Look Who’s Balkan


This annual festival of recent features and documentaries from Greece and the Balkans offers a mix of films as eclectic and sometimes volatile as the region. For opening night, Constantine Giannaris’s From the Edge of the City, about an Athenian wild bunch, comes accompanied by considerable buzz. (The film will be reviewed when it opens for a commercial run next week.) One certain highlight is Yesmin Ustaoglu’s Journey to the Sun, which recently screened at “New Directors”—this story of the friendship between a young Turk and a Kurdish street vendor, both adrift in Istanbul, is visually haunting and acutely moving.

For the spectacle of a master filmmaker toying with sanity and ideas of mortality, try Miklós Jancsó’s The Lord’s Lantern in Budapest. Jancsó, the 79-year-old director of The Round-Up (1965), here weighs in with a surreal existential comedy about a pair of gravediggers who occasionally quote Hamlet> as they stumble through one bloody Balkan mess after another, changing roles along the way and becoming mobsters, politicians, and hit men. This ferociously experimental work frequently borders on incomprehensibility, but its dark humor, stunning vulgarity, and performances both snarling and tender remain compelling.

On a lighter note, I, Doll is Greek American documentarist Tula Asselanis’s unauthorized biography of that 11-and-a-half-inch icon of glamour, Barbie. The Greek content here is minimal (though doll, according to the film, comes from the Greek word eidolon, meaning “idol”); we’re told there are more Barbies in the United States than human beings, but her empire also extends around the globe. Interviews with collectors, artists, models, former Mattel employees, and one little girl help explain the checkered past of America’s sweetheart. The complex play of mirrors between dolls, girls, and the women they grow into is illuminated by this slight but always playful and engaging documentary.