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VENICE 2005 Horizons

East of Paradise : heroes and victims


Great audacity on the documentary front in the section this year called Horizons at the Venice Mostra. And the experimental work East of Paradise, a majority French production from Agat Films made by the American filmmaker of Polish origin Lech Kowalski is a stunning demonstration of this. Figure of underground cinema, the director, specialist in marginality in all its forms (drugs, lives of the homeless, destroy bands...) completes with his new film a trilogy dedicated to countries from the East and supported by the French-German TV network Arte. Beginning in 2000 with The Boot Factory and his shoe factory in Krakow run by punks, followed in 2002 with the road movie On Hitler’s Highway (motorway to the east built by the Reich), the series concludes with East of Paradise, a stunning work paralleling the life of the filmmaker’s mother during the second world war and that of Lech Kowalski himself in the New York underground.

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Very charismatic, the director’s mother tells her story for an hour, filmed in a virtually empty room. But the extraordinary intensity of her story, nourished by details and emotions caught with extremely sober shots, holds the attention. The tale, which begins in Poland in September 1939 with the double invasion by Germany and Russia, retraces a terrible episode: raids, deportation, goulags, a famine where they ate nits and potato peelings to survive. An odyssey marked by death, forced labour, absurd interrogations by the NKGB and encounters full of humanity as fellow fugitives meet. And so this portrait of the struggle for survival is interrupted by tears until East of Paradise moves brusquely to the beginning of the 80s, into the slipstream of a shady junkie skate-boarder. With the music of Charlie Mingus, Marvin Gaye and James Brown, Lech Kowalski returns to his cinema apprenticeship and his attraction to anarchy. To the rhythm of images from his early documentaries in a dangerous night-time New York city and from his film on the American tour by the Sex Pistols, the filmmaker establishes an unexpected link between those at the bottom of today’s society and the displaced of the second world war, all surviving heroes and victims of totalitarian powers, whether Soviet or ultra-capitalist.

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(Translated from French)

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