Lossi 36 Recommends: cultural delights for the holidays9 min read
“Christmas time in Central Europe is one of the most joyful and colorful times of the year. Being in Central Asia makes me miss the cinnamon and pine scent in the air and the candle lights flickering and all the wooden decorations attached to beautiful old buildings. Yet, not a single day passes when I am not struck by the sudden mysterious and fascinating cultural delights of Central Asia. There are many other ways to warm one’s own soul in these icy and dark months.” When asking the Lossi 36 crew to share some of their favorite books, movies, and web magazines from the CEERE region, this is what Valentina, a member of our administration team, replied with – and we couldn’t agree more.
With the new year approaching and all that extra time you’ll hopefully find yourself with throughout the holidays, we suggest that you check out what cultural delights our favorite region has to offer. While we can’t promise that our suggestions will provide you with a cheerful holiday spirit, we are willing to bet Khrushchev’s right shoe that you will learn something new about the intricate and beautiful mosaic that makes up the CEERE region.
Augusto Dala Costa
“One of the best movies that I’ve watched in my considerably short lifespan, is the Estonian-Georgian, Oscar-nominated Tangerines. It was launched in 2013 roughly ten years after the Abkhazian War. While not depicting much of the war itself, it is a pungent work about conflict and reconciliation, a heartbreaking reminder that humans are not ultimately made to kill each other. Its accuracy in showing Estonians actually speaking Estonian and having most of the dialog in Russian, the lingua franca of the region, adds to the immersive experience of watching the movie. It was filmed in Guria (a southwestern region of Georgia) and gives you a glimpse of the beautiful landscapes of the South Caucasus. Ultimately a sad movie, it is profoundly instigating and I’m sure it will leave you thinking for a couple of days. All in all, it offers a better understanding of the plurality of the region by showing the many nationalities of it and their (sometimes) problematic, but also diversified relations. Last but not least, the soundtrack is great, including the beautiful work of the Georgian musician Niaz, as well as traditional Georgian music that adds to the movie’s atmosphere.”
Still from the movie Tangerines / Film Comment
“It is always hard to predict how Russian literature will translate into English and therefore be perceived. Being aware of that risk, I’m addressing all of those who know what “War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength” means. I’m reaching to those who think that George Orwell’s novels are the most precise to describe the current state of arts in the CEERE region. I recommend you to check out the novel We written by the not very well-known emigre Soviet writer and engineer Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1921 (28 years before Orwell’s masterpiece 1984).
A bit over 200 pages (quite comparable to Orwell, isn’t it?) will bring you a dozen centuries into the future, to the perfect (read totalitarian) world, where people, paraphrasing Scorpions, are ‘just numbers, not names (for example, the main character is called D-503). They are all part of a perfect mechanism that makes the world spin. Spoiler alert: the walls in their apartments are made of glass, and while everything is available it is limited, purchasable with a power of coupons, but consumed only under supervision (including human warmth).
Whether you’ll prefer We or 1984, it’s really a matter of taste. They are actually very different; from the use of language to the main characters ‘escape.’ What is similar is the role of love and human feelings in general, that throw a monkey wrench into ‘ideally’ looking (or ‘ideally’ perceived?) life.”
“Earlier this year I saw The Factory (2018), a thriller-ish drama by Russian director Yuri Bykov. When a group of workers learn that their factory will be shut down, they take its owner hostage. Like Bykov’s previous hit, 2014’s The Fool, The Factory is deeply pessimistic, full of glum lighting and uncomfortable depictions of poverty in the Russian countryside. Also like The Fool it is concerned with questions of change: Is change possible? If so, can change happen without great sacrifice? And: can change be brought about in a principled manner, or does it require ethical compromise? Philosophical questions are broken up by several nicely-choreographed fight scenes.
Russian queer online magazine / Otkrytye
Late in 2018, a new Russian queer-themed magazine appeared online, and it has already generated quite a following. In just a couple of months, Otkrytye (‘Open’) has garnered thousands of followers on social media and produced several provocative and high-quality interviews, essays, and photo projects. While the overall philosophy of equality and openness will be familiar to Western readers, Otkrytye is focused on Russian issues, and its photography and reportage have already taken strides to establish a unique queer-Russian aesthetic. Take note of their recent interviews with gay men in Irkutsk, a remote region chronically underrepresented in Russian studies.”
