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Cleveland International Film Festival - 2003

     Remember the church wedding and dance in the pre-Vietnam section of The Deer Hunter (1978), which take place in rural Pennsylvania? As I learned in March during an Ohio visit, both scenes were actually shot in downtown Cleveland at, respectively, a Russian Orthodox church and a Ukrainian-American center. After Chicago, Cleveland is the most Eastern European ethnic of American cities, with emigrant populations from not only the ex-Soviet Union countries but Rumania, Serbia, Poland, Hungary, Croatia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic.
     It makes sense that the Cleveland International Film Festival, seeking an identity different from a hundred other American fests, showcases the cinema of Central and Eastern Europe. A jury prize is given to the best film of a dozen Central or Eastern Europe selections in competiton. This year's competition included the autobiographical documentary, Reconstruction, by Newton's Irene Lusztig, in which the filmmaker heads to Bucharest to investigate what sent her Jewish-Rumanian grandmother to jail for bank robbery.
     During a long March weekend at the 27th Cleveland Fest, I saw the Deliverance-influenced Guardian of the Frontier, in which three frequently barebreasted Slovenian babes confront the brute countryside, and Lilya 4-Ever, a Russia-language feature from Sweden's popular director, Lukas Moodysson (Show Me Love, Together). Moodyson's latest is a gruesome tale of a lost 16-year-old Russian girl lured to Sweden for a job which turns out to be forced prostitution. I had to veil my eyes during a barrage of sweaty, beefy Swedes having ugly, noisy orgasms in Lilya's frail body.
     The 10-day Cleveland Fest is an intelligent, sophisticated, and inviting one, smartly curated, and something adventurous filmgoers might consider next March: Hotels are cheap in Cleveland; and, while there, you can ease on down to the happening, pleasingly non-kitsch Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.

(April, 2003)


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