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Finally got around to seeing Czech Peace (orig. title Český mír), the documentary from Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda about the campaign surrounding a proposed US missile-defense radar base in the Czech Republic and Poland.

The film works or doesn’t, depending on what you want. Klusák and Remunda succeed in making the radar base in particular (and missile defense in general) look like a bad idea if you’re already inclined to think that way. The directors are unapologetic pranksters and provocateurs who enjoy poking fun at subjects that seem silly to them.

In the midst of shooting Czech Peace in 2008, the directors told me that

Unlike the anti-consumerism Czech Dream, Klusak and Remunda insist this time round they are not taking sides. Rather, they want to present the arguments for and against the base.

Maybe they changed their minds after our interview. Suffice it to say Czech Peace is not exactly an impartial examination of the debate. Of course, no one says it has to be, but I think the directors have missed an opportunity. Their new film will entertain a certain audience, but it will not win over anyone not already in their camp. Anyone who leans toward support US missile defense will simply be annoyed by it. Škoda.

Xenia Prilepskaya writes in the Moscow Times that Nikita Mikhalkov’s Burnt By The Sun 2 faces an uphill battle at Cannes after what she calls “the film’s mauling at the box office and by the press in Russia.”

One of the most devastating critiques was by writer Dmitry Bykov in Novaya Gazeta. “Mikhalkov’s cinematography is a weird substance that contains Soviet, Russian and evangelical symbols, Stalin and anti-Stalin cliches, pieces of somebody else’s concepts and quotes from somebody else’s masterpieces,” he wrote. “There is not a hint of solidity and sense. It is purely a disintegration of consciousness that has lost any understanding of the world and of itself.”

Mikhalkov appears not to be dismayed by the bad press — and it’s not all bad press, as the reliable sycophants at TV Novosti prove. The St. Petersburg Times likewise swooned at the Kremlin premiere.

Mind you, while I accurately predicted the film’s appearance on the Croissette, I also forecast it as a box-office hit at home — which, so far, it ain’t.

Sergey Loznitsa’s Cannes competition title My Joy seems to be faring better. (By mentioning it in the same post as Mikhalkov’s film, I might be guilty of the same kind of reductionism that led RT to call the co-production between Ukraine, Germany and the Netherlands, from a Belarussian born director, a “Slavic” film.)

My Joy seems to have all the required auteur stripes, plus the added Romanian new wave value of actor Vlad Ivanov and cinematographer Oleg Muntu, but don’t expect to see it outside a festival. As Allan Hunter writes in Screen International

The film demands a considerable effort from the viewer to discern a bigger picture in the fragmentary narrative strands that Loznitsa attempts to weave together in his Kafkaesque parable. … Ultimately, is a film that shines intermittently but is likely to leave the viewer more perplexed than satisfied.

I spoke yesterday with Alexei Popogrebsky about his Berlinale title How I Ended This Summer for a story which will appear later this month on TOL.

I asked Popogrebsky about the tendency among Western audiences to try to find political meaning in Russian film when there is none. Here’s what he said:

“The maximum of interest toward Soviet and Russian cinema was late ’80s and early ’90s. A lot of films, especially those screened in Berlin, were films that were unearthed or uncovered because they were banned because there were implications in them that were not desirable for the political leadership at that time. So I think maybe in a way film scholars and film-going audiences became a little bit conditioned to expect something, a hidden agenda in Russian films. That’s something we look for in films from Iran or, I don’t know, Turkey or any other country that has an alleged problem with free speech. So that Russian having a negative image in that regard, I think it also stimulates this search for hidden agenda. With some films, that should be more relevant than maybe with How I Ended This Summer.”

The TOL story will be out in a couple weeks. In the meantime, please read this Moscow Times interview, in which the director talks about polar bears and filming in Chukotka.

Jan Svěrák is back. Three years after Vratné lahve, the Oscar-winning Czech director releases his highly anticipated new film, Kuky se vrací (Kuky Returns), out May 20. Here’s the trailer:

Quick! Go read my story on Cooking History, the eye-opening documentary by Peter Kerekes, at Transitions Online before they put it behind subscription!

Bonus for Cinema Free Europe readers: I’ve transcribed below all the recipes found in the film. Happy cooking!

