhoods have been lost: teenagers have been forced to take on the parental roles towards their siblings and growing minds have been deprived of the family love to grow up normally. In the film's most heart-rending and emotional moments, some of the children recite letters they have written to their missing fathers. Moldoványi in exposing these psychological scars as the most serious wounds of war, and in choosing the most innocent members of society he heightens the sense of damage that conflict can inflict.

But that is only one part of what Moldoványi tries to do. The film also shows how injustice spirals and that the current generation of children are potential perpetrators of ethnic hatred as much as they are victims of it. The distrust of all the children of the opposing ethnic group was apparent, and in one of the film's most disturbing sequences a Albanian radio presenter, perhaps as young as ten, hosting a call-in programme urges children to phone in and describe how they or their families have been victims of Serbian attrocities. As Moldoványi has said in an interview in response to a suggestion that the radio presenter sounded like a propaganda spokesperson:

Mitrovica Radio Station is rather an oppressive place. And you are right the children are being used. This is a very important element of the film too. One has to face these tragic stories with an open spirit, without any kind of prejudice. We tried to include the conflicts of the present in the film as well. One cannot help but see, in the radio station scene that these ten, eleven-year-old children who used to play football together etc before the war, are now being turned against each other. The hatred is planted in their mind by adults and this must be shown in the film.[3]

These strands make Деца-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000) an ambitious work, something that might explain while Moldoványi feels the need to present his ideas in a decidedly filmic form—shooting on 35mm, using an atmospheric soundtrack and trying (perhaps sometimes a little too hard) to escape from the artlessness that is often associated with the documentary medium. Given the self-consciously expressive mode of the film, I was not suprised to hear from Moldoványi when I spoke to him at Karlovy Vary that he is planning to do a fiction film (although it is likely he will complete another documentary before that). On the basis of Деца-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000) and his previous film, the semi-documentary feature Az út (The Way, 1997), this would certainly seem to be a logical progression for Moldoványi. If he can apply the same profound and sensitive vision that emerges in Деца-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000) to this new project, it will certainly be worthy of attention.

Andrew James Horton

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Also of interest
About the author

Andrew James HortonAndrew James Horton is Editor-in-Chief of Kinoeye and Culture Editor of Central Europe Review. He also writes on central European culture for other journals, edited the e-book The Celluloid Tinderbox: Yugoslav screen reflections of a turbulent decade and is being funded by the Leverhulme Trust to research the restructuring of central European image markets.

Further coverage of Karlovy Vary

Footnotes

1. The title is occassionally transliterated into Latin script as Deza-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000) or Deca-Fëmijët (Kosovo 2000). In English, the film dispenses with its multicultural element to its title and is simply known as Children (Kosovo 2000) while some Hungarian journals use the title Gyerekek-Koszovó 2000.

2. As recounted in an interview with Tamás Amaryllis, published in Hungarian on www.magyar.film.hu, 5 January 2001. The English translation that appears here (done by Agnes Szabó) was part of promotional material that Moldoványi gave to the author.

3. Ibid.

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