Thursday, 13 December

Children of cannibals renounce meat

Writer’s Residency in Vienna knocked me down with an accident at the start, which is hard to consider simply a strange coincidence. I came here at the beginning of October. Before that, I had finished translating a novel, in which the protagonist wants his father – as if dead during the Yugoslav Wars officer, but in fact, he’s a war criminal on the run.

The boy isn’t lucky for a long time, he got himself tangled up in fragmentary documentary evidence and relatives’ lies, stumbles upon different obstacles but finally finds out the truth. And former father’s friends arrange a meeting with his father, which becomes an overture to a short and dramatic finale. A meeting takes place in Vienne, at Stomach restaurant on the Seegasse Street. Do I need to say that my tempory Vienne dwelling turned out to be located on the Seegasse Street, window facing Stomach restaurant? And two months on end I was watching motley Austrian Balkan diaspora occasionally gathering here.

And that’s why I finally managed to catch up the film of Ognjen Glavonic The Load. The film was at the Molodist festival in Ukraine, where I missed it, but now it was brought to the local Viennale film festival. The Load was marked by the jury but I failed to google any serious reflections on the film thesis – more often you can end up reading bewildered remarks on the subject that this picture was the last participant of the competition program. It’s all weird and vain. The Load must be seen to understand which particular material we will have to work within the near future.

The protagonist of the film, taciturn and aloof Vlada, who after the decay of his industrial town should work as a driver for extremely weird and dangerous militants. Such drivers are many, their task is to deliver a truck, loaded with who-knows-what and locked up on a thick chain, from Kosovo to Belgrade as soon as possible and without unnecessary questions. The main decoration of the film, built on details instead of neck-breaking action, is this wormhole of a difficult road. At the background – the end of the 90th, Kosovo War led by Serbia (another one almost unvoiced topic for us). And Belgrade, on which the bombs of NATO are falling. Despite this, Serbian director Glavonic managed to overstep the trauma of his people and film a thing which spells out the crimes of these people which aren’t justified by any trauma. So, Vlada in an outstanding performance of Croat Leon Lučev looks for a route to Belgrade in the unfamiliar outskirts, he rounds a blocked bridge, on which the cars are on fire, picks up a castaway boy Paja at the ferriage, looks for a phone everywhere to call a sick wife to find out about the results of the test, chases criminals on an accidental bus stop, gets caught by the operator’s lens who’s filming a phantasmagoric wedding in a roadside motel, explains the police that he knows nothing about his load, handing them a prepared by the clients envelope with documents and thus escaping the problems. And all this at the background of sound which doesn’t allow you to get distracted and makes you shudder every time: a hollow stomping and a thud roll over in the back of the truck.

Finally, Vlada arrives at this destination on the Belgrade suburbs, gives a truck to the clients and stays in the dark abandoned “office” till the morning, waiting for the promised reward. And accidentally sees how the corpses are taken from the trucks and thrown into a beforehand dug pit. Shovels stay nearby – the traces must vanish till the morning. Then, Vlada washes the car with water from the Danube, suffocating and vomiting from the corpse stench inside the trailer. Washed with a strong jet of hose, a woman’s chain with pendant swings on the frame. When Vlada climbs inside, something rolls towards him. He catches it with a grubby hand – it turns out a “clicker”, a colorful glass ball, beautiful and insanely popular toy of Yugoslav children. And this ball as if the last drop that evidences not only the death of a child (a stuck to the dog’s neck lollipop, which Vlada shakes off at the beginning of the film, now gains new weight) but states that Yugoslavia with all its diversity and common denominators as well as a normal co-living, now and forever stay in the past. After all, Vlada returns home, getting earned money and a new similar task. Have breakfast with the wife. Talks to the son. Searches for a working camera before setting off for work – an open end, which is easy to think through. Thus, The Load turns into The Burden – there’s is such layer of meaning in the original name Teret.

This film is called anti-Serbian. Young filmmaker Ognjen Glavonic filmed the feature film sequel of his documental work Depth Two, dedicated to the opening of Batajnicka jama, the mass grave of civilian Albanians killed by the Serbs during the Kosovo War. I’m more inclined to consider this film pro-Serbian, in which my peer works like this with the sins of the generation of parents. There’s something from a great cleaning, from cleansing with the hands mass burials. The Load is sewed at the core with the theme of parents and children connection, painful and inseparable. Driver Vlada values father’s memorial lighter, on which there’s an engraving to the fifteenth anniversary of the battle near Sutjeska – Second world War legend when Yugoslav troops in May 1943 finally defeated the Axis powers. The boy Paja, whose negligence results in family relic loss, flees to Belgrade from father, a militant, one time in his time commanded to a small Serbian town – flees without purpose despite his talks about further relocating to Germany. Actually, he just comes to sit and cry in his old yard, on the swing, where the “Paja – tsar” is scratched.

