The first six of the twelve films in the Balkan Competition of the 28th Sofia Film Fest

The Balkan Competition of the Sofia International Film Festival is always exciting because it presents some of the most relevant films made in the region last year. This year's programme includes 12 film narratives from the Balkans. We present you 6 of them.

"M", a co-production by North Macedonia, Croatia, France, Luxembourg and Kosovo, is a film about an eight-year-old boy growing up in a post-apocalyptic era. When Marco is old enough to come out of the wild forest and explore the world, he meets psychopaths, but also heavily armed bounty hunters who sow evil in the name of good. "Since I was very young, my father used to tell me how it’s our responsibility to make the world slightly better. Until his last days he persistently claimed I must believe that films should also bare those ideas. Today, I comprehend his sadness and confusion of the reality that we live in, and the worry of the bleak outcome that our future may bring.” says director Vardan Tozija.

Tudor Giurgiu's "Libertate" (Romania-Hungary) transports viewers to the chaotic days of the December 1989 revolution that toppled the communist regime. The Transylvanian city of Sibiu becomes the scene of a bloody confrontation between soldiers, policemen, civilian protesters and members of the secret police. The situation escalated to such an extent that the army threw hundreds of prisoners accused of terrorism into an empty swimming pool.

Years ago, a live stream of a beating of a man by a group of people in the centre of Ljubljana went viral on the internet. Hundreds if not thousands of people watched it live and no one reacted in any way, not even by calling the police. This real-life event serves as the starting point for Janez Burger's latest film "Observing", a co-production of Slovenia, Italy, Croatia and North Macedonia. As in most of Burger's feature films, he explores society and its lack of empathy and humanity. The most important question in this case is whether the act of observing a crime without having a response, and especially in a digitalized world, is not a crime in itself and what the sentence for such an act should be.

Variety describes Sofia Exarchou's second film "Animal" as "a poignant portrait of life amid the sequins and the seediness of a Greek resort”. The story introduces us to a group of artists on an island preparing for the busy tourist season. "Animal" (Greece-Austria-Romania-Cyprus-Bulgaria) enters the Balkan competition after several prestigious awards - "Golden Alexander" at the Thessaloniki International Competition, a team award, and a shared Best Actress prize for Dimitra Vlagopoulou, whose acting was also awarded at the Locarno Festival. Nominated for Best Film in Valladolid, Sarajevo and Gothenburg, Sofia Exarchou's work was awarded the Vanguard Prize in Vancouver.

At a time when global interest in science has been boosted by the success of the hit film "Oppenheimer", Dragan Bjelogrlić's "Guardians of the Formula", a co-production of Serbia, Slovenia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, offers a highly compelling look at a little-known episode that marks a historical intersection between medicine and nuclear science. Based on Goran Milasinovic's book "The Vinča Case," this elegantly constructed film centres on the ethical and ideological dilemmas of brilliant scientists who are forced to find a way out of a situation in which their colleagues find themselves accidentally exposed to a serious amount of radiation. The story follows their transformation, caught in a research environment behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, but also the development of the quest to find the key - even through an extremely painful, potentially lethal procedure - to the hope of saving lives. The film won two prizes at the Locarno Film Festival, and the Audience Awards in Sarajevo and Palm Springs. 

A lost fiancée on the streets of Istanbul and a man trying to find the truth - is there a choice or is everything predestined? The fate of the two young people is told in the Turkish-Bulgarian co-production "Life" by Turkish director Zeki Demirkubuz. It follows the peripeteia of a young girl who is forced by her father to marry, but runs away from home in disagreement, while the groom-to-be is determined to find out the reason for her behaviour. In this detailed, skilfully constructed dramatic story, patriarchal traditions and attitudes to modern life collide; they may not exist in sync, but their different elements shape reality in many conservative societies even in the 21st century.

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