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Never Happened | 2019 Warsaw International Film Festival Review

Never Happened | 2019 Warsaw International Film Festival Review

Rewriting History: Bereznakova Presents Fresh View on Two Decade Poli-Scandal

After working short documentaries, experimental and television film formats, Slovak director and video artist Barbora Berezňáková moves into docu feature with Never Happened — where experimental cinematography and contemporary art overlaps with an effort to revise history here. In 1995, Slovakia saw an event that divided political history into “before” and “after”. Unknown persons kidnapped the son of President Michal Kovac. Then the beaten and drunk Kovac Jnr was found in Austria, from where he disappeared without a trace. The President and the Prime Minister of Slovakia accused each other of orchestrating the abduction making for international backlash. Since then, Slovakia has gained the reputation of being a non-democratic country, which uses bandit methods in its political affairs.

In the midst of this storm, a witness, Oskar Fegyveres, fled the country for fear of his life. Robert Remias and journalist Peter Toth were Fegyveres’ only connections to his homeland. A few months later, Remias was killed in a car bombing. Remias’ case was hastily closed, and the flywheel of history continued to spin. The tendency to rethink historical events can be seen not only in Slovak cinema but in neighboring films by Radu Jude in I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians (2018) and a short experimental film A pedepsi, a supraveghea (2019). Reconsidering the collapse of the socialist camp and the formation of one’s own statehood is one of the key issues of concern to directors from these countries. A revised view of the past invariably forces us to reinterpret the present and change the future.

Two decades after the kidnapping, Bereznakova creates a film based on the memories of Fegyveres and the mother of the deceased Remias. The filmmaker uses a variety of material: a family photo archive, television footage, interviews, chronicles, new shots and shots behind the scenes. She looks into history and listens carefully to the witnesses of history. Bereznakova attentively collects the material of their personal drama and brings them together to unpredictable effect. The collection of extremely subjective views becomes the objective image.

As a bizarre collage, Never Happened reveals the work on the creation of history and serves as a tool for rethinking it. Among other things, Bereznakova engages in a dialogue with the fiction film Kidnapping (2017), by Mariana Cengel-Solcanska, which is dedicated to the abduction and subsequent political events. Bereznakova’s film isn’t a manipulation of the viewers’ consciousness or political conclusions but rather it is an honest attempt to show the recent history of Slovakia from a different angle.

The complicated plot of the crime and modern reflection on this topic is heady material for those unfamiliar with the subject at hand. However, Bereznakova’s courageous experiment with the form and format of a documentary allows her to get rid of outdated ideological dogmas. This provides a tool for a fresh vision of the historical perspective, that is needed today.

Reviewed on October 20th at the 2019 Warsaw International Film Festival – Documentary Competition. 80 Mins. Part of the The Fipresci Warsaw Critics Project.


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