‘We Will Not Fade Away’ by Alisa Kovalenko

Berlinale Through the Eastern European Lens: 5 Films Worth Checking Out

This year marked the 72nd anniversary of the Berlinale – the Berlin International Film Festival first created for the German public back in 1951. Shaped by the turbulent post-war period and the unique situation of a divided city, the Berlinale has developed into a place of intercultural exchange and a platform for the critical cinematic exploration of relevant and time-specific social issues. 

Each February, the eleven-day festival period attracts thousands of visitors from around the globe to enjoy a vast spectrum of international films (most often world premieres) of all genres, lengths and formats. The programme also thrives on an engaged dialogue with its public. A rich array of spoken-word events, audience discussions and expert panels facilitate an active participation in the Berlinale.

For each edition the spectators are presented with around 400 films divided into more than a dozen different categories. To name some of them: the ‘Competition’ is the festival’s centrepiece and screens films that will be mainly talked about. ‘Encounters’ is a platform aiming to foster aesthetically and structurally daring works from independent, innovative filmmakers. ‘Panorama’ screens extraordinary cinema, is a traditional audience favourite and – with its own public award – has the Berlinale’s biggest jury. Other prize competing films are divided into further categories that focus respectively on the medium and technique used, cinema style and format, length of the motion picture, specific audiences, communities and more. 

Just like every year, but this year in particular – in regards to the geo-political situation of Ukraine and it’s fellow Central and Eastern European neighbours – the Berlinale has presented the public with a diverse selection of films of all genres, coming from or talking about different countries located in the Eastern part of Europe and formally under the Soviet occupation. Out of the many great cinematic works, we selected five of our favourites world premiers, that amused or provoked us both on a conceptual and formal level. 

Read on to find out more about our selection.  

‘It’s a Date’ by Nadia Parfan

One of the first titles that caught our attention was the short film ‘It’s a Date’ directed by Nadia Parfan. The 5 minutes-long Ukrainian production had its world premiere during this year’s ‘Berlinale Shorts’. 

Kyiv, 2022 – a car races at a breakneck speed through the city at dawn. Filmed from a subjective camera angle as if from the perspective of the driver, ‘It’s a Date’ guides us through the historic districts of Kyiv and its various landmarks surrounded by nothing but empty streets and sporadically appearing military vehicles. The film has no dialogues, however the sound of the rumbling engine and the squeaking of tires burned on the asphalt are enough to leave the viewer with feelings of anxiety and distress. Not knowing the context of the drive, the viewer’s imagination starts to wander… What is the final destination? Who is the person behind the wheel and why are they in such a hurry? Are they trying to reach a shelter, or escape the city under Russia’s attack? Are they rushing  to help someone, or perhaps see a close relative for one last time? In a single unedited shot, ‘It’s a Date’ captures the emotions felt during a state of emergency caused by war. 

‘Mammalia’ by Sebastian Mihăilescu

In his first feature, ‘Mammalia,’ the Romanian director Sebastian Mihăilescu takes us on a ride through the absurd. Unlike the car drive, this one has no particular beginning nor end. From the very first scenes, the film plays with the ideas of unpredictability and disconnection. Through slowly changing, meticulously designed fixed shots we accompany  the main protagonist Camil – a young man who seems to be struggling with maintaining  relations with the women around him. He secretly follows his partner Andreea to find her at a community camp, where women dressed in white perform forgotten fertility rituals.  

In accordance with the surrealist tradition, Mihăilescu works with free associations, metaphors and symbols, some of them as funny as they are unsettling. What’s at stake is the crisis of masculinity and socially constructed gender roles. On the one hand we see Camil experimenting with his identity and curiously looking at himself in the mirror. On the other we are presented with a lost man trying to “save his woman” from a strange fertility cult somewhere near a lake. Shot on vivid 16mm by Barbu Bălăşoiu, ‘Mammalia’ allows you to enter a delusive world of humour with a social commentary. 

