FROM THE EAST (D’EST)(director/writer: Chantal Akerman; cinematographers: Raymond Fromont/Bernard Delville; editors: Claire Atherton/Agnes Bruckert; Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Francois Le Bayon; Icarus Films Home Video; 1993- Belgium/ Portugal/ France-with no dialogue)
“It’s especially suited for cinephiles and fans of Akerman (count me as one) who can roll with the demands made on the viewer to appreciate its understated artistic qualities.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Experimental Belgium born filmmaker Chantal Akerman (“The Captive”/”Jeanne Dielman, 23 Rue du Commerce”/”Night and Day”) shoots this wordless personal semi-fictional documentary about the changing Eastern European landscape. It aims to let the images alone provide the narrative. The director’s parents are Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to Belgium in the 1930s. Her journey to her parents’ homeland captures the faces of those from East Germany, from the cities of Poland and the beaches of the Baltics, and from a wintry Moscow where, for the most part, people warmly dressed quietly sit at a large train station waiting room. This unique doc was made shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Bloc.

From The East is a stunning ideological film that espouses no ideological views, but nevertheless has a lot to say through the images it show us (some are natural, others are deliberately staged). It’s especially suited for cinephiles and fans of Akerman (count me as one) who can roll with the demands made on the viewer to appreciate its understated artistic qualities. The average mainstream viewer without a sense of adventure for a minimalist approach of filmmaking, probably should skip this aesthetic work because it would only bore or confuse them. It differs vastly from commercial docs, and thankfully has no talking heads to tell us what to think. Almost the entire film has people placed against one barren landscape or another while her static camera on a dolly records their facial expressions. There’s also a shot of a sullen young man sitting on a public bench smoking with a bottle of beer at his side, peasant women harvesting potatoes, kids playing in the snow in a hilly Moscow street and a tense young woman sitting alone in her kitchen cutting salami for sandwiches. The film begins in summer and ends in a winter snow. There’s a general feeling of bleakness and uncertainty, as the people whether waiting peacefully on long lines to shop for food or standing in the snowy streets for trolleys or of a small crowd patiently waiting at an amphitheater for an outdoor concert to begin, there’s a feeling something smells rotten in this surreal Denmark. We’re left with the impression that the people of Eastern Europe are an aimless and sad lot always waiting for something to happen, and are probably always expecting the worst (but who really knows what they are waiting for, since we can’t read their minds and there’s such a tremendous gulf between eastern and western cultures).


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”