“A little gem floating around the interwebs is Adamdar, a portal that focuses on Central Asian and Caucasian cultural trinkets; from poems about a heartwarming bowl of plov to photo essays on elderly masters living in the mountains of Tajikistan, there is something to discover for everyone.
In the wintertime, there might be nothing more welcoming than a warm meal shared with not only your taste buds but also with your ever-curious mind. If you are looking to discover flavors and understand some of the anthropological backgrounds behind the beauty of Central Asian cuisine, then the book by Caroline Eden and Eleanor Ford is the right pick for you! The book, Samarkand: Recipes & Stories from Central Asian & The Caucasus, will take you on a journey not only through the intensely winding roads of the history of the different blends of cultures in Central Asia, but it will also open up your mind to try a new culinary paradise!
Still from the movie Would you like to stargaze / Vimeo
Lastly, I leave you with a thoughtful Kazakh film called Would you like to stargaze? (2018). A film by the highly acclaimed Kazakh director Emir Baygazin. The film is a short black and white drama about a young man meeting a young woman set in a starry Almaty setting. Let yourself be carried away into a calm world so close to one’s own perception of reality. When the rhythmic peaceful seconds of time create sobriety of moments.”
“As tensions between Russia and Ukraine reach alarming levels this festive season, perhaps now more than ever are we in need of art that approaches conflicts of this kind in a thoughtful and reflective way without slipping into tendentious and accusatory political messages.
I was pleasantly surprised recently by Cyborgs (2017), a Ukrainian film that came out last year and went almost unnoticed by Western audiences and critics. The film tells the story of the Ukrainian army’s tenacious defense of Donetsk Airport against sustained assault from separatist forces in early 2015. Whilst at first glance the film may easily be dismissed as a propaganda effort, over the course of the story we encounter a diverse range of different characters among the defenders of the smoking ruins of the airport, each with their own attitudes towards the conflict and their own personal motivation for fighting. Outright hostility towards the separatists and the Russian world are not shared by all members of the platoon, different views are aired and clash; the film’s dialogue switches fluidly between Russian and Ukrainian.
Above all, as with all good war films, the emphasis eventually falls on the common humanity shared between fighters on both sides, and the human wreckage that is the tragic price of misunderstanding between communities. Not exactly a barrel of laughs, but an example of some much-needed meditative and engaging filmmaking from the region.”
“Macedonia and Moldova. Two worlds that are usually associated with liminality and frequently imagined as spaces where extremes meet. This image of the ‘East’ is reflectively internalized and often, especially in arts, sarcastically exploited by the ‘Easterners.’ The movie ‘Eastern Business’ (2016) of Moldovan filmmaker Igor Cobileanski and ‘Secret Ingredient’ (2017) of the Macedonian director Gjorce Stavreski both display what we can call the ‘dialectic of the post-whatever society,’ In this post-constellation of eternal transition, one can be central only in their liminality. The extreme actions are the only mechanisms to moderate reality.
Still from the movie Eastern Business / Hollywood Reporter
‘Eastern Business’ is a funny movie about encounters. Meeting people, meeting love, meeting politics, but never parting from the ‘East.’ The impossibility for escape is maybe possible because the ‘East’ does not exist and this is precisely what makes it ‘real.’
The secret ingredient of Gjorce Stavrevski’s film is brutal honesty. While sincere in its nude anguish, the emotion that the movie radiates is far from tearful. The Balkan laughter over pain, impasse, and marginality is at its finest in this Macedonian nominee for the Academy Awards 2019.”
“During Christmas time in the Czech Republic, no matter how old you are, you have to watch some fairy tales with your family and friends. Even though they show the same fairy tales every year, it has become part of the Czech Christmas traditions. There is something miraculous in that tiny moment when the family gathers in the living room around the TV to watch Cinderella (1973) or a fairy tale called Mrazík (1965). Originally from Russia, Mrazík nevertheless it is far more famous in the Czech lands, which is a little bit curious. It is a fairy tale about how one should be humble and take care of other people and always help them if they need assistance. The Czech version of Cinderella has become a classical movie based on the Grimm brothers’ tale. As Christmas is the celebration of peace and happiness, so are the fairy tales; this might be the reason why we all love them and especially at this time of the year. The story of a poor village girl and a nobleman defeating evil is all that really matters, and is somehow coupled with Christmas in the Czech Republic.”