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ROTTERDAM 2019 Big Screen Competition

Review: Transnistra

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- Anna Eborn’s lyrical documentary tale of young love and independence has won big at both the Rotterdam and Göteborg Film Festivals

Review: Transnistra

Anna Eborn’s Transnistra [+see also:
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 won both the Big Screen Competition at the International Film Festival Rotterdam and the Dragon Award Best Nordic Documentary at the Göteborg Film Festival, and it’s easy to see why: the film is both a magnificent depiction of young love in a former Soviet territory and also a tribute to American documentaries that essayed the lives of teenagers, made in the 1970s and 1980s. Shot on beautiful Super 16 and with a sublime soundtrack that has a folksy, ethereal ring to it, Eborn’s movie looks at the adolescent lives of Tanya and her gang of male admirers through the attempts by Transnistria to assert its own independence.

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The opening sequences almost seem fictional, such is the romanticism with which Swedish director Eborn captures a group of young teenagers, five boys and one girl, who in their downtime – which is their only kind of time – like to swim in the river, hang out on construction sites and climb tall buildings. In the foreground we see the blossoming of young love, with Tanya the only “game” in town, while in the background we glimpse a place without an identity – nothing but rubble where there should be buildings. This is Transnistria, officially and according to the United States part of the Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic, a sliver of land in the east of Moldova that is approximately 120 miles long and 20 miles wide, and which started a movement for independence after the Soviet Union fell apart. 

Inevitably, there is an end to this innocence, which is so beautifully captured that it’s heart-breaking to see these youngsters confronted with a society that offers them so few opportunities, and where the cultural impact is Russian – especially the amazing pop songs – and the friendships unavoidably become frayed. In the school system, Fidel Castro is quoted as if he were the final word on morality. The world they live in culturally and the bureaucratic world they actually inhabit could not be further apart. 

Eborn has really developed as a director since she appeared at the Venice Film Festival with Pine Ridge [+see also:
film review
trailer
film profile
]
, her lyrical look at the American hinterland. Here she mixes her visual poeticism with a strong narrative thread that allows the story to unfold and change direction, almost surreptitiously switching from idylls to frustrations, trotting through time by using the changing seasons. The one constant is the quality of the soundtrack, giving the film a continually youthful outlook, where every lyric feels like a call to arms. It’s truly remarkable how Eborn uses the power of love to stop this tale from becoming heavy, academic or boring.

It’s a commendable work that feels like On the Road in the way it gives life to the characters, but also makes a social commentary by showing the everyday while letting life take its course – because at the end of the day, the society we live in may not define us, but it often stifles our parameters. This is the seminal album that will ensure that Eborn is a voice that cannot be ignored.

Transnistra is a Swedish-Danish-Belgian production staged by Momento FilmAdomeit Film and Clin d'oeil Films.

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