Kosovo 1998. It only takes a quick online search these days to loosely be made aware of some of the crucial implications and nuances that director Jelena Vujović surely considered much closely when making the aforementioned specific time-jump act as temporal background for how a Romeo and Juliet forbidden love story is destined to fall apart in Bićemo najbolji / We Will Be the Greatest (2021). Dunja (Aleksandra Jovanović) is a young Serbian woman, her secret boyfriend, Amir (Petar Đurđević), is Albanian, and despite the fleeting freedom felt when making promises of escape and a happy ending which do not necessitate the approval of others in order to come true, ultimately, it is the tragic state of their world that renders any future together stolen. Through watching We Will Be the Greatest, one can easily detect that it is impossible to truly understand the real-life ramifications of a political conflict like the Kosovo War (and those historical and current events of the same kind) unless that reality is personally endured. Still, through the use of archival imagery and the contextual clues carried in everyday conversation the overall mood is set: normal life on the brink of collapse. However, only by being put in a position of joining Dunja in her struggle to survive, one recognizes common ground in suffering over the loss of your home or a loved one, in the justified resentment and anger toward those intentionally blinded by power and thus blind to the hopes, dreams and individual purposes of each heart beat belonging to lives collectively regarded as acceptable casualties.

While in Jelena Vujović’s short film the high-ranking entity pulling the strings that decides people’s fates is omniscient, lurking in the background of the situation unfolding according to its will, directors Celal Yücel Tombul and Ana Țurcan provide us with some of its distant representatives’ names and faces. In line with continuing the fight for reproductive rights which even in current times is unfortunately far from being over, Meryem / Mary (2021) and Empiric (2021) illustrate complementary visions on population policies infringing on women’s rights of deciding when or whether to have children. Pregnant Mary (Elif Nur Kerkük) and Cemal (Ziver Armağan Açıl) fear the worst for their unborn child due to facing challenges of a bleak dystopian looking plot in which worthiness of a chance at living is dependent on government certification. Director of photography Yusuf Namlı’s attentively composed cinematography seems to take inspiration for its rightful palette of gloomy shades and shadows directly from the appearance of internalized landscapes familiar to people and places affected by the overwhelming presence and ruling of a corrupt perspective; transformed by a sense of ever looming harshness reminiscent of the Neo-noir film genre.

Empiric does not only play out according to fictional laws since Romania’s 1966 Anti- Abortion Decree was indeed a cruel power move enacted at the expense of women’s fundamental right to bodily autonomy. The improvised procedures ironically called “empirical interventions” in Țurcan’s short film ended up taking ten thousand lives and permanently damaging even more. As a fellow Romanian specialized in the area of film studies one cannot help but point out how, fourteen years after the release of 4 Luni, 3 Săptămâni și 2 zile / 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, cinematic reflections on the topic concerning the dire consequences of the abortion ban necessarily persist. Empiric dots all the i’s and crosses every t in the process of creating a different, concise and timely reminder through fresh eyes (and lens) of that which Spanish-born American philosopher George Santayana said and later René Magritte painted: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” (The Life of Reason, 1905)

When one’s wellbeing is gravely afflicted by uncontrollable outside forces, reaction comes swiftly. Dunja flees to Switzerland, Cemal takes the law into his own hands, a last resort that Empiric protagonist, Alexandra (Silvana Mihai), also desperately attempts to gain access to. Switching the focus to instances where the power of decision is left simmering within demands a change in atmosphere and pacing found in the contemplative aesthetic instilled into all of the filmic components structuring Klaudia Pashnjari’s Drite e Erresuar / Dark Light (2022). In a small conservative community drowned in black and white and solemn  music one last chance for our main character (Xhenji Fama) at having some of his world’s vibrancy restored resides in regaining the capacity for openness toward difference as part of a stable, compassionate and accepting support system which not only must include others but also himself. The Yin and Yang portrayal of the relationship between the main character and his childhood friend (Marvin Tafaj) is central to understanding that some form of harmony still exists even in a world devoid of color. Nevertheless, persistently overshadowed by an overwhelming display of prejudicial attitudes inspiring nothing but rejection, colorful hope remains a recovery path unfortunately proven viable only as a distant memory of youth.

Babamin Öldügü Gün / The Day My Father Died’s (2022) plot develops in a slow yet sure manner similar to how a kettle filled with water gradually reaches its boiling point. Each of the two sisters (played by Alina Boz and Nur Fettahoglu) speaks and behaves according to their own personal experience of grief all throughout the car ride, a journey which doubles as a much needed but seemingly put off process of sincere communication between the two. Apart from the poetic sensibility exhibited by mirroring two silent young boys (the phantasmatic nature of the first one naturally affecting any impression upon coming across another) in the opening and closing moments of Emre Sefer & short film, The Day My Father Died’s key element is entrusting the two women’s powerful dynamic exchange of vulnerable individual truths with, quite tellingly, reaching a dead end, a potentially fatal lack of resolve.