Shashlik for a company of Russian soldiers
1 small cow
10 litres red wine
10 litres grape juice
12 kg tomatoes
0.7 kg paprika
pinch of salt

Kommissbrot for 18 million German soldiers
4,500 tons flour
1,350 tons baking yeast
3,600 tons flour mixture
2,385,000 litres water
54 tons yeast
157.5 tons sourdough mixture
pinch of salt

Poisoned bread for 1000 captured SS men
500 kg flour
360 kg rye flour
40 kg wheat flour
265 liters water
6 kg yeast
8 liters arsenic
pinch of salt

The last supper of Marshall Tito
0.2 liters meat broth
0.3 kg chicken meat, deboned
0.3 kg potato
0.06 kg butter
pinch of salt

Baked veal for 80,000 Croatian soldiers
75 tons veal
50 tons potatoes
3.5 tons onion
2,500 liters oil
1,600 kg Vegeta seasoning
1,240 kg paprika
pinch of salt

Pork paprikash stew for 74,000 Serbian soldiers
75 tons pork
50 tons potatoes
3.5 tons onion
2,500 liters oil
1,600 kg Vegeta seasoning
1,240 kg paprika
pinch of salt

Russian blini pancakes for 11 million fallen Russian soldiers
726 tons fine flour
8,800,000 eggs
550,000 liters water
660,000 liters milk
55 tons sugar
121 tons butter
pinch of salt

Hungarian kolbasz sausage for 120,000 Soviet occupiers
40 tons pork
800 kg paprika
200 kg chili
120 kg garlic
80 kg caraway seed
24 km casing
pinch of salt

Pickled mushrooms for 500,000 Soviet occupiers
25 tons mushrooms
100,000 bay leaves
200,000 red peppercorns
5.5 tons onion
440 kg caraway seed
320 kg mustard seed
20,000 liters vinegar
50,000 liters water
pinch of salt

Coq au vin for 500,000 French soldiers
100,000 cockerels
50 tons carrots
170 tons onions
5.5 tons garlic
200,000 bay leaves
10 shovels of thyme, cloves, black pepper and salt
400,000 liters Burgundy grape brandy or marc
200,000 bottles red Burgundy wine
Half a million baguettes
pinch of salt

Schnitzel for 19 drowned friends
400 g pork
8 eggs
18 tablespoons milk
200 g flour
300 g breadcrumbs
400 ml oil
pinch of sea salt

Police, Adjective won Best Feature Film and five other awards at the Romanian national film celebration, the Gopo Awards. The realist police drama, about an unwilling investigator pressured into pursuing a petty crime, earned Corneliu Porumboiu honors for Best Director and Best Screenplay, Best Actor for Dragoş Bucur, Best Supporting Actor for Vlad Ivanov, and Best Cinematograpy for DOP Marius Pandaru.

Hilda Peter was named Best Actress for her role in Peter Strickland’s thriller Katalin Varga.

The Audience Award for highest-grossing Romanian film went to Tales From The Golden Age, an omnibus project from directors Ioana Uricaru, Hanno Höfer, Răzvan Mărculescu, Constantin Popescu, Cristian Mungiu.

Alexander Nanau real-life drama about a homeless artist, The World According To Ion B.,  was named Best Documentary.

Tudor Cristian Jurgiu’s film Oli’s Wedding got the nod for Best Short Film.

Polish film portal Stopklatka has a report and photos from the set of Agnieszka Holland’s new film Hidden, filming on location in Łódź.

The screenplay is based on Robert Marshall’s book In the Sewers of Lvov. The story takes place during World War II: a hardened thief risks his own life to hide a group of Jews from the Nazis.

Holland told Stopklatka that she is aiming for realism in the film, using a monochromatic palette and sparse dialogue to give the audience the feeling of being in the dark tunnels of the film. (Let’s hope the sensory experience stops there.)

The production’s second unit is led by Holland’s daughter, Kasia Adamik, who recently collaborated with her mother on Jánošík, The True Story.

Hidden is a co-production between Film Studio Zebra (Poland), Schmidtz Katze Filmkollektiv (Germany) and The Film Works (Canada).

Go to Stopklatka for more photos.