Little criminals, who steal Vlada’s lighter from the open cabin, hide inside the memorial to another great battle of the Second World War, battle near Popina in October 1941, when partisan and Nazi forces faced for the first time. This memorial is also known as “Sniper” because his form imitates sniper scope. Among all memorable inscriptions, there’re also words that if necessary, it can be used again. Here the moment of acute loneliness comes because it’s only you who shudder in the auditorium – it strikingly looks like the familiar “we can repeat”. These ghosts of former parents’ glory pursue the driver Vlada everywhere – here and there the mentions of Sutjeska are spilled, letters with the depiction of that memorial and mass burial he observes from the dark window of the room, encumbered with portraits of Josip Broz Tito, among which there’s a young Tito-partisan. At home, Vlada talks to the son, angry with him because of his constant absence and grandfather’s lighter which went astray. Vlada tells an impressing story about same Sutjeska where his father and grandfather lost a brother. He found him only after fifteen years, on the ceremonial anniversary when he saw a ramose nut tree: his brother loved nuts and always carried them in the pockets. His skeleton was found near the roots of the tree. Or may all the Kosovars, thrown into the Batajnicka jama have had nuts in the pockets? The son listens to Vlada’s revelations and runs to do more important business. NATO’s planes scatter the postcards on their yards, which call on Serbia to stop, because “the arsenals of democracy are deep”. The teens from the house together stack dry grass in some composition, then set it on fire – they made a giant, seen from the sky, phallus. The film, scene after scene takes the air away from you but when on the post-session discussion in the hall the director himself suddenly drops a phrase, “I was a kid when my father went to the front in Croatia, who knows what he was doing there” – this becomes a defective pixel in the centre of a high-resolution picture. Vladan’s father, the character of the book I mentioned at the beginning, also went to the front in Croatia. There, he devastated and burnt a village to the ground where only the civilians lived. His son doesn’t want to put up with this knowledge.

Gudrun Himmler is said to have loved his father tenderly. She didn’t refuse her cursed surname, didn’t believe in father’s suicide, sought to rehabilitate him and write a book about him. When she, a fifteen-year-old, and her mother were arrested in 1945, she swore to herself never to cry. Announced a hunger strike in the camps where they were detained. Applying to the school of applied art, in the field “father’s profession” she wrote “Reichsführer-SS”. Devotion to the family curse cost her years of wandering, problems at work and social neglect. Finally, the marriage and the surname Burwitz saved her. More, she created an organization “Silent Aid” to aid Nazi families. And here’s Bettina Goering, a grand-daughter of Reichsmarshal Herman, now living in Mexica and curing people with herbs. She consciously refused from having children because she considers herself terribly similar to her grandfather and is afraid to give birth to another monster. In general, it’s important not to have needless illusions and understand that in the quadrangle “Father, who doesn’t renounce the crime – Father, who repents – Child, who doesn’t accept the repentance – Child, who worships the crime and continues it” any combination is possible.

I often thought about the lives of the descents of the organizers and performers of the Ukrainian Holodomor. Not even those who have planned everything in the highest offices, blood-spattering the maps, but a miserable Soviet man – a local authority, a collective farm head, a Komsomolets (young communist – translator’s note), an activist who grabbed bread out of people’s hands, looking into their eyes. Of different Kukhovarenko’s Pysarevka’s, Korol’s, Pyoryshok’s, Polyovyi’s, Pastushchakyv’s hands – and it’s only a pinch from the list of such people in the Vinnytsia region. Are the same anxiety and distrust of the word sitting in their descents as in those who inherited the knowledge of the survived possibility of a terrible hunger death.

Is everything sitting well in them? Is there any ghostly possibility that one of their descents is now freezing with a rifle in the trench in our East? Maybe, someone will go on the tram next to me with a certificate of PMA (participant of military actions – translator’s note) when I return to Ukraine. And suddenly, a poll on Holodomor, conducted about a decade ago on Ukrainian BBC forum comes to my mind. And there, one of the respondents claimed that in his family there are executioners and victims and everyone perfectly co-exists because the descents of both met and fell in love at the Moscow University. In fact, attempts to argue “fraternal Ukrainian and Russian peoples” through Holodomor is an American technology. Ten years were needed for this phase to become wild so as to make hair stand on end. And what kind of years!

Here, in Vienna, I chanced to witness a fiery Balkan clash, let call it so, in same Stomach restaurant. One participant was most likely to be a Serbian – he’s standing at the entrance, screaming without addressing into the night: “I know who broke down Yugoslavia! These are all Ustashes, Balijas and Shqiptars! I’ll kill them all!”. He was bald and threatening but objectively he couldn’t be older than me. He screamed into the night the knowledge of his parents. Satiated Vienne gulped it and burped without reacting. In the neighboring to the restaurant flat, nobody winced from the scream – a man in a warm robe turned off a vacuum cleaner and stood still on the orbitrek, I saw it well from the window.

The world is constantly moving. During the years of war, we got used to building up subtle analogies, didn’t we? Right now, someone drives the truck on the bumpy Donbas steppes and listens to his two hundred load thumping in the back of the truck. Decides something for himself, chooses his side. Someone’s descent decides to bring to the world more than his ancestors took away. Someone recalls that grandparents fought and the price for a barrel of oil is falling and falling and, cursing, sends his ship to ram the Ukrainian boat. In the immense human jigsaw puzzle of cannibals and their victims, there always will be the one, who renounces meat and the one, who defends the ancient tradition of feeding. It’s important to always tell apart: a cannibal isn’t the one who devours his own kind, crushed with hunger insanity or at the gunpoint. A cannibal is the one who forces to do so.

 Kateryna Kalytko

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