Though not an undeniable fact, it’s true that people take things for granted until they’re no longer possible. Perhaps that was the lesson 2020 had in store for humankind. Granted was a simple smile, which now comes at a cosmetic cost as squinty eyes have to be included, if one doesn’t wish to seem impolite. Granted was the hug hello and/or goodbye, near a famous clock, for those that kissing cheeks just felt odd.
In essence, it was human connection and touch that were presumed a given, but for the past 600 days give or take, they’re usually either a distant memory or a rare occurrence. With such a frantic step over the next decade, is it unexpected that this frustration has been channeled through Art in whatever medium has felt appropriate?
The annual film festival of Balkans Beyond Borders returns and its theme is Skin to (Screen to) Skin. Perhaps it’s meant as a reminder for the moments we’ve spent holding or being held.
The starting point of connection is interacting with others, a skill one usually learns from home through familial bonds. Erblin Nushi’s Vlora (2020) focuses on a mother who dreams of helping women in need, a vision her husband vocally disapproves of to say the least. The plot seems simplistic when put down in black and white, but sometimes there’s strength in the minimal. The setting is Kosovo and the year is 2002. This is a portrait of a family formed within the bounds of patriarchy rendering the father/husband as an authoritarian no one looks in the eye. Troubling and gloomy in its color palette as it may be, the film talks about relationships. Everything is encapsulated in a sensation – real and palpable as the stinging physicality of a slap – deep in the gut communicating that fear, being the opposite of love, can never be the basis of a true link.
Not all fathers are violent, however; others comfort and hug despite being told that this isn’t manly. The father in Eneos Çarka’s Where Are You Now? (2020), under lockdown and in a distant country from his son, goes for the next best thing: he leaves voicemails. This experimental, 3D-animated, documentary short handles the topic of intimacy between family members that leave apart. Its Retro-realistic animation style mimics real life and conveys the horrid message that life has become a digital replica of its previous version – a mere lifeless reflection of whatever essence it once carried. Instead of focusing on that aspect, however, Çarka chooses to support that even in semi-death family bonds exist, if they were there to begin with.
Other times, connection can be found within one’s home, but outside one’s bloodline. Nikos Kolioukos and Meni Tsilianidou’s Small Talk with the Bad Man (2021) takes a humorous turn with this topic. A little girl catches a thief inside her house, and a paradoxically beautiful dialogue ensues. Using the innocent lens of childhood that lacks a socially constructed filter and sees the goodness in everything (sometimes looking at a truth that an adult cannot even fathom), the film’s message is sort of romantic if not outright idyllic.It’s almost as if it’s arguing that a friend can be made in the dark, as long as one is willing to look.
Listening to others can also be potentially harmful – especially that voice in one’s head that parrots the words of the dominant narrative. A woman in her late 30s falls victim to that voice in Merve Bozcu’s Plastic Dream (2020) when confronted with the reality that every single living entity ages. Though part of Nature in every sense, the touch of time on a woman’s face is almost forbidden. Within the clasp of patriarchy, women cannot accept, and consequently connect to, themselves as they don’t feel comfortable in their own skin. Though a horror film by definition it is not, Plastic Dream, and its eerie soundtrack, will agitate every female viewer on site.
But there are many ways a woman may lose touch with herself in a man’s world. Ana Pasti’s In Between (2020) follows Amalia (the director herself) waiting for an unnamed man at a mall’s parking lot. What type of connection can one make at a parking lot is the underlying question, and the answer comes with a kid, Raul (Gabor Bondi), and his life story. Pasti essentially talks about all those women in limbo – sure of what they want, but incapable of taking that first step. Both as characters and as actors, Pasti and Bondi accompany each other on a short journey evidencing how sometimes strangers help in seeing a situation objectively. Always on the road, but this time with Raul’s responsibility on her shoulders, Amalia comes to realize that being there for someone isn’t hard – as long as you want to.
Responsibilities come in different forms and sizes and Maja Bojovic (Sanja Vujisić) in Sara Stijović’s Idiot on Cue (2021) takes on the responsibility of newscaster on a day that raspberry farmers in Montenegro protest against the minister of Agriculture. Generally speaking, broadcasting is thought of as a medium of connecting people throughout the globe. Social media and technology has made sure people feel connected with others with a single tap. In the case of Maja, however, it turns out that technology is the cause of her humiliation. Always with a light humorous attitude, mostly established through the soundtrack, – Andre Rieu’s “The Second Waltz” mirroring her mood throughout the short’s 20-minute runtime, and changing tune the harder things get – the short is saying that perhaps technology is not one’s new best friend.
Connecting with others might not be easy, but it sure is worth the time needed – especially during times like these.