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In many ways, the refreshing and observing Cat in the Wall film by Mina Mileva and Vesela Kazakova would have been served better by a Cat in the Property title; At times trying to make its own mind which narrative path to follow, it still registers a sense of loss for communal dreams of co-habitation in a London area ready to welcome Brexit.

The film focus is Irina (Irina Atanasova) an energetic, irritable but still common-sense minded Bulgarian in London. IIrina owns her own flat in South Eastern London, in a building that was probably the result of post-WWII social welfare benefit politics (but now it seems to have been left to its own devices). Irina has many artistic projects that won't really materialize, and a night bar job to feed her 5-year-old son Jodo (Orlin Asenov). Her historian brother Vladimir (Angel Genov), a rather dreamy character but a delight to be with kids, lives with her in a perennial search for a work.

And there are the neighbours. In a film where gentrification is even spelled out and debated on screen, the most interesting aspect are now the conflicts appearing between old and new immigrants, UK and Europeans, dogs and cats. An early narrative thread that points out to the restoration of the whole building (with owners having to pay at least 26,000 GBP for its maintenance) seems to move towards Ken Loach territory. Irina, as the most energetic among her neighbors, organizes a meeting for flat owners and building tenants, everything is debated and then decided that nothing can be done.

Here enters Goldie, the ginger cat. For a cat who only appears for a very limited screen time, Goldie has indeed a crucial role to play and unite both the themes of disappointment, and disenchantment with what is used to be communal and neighbourly - now only a battleground for more fights. In a twist of expectations, Goldie won't unite the opposing fractions, it will simply mess up things so much that all politeness will go haywire. Being the contestant for two families, it will simply be the ex machina animal to put those against each other.

Cat in the Wall proceeds in many revelations and stories (of abuse, exhibitionism) that seem altogether real - the area is portrayed as nothing less like an abandoned place ready to go on fire- yet seem to be thrown in to add more credibility to a theme that is already plausible enough.  Camerawork utilizes both the external and the internal, and it is particularly impressive in those balcony moments - the place where two different worlds meet. And it is also a wonder to immerse in the worn-out flat of Debby, an English lady now retired from her own hopes but being joined by the disparate likes of Marley, Bowie in her wall.

Exercising a less firm hand over the amount of drama the film really wants to allow, Cat in the Wall still purrs with genuine affection and attracts your attention. It is a blue-tinged story of people who would really like to get along with each other, if they had the understanding, education or opportunity -but apparently they can't.

Vassilis Kroustallis

 

CREDITS:
Director: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova | Country: Bulgaria, Great Britain, France (2019, 1:32) | Producer: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova | Screenwriter: Mina Mileva, Vesela Kazakova | DoP: Dimitar Kostov | Editor: Donka Ivanova | Music: Andy Cowton | Cast: Irina Atanasova, Angel Genov, Orlin Asenov | Production: Activist38, Ici et Là Productions

 


There is a fine line between sordid reality and dreamy realism in the solid, tense and deeply engaging social drama Oleg by Latvian Juris Kursietis. It could be the almost otherwordly face and the lost presence of its main actor (an equally subdued performance by Valentin Novopolskij); yet overall, Oleg is this mixture of still daring to dream in post-Dublin II unified Europe, with a theological framework (overworked) to use as a framing device.

The breathtaking zoom-in shot of the opening scene, with Oleg as a dot in icy Latvian surroundings in fetal position, gives the tone for the whole story. He is the lamb to be sacrificed, as his (not to be seen) granny tells him so.

In reality, Oleg is a butcher ('cuts meat') and has arrived at Ghent, Belgium on an alien's passport (a source of joke later on in the film), and a specific job description as a reason for his staying. Mishaps, lack of solidarity that his fellow workers exhibit, and direct accusations make Oleg lose his job and staying place. In a rather frenetic camera movement which follows him closely, Oleg now seeks a new beginning.

Here comes the unreliable, with bursts of violence but seemingly helpful Polish Andrzej (a tour-de-force turn from Dawid Ogrodnik), a small-time gangster who loves his teenage daughter, but actually maltreats his new girlfriend Malgosia (Anna Próchniak). The conflict with Andrzej is actually the heart of the film and the element that keeps the Latvian drama away from an all-encompassing Dardennes territory. What matters in Oleg is never social justice, but social confusion. Ethnicities, characters and languages parade and alternate in a kind but rather powerless Belgian environment.

With a color palette that is never inviting (except for night shots and Latvian forests), there is the right amount of tension and wrong twists and turns that Oleg takes to check out of his trap. A brief excursion to the Latvian community dinner in Brussels brings a fleeting relationship, but also cements that he has no help from his compatriots. The new Europe is an unknown field, where he has to choose if he is the hunted or the hunter.

One of the best scripted scenes in Oleg comes when the main character has to learn how to shoot in the open field, under the guidance of Andrzej. It is a point of failure and of no return. Screenwriter and director Juris Kursietis makes you care for this 'sacrificial lamb',  presenting him as neither too gullible nor too knowleadgeable; he could be any foreigner worker with a lot of dreams.

The theological framing of Oleg does not do the film justice, and feels forced for a character whose only real affection is his work and his granny. Yet Kursietis successfully mounts tension in a gripping drama of characters which won't stray away from its main target: to show that a European dreamer can be a contradiction in terms.

Vassilis Kroustallis

  

CREDITS:
Oleg, 2019 (1' 48'')

Director: Juris Kursietis Latvia, Lithuania, Belgium, France | Producer: Alise Gelze, Aija Berzina | Screenwriter: Juris Kursietis |  DoP: Bogumil Godfrejow  |  Editor: Matyas Veress |  Cast: Valentin Novopolskij, Dawid Ogrodnik, Anna Próchniak, Guna Zarina, Adam Szyszkowski | Production: asse Film, Iota Production, In Script, Arizona Productions

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