With the world’s biggest film festivals already announcing this year’s lineups, (including the prestigious Sundance Festival) there’s no better time to add a few hotly-anticipated releases to your 2022 watchlist. Here at The Calvert Journal, we’ve rounded up five of the best films — and TV shows — that we can’t wait to stream, with directors from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Based on the critically acclaimed video game with the same name, this eagerly anticipated HