Exploring the everyday contours of Bratislava’s urban spaces: Barbora Sliepková’s “Lines”3 min read

 In Central Europe, Focus, Format, Review, Reviews

Lines are symbols imbued with all sorts of changeable meanings: draw a line between two dots and it becomes something that connects; draw one in the sand and it’s a symbol of division and conflict. Lines are contradictory things, simultaneously representing progression and regression. Their meaning is entirely in the eye of the beholder.

In her aptly named 2021 debut feature Lines (Čiary), Barbora Sliepková hones in on the symbolic complexity of the everyday lines which mark out urban spaces, offering the viewer the omnipotent mechanical eye of her camera to observe the varied and complex facets of life in Bratislava, Slovakia’s rich and vibrant capital city. The result is a standout of KineDok’s programme.

Sliepková’s long, naturalistic, black-and-white shots of Bratislava work to instil a sense of gritty realism in the stories she depicts, while simultaneously elevating the film with a poetic visual style that pays homage to French and (naturally) Czechoslovak New Wave filmmakers. Through this distinctive visual poetry, Sliepková highlights the many contrasts that exist throughout her city: old brutalist architecture from the communist era is juxtaposed with older classical buildings and again with new capitalist-style plate glass office blocks. In this focus on architecture in flux, the director tells the story of Bratislava, a city that has inhabited many different identities. Once known as Pressburg, it was an important centre for the Austro-Hungarian empire; subsequently it became a major city of the Czechoslovak First Republic through the democratic interwar period. Its citizens persisted through Nazi occupation and the long period of communist rule that followed, and finally Bratislava emerged as a modern European capital of an independent Slovakian state.

Lines takes root in the everyday lives of a few Bratislavans: a woman seeking companionship in a lonely flat within a brutalist tower block, a young man running in the city’s mayoral election, and, most prominently, a musician and composer who reads the rhythms and melodies of the city as he traverses its streets. There is a loneliness that carries through each of these stories — the film’s subjects are all portrayed with an intimacy that seems to point to a yearning for something bigger than their individual lives; a seemingly unattainable idea of one distinct and defined community. The young musician documents the sonic goings-on of the ever-changing city, trying to make sense of its multitudes by consigning them to an MP3 file. Perhaps this attempt to create a singular document of the city represents a hang-up on the grand political promises of a bygone era that championed strength through homogenisation, or maybe it is simply human instinct to try to make sense of something which has overtaken our understanding. Either way, his story provides an effective metacommentary on Sliepková’s own aims in creating this debut feature, and begs the question: can art ever effectively represent the variety and complexity of urban spaces?

At the film’s conclusion, Sliepková adopts an optimistic tone that points to an ultimate contentment in the elusiveness of these notions of what Bratislava should be — each subject seems happily resigned to carve out their own space within the city’s vast polyphony of voices. Ultimately, this film’s biggest strength lies in the way Sliepková is able to depict the wise, stoic indifference of the city space to these conflicting and disparate lives. The life of the city carries on regardless of the identity imposed upon it, as do the lives of its unique and diverse inhabitants.

Feature Image: Lines / Canva
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