A sharpened focus on Europe's fringes

WITH communism's collapse and globalization's bloom, Eastern and Southern European cinema has inevitably had to remake itself. But in what image? In Films From the New Europe on Friday and Saturday, USC's film school and its Visions and Voices humanities initiative will showcase an eclectic sampling of post-Cold War movies addressing that question.

The idea is to highlight work that mixes artistic rigor, the region's identity politics and a dynamic ability to entertain, says the series' co-organizer, Aniko Imre, a critical studies professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

"They defy the reputation of films from Eastern Europe as not being audience-friendly," she says. "They have a cultural mission to complete, but they're also aesthetically innovative and show emerging, fast-changing cultures that people would otherwise not have access to."

Case in point: "We have an animated ghetto movie full of hip-hop, and that's something very new coming out of Eastern Europe," Imre says.

She's referring to the Hungarian feature "The District," a senses-scorcher that starts like a rap-infused "West Side Story" set among teen gangs before it transforms into a time-travel satire of globalization involving woolly mammoths, inner-city oil derricks and prostitute spies controlled by Vladimir Putin. If a society's confusion ever dictated a cinematic style, it's here: Old and new technologies -- including the cutout and the computer-generated -- combine for a psychotically textured urban cartoon. (Want more animated fare? There's also a program of Eastern European shorts from pre- and post-Soviet years.)

Other highlights include Fatmir Koci's "Tirana Year Zero," one of the first Albanian movies to get an American release. It contains another arresting visual metaphor by showing a landscape of beaches, pastures and sea alongside a rutted, abandoned civilization; various Albanians argue the merits of leaving the place for an imagined better world or staying put. Koci will be at USC to discuss the film, as well as his new Albanian history documentary, "The Land of Eagles," which also screens.

Perhaps the most well known of the program's films is Romanian Corneliu Porumboiu's reflective, funny "12:08 East of Bucharest," in which three dignity-challenged citizens argue on TV whether the 1989 revolution actually happened in their town.

As "Bucharest's" protagonists and many other characters in the films being shown at USC realize, processing a stifled past while looking toward an uncertain future is no simple exercise.

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FILMS FROM THE NEW EUROPE

WHERE: Norris Theatre, USC, 3507 Trousdale Parkway, L.A.

WHEN: 7 p.m. Fri. (animated shorts), noon Sat. ("12:08 East of Bucharest"), 7 p.m. Sat. ("The District"); see website for full schedule

PRICE: Free; reservation required

INFO: cinema.usc.edu

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