Slow, meditative films that were thin on plot dominated the awards at the16th Sofia International Film Festival. Grand Prix winner Stories Which Only Exist When Remembered (dir. Julia Murat) centred on a young photographer’s stay amongst the elderly of a small village, while Jaffe Zinn’s Magic Valley traced the discovery of a crime in a quiet town. Konstantin Bojanov won four of the festival’s ten prizes for Avé, a film about two young people hitchhiking across Bulgaria.
Given this general trend in the festival’s prize-giving, it was disappointing that the juries overlooked a film which was of a similar spirit in terms of its plot and pacing, and which treated an important subject in a nuanced way. Özcan Alpek’s Future Lasts Forever concerns Sumru, an ethnomusicologist on a research trip. Her mission is to record Kurdish women singing elegies for male family members who were killed when their villages were attacked by Turks. In the city of Diyarbakir, she meets Ahmet, a film-lover who sells world cinema DVDs at the market. Ahmet becomes drawn into helping Sumru with her work. Together, they listen to women who, before singing their elegies, give horrifying accounts of their experiences. Ahmet and Sumru also work together at a local library to re-organise a large existing archive of atrocities, in readiness for an official investigation that has yet to take place.
Audiences may tend to shy away from films which incorporate talking-head accounts of atrocity. On the one hand, the viewer naturally wants to empathise with the speaker on a personal level, but the horror is such that most can never comprehend the full extent of the speaker’s pain. On the other hand, the violence becomes banal and depersonalised, as the viewer thinks of how many similar events have taken place across the world, now and in the past: the viewer becomes depressed thinking of the inhuman acts that humans have been, and are still, capable of. Comprehending an overwhelming history of suffering becomes even more difficult than confronting it on an individual level.
Future Lasts Forever takes a very balanced approach to its subject matter, however, and this is part of its originality. The film does not simply follow its fictional protagonist’s quest as an ethnomusicologist; it also confronts difficult questions about why she is doing this research. Ahmet is the first to raise the question, muttering darkly about Kurds now being of academic interest. As a Kurd himself, he has been touched by the stories and songs which Sumru is recording. As Sumru is not Kurdish, there is automatically an underlying question of motive. If she were looking at the atrocities per se, it would be easy to see how her research could be motivated by the suffering of fellow humans. The fact that her interest is in elegies, which are a step away from the atrocities themselves, leaves her open to accusations of academic distance from her subject, or worse, of morbidity in her avid interest in sufferings that she is not personally connected with.
Future Lasts Forever incorporates only one short sequence of documentary-style footage of an attack on a Kurdish village, and even this merely hints at the summary executions that took place. The film as a whole is strangely lyrical and peaceful considering its sombre and violent subject matter. Its images of natural beauty, from mist on a wooded mountain road, to rain in a small church courtyard, sent tingles up my spine in a way few films ever have. It is possible that the director intended to reflect the calming, cathartic impact that nature’s beauty, like human art (elegies for the dead, in particular) can have. But the film does not presume to suggest that elegies can neutralise the loss of a loved one. Its title, ‘Future Lasts Forever’, can refer to the fact that the future, as it is always ahead of us, offers a feeling of eternity: it can be a happy place, when you make plans with someone you love, but it can also be an eternally lonely place when you have lost that person forever. When Sumru mourns her own loss, the audience, like the film’s other characters, remain distant from her. The film’s final shot of her walking alone, slowly vanishing, along the edge of a snowy lake, acknowledges loss as something personal, which isolates the individual.