‘Ty mene lubysh?’ (‘Do You Love Me?’) by Tonia Noyabrova

The struggle to comply with the social norms and behaviours is also a recurring theme in ‘Ty mene lubysh?’ (‘Do You Love Me?’) by the Ukrainian director Tonia Noyabrova. The film opens with a memorable scene of a 17-year-old Kira singing and dancing in front of a mirror, while listening to ‘Venus’ by Bananarama on a cassette deck. It’s the 1990s in Ukraine – one year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, Kiara’s life is about to take off, but her family and the country she lives in are both beginning to fall apart. 

Noyabrova’s semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story depicts the unique moment in one’s life when, from being an innocent child, you suddenly become an adult and are  confronted with responsibilities and the often harsh reality of everyday life. Throughout the film, Kira’s naive, often reckless decisions frequently bring her trouble, however, in contrast to her family and relatives, she seems to be the only one capable of pure emotions and real love. 

‘Between Revolutions’ by Vlad Petri 

The portrait of another systemic change, or rather the stories of two different transformations in two distant countries happening at once are the red thread guiding us through the film ‘Between Revolutions’ by Vlad Petri. It’s the 1970s, an Iranian student named Zahra meets a fellow classmate called Maria at a university in Bucharest, Romania. They are both pursuing a degree in Medicine and develop a deep friendship and intimate connection. When the revolution against the Shah breaks out in 1979, Zahra goes back to Iran, moved by the hope of governmental change.

Zahra never ends up returning to Romania, but for years the two women keep exchanging letters about their personal lives and political upheaval in both countries. The narration,  inspired by the documents found in the secret police archives, is set against the beautiful, poetic footage showing history-changing revolutions both in Iran and Romania. Unlike many other films, ‘Between Revolutions’ manages to portray the complexity of important systemic changes with a balanced respect to both the social and the personal perspective. 

‘We Will Not Fade Away’ by Alisa Kovalenko

Last but not least, we definitely recommend watching the newest documentary by the Ukrainian filmmaker Alisa Kovalenko titled ‘We Will Not Fade Away, which had its world premiere at this year’s Berlinale ‘Generation 14plus.’ While in the middle of a full-scale military invasion in Ukraine, Kovalenko introduces us to five young protagonists exposed to Russia’s bombs and shelling already since 2014. 

Andriy, Illia, Lera, Liza and Ruslan reside in a small urban settlement in the Luhansk region. Surrounded by nothing but sounds of artillery, the soon-to-be-adults struggle to navigate their lives in an area deprived of job and educational opportunities for their future. An unexpected invitation to an expedition to the Himalayas gives the five Ukrainian teenagers a chance to fulfil their dreams of living an adventure for a brief moment, before the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion in February of 2022. 

Similarly to her previous film ‘Home Games,’ Kovalenko points her camera towards a generation of young people surrounded by darkness and born into a life that they did not choose, who are nonetheless – or perhaps all the more – able to recognise and celebrate the fragile beauty of life, allowing themselves to dream.

This year the Berlinale took place between the 16th and the 26th of February. It left us with a great amount of important and innovative films in terms of subject and form. Apart from the five aforementioned titles, there is a great deal of others from around the world that speak about the changing societies, environment and technology through the wonderful medium of motion pictures. Check out the Berlinale’s website to find out more and, in case of a visit to Berlin, don’t miss out on the next edition and attend the festival yourself.

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“Watching films together triggers immediate discussions afterwards. On the other hand, when you watch films alone or just with very few people, you have very limited possibilities to talk and to listen to what others have to say. In the future, cinemas may be like opera houses – something very special and unique. That’s why festivals are so crucial. They have to keep that possibility of watching films on a big screen. It is so important, because big screens do something special – they make people look like gods. The film characters become bigger than all of us.”

About The Author


Artist and writer. Studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Critical Studies Department at the Sandberg Institute. Her ongoing research relates the post-Soviet countries. In 2020, she launched a podcast series called ‘Kitchen Conversations.’

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