Absurdistan: The Central and Eastern European Cinema of the Absurd

Welcome to Absurdistan.

The Czech term conjures up a distant nonsense land. But the word refers to the absurdities homegrown in the Czechoslovak and other socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe, from the end of World War II until – for most of these countries – the revolutions of 1989.

This programme marks the 30th anniversary of the liberation of the former socialist republics from their repressive governments. We are screening restored films from Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Romania and former Czechoslovakia. The shared sensibility of the absurd unites these diverse nations, and their films from documentaries to sci-fi, allegory, satire and multi-media animations.

The Central and Eastern European sense of the absurd brewed over the centuries when peoples of the region could not determine their fates. The absurd overflowed in the gaps between the ideals and realities of their socialist states: between the happiness they were supposed to enjoy and the material hardships they faced; the failure of basic services, strictures of official culture, pretenses of public life, physical and spiritual confinement, ruin of the landscape, fantasies of escape and the search for daily dignity within regimes that refused to admit any flaw. Unlike the idea of the absurd in Western Europe, the absurd in the East was a personal, concrete and everyday experience.

These films evoke the liberties that Central and Eastern Europeans only intermittently enjoyed in the 20th century and that again feel fragile in the 21st. Each film resonates beyond the system that created it, to show how remote certain rights once were and how precarious they remain. Glossy or stark, scathing and playful, these films express the ludicrousness of authoritarian rule through creative varieties of absurdity.

Guest Programmer: Gabriel M. Paletz

Gabriel M. Paletz earned the first PhD at the University of Southern California in film studies with a minor in film production. He has since taught filmmaking from the Czech Republic to Ethiopia, curated film series from Kosovo to Hong Kong, and is now finishing a book on Orson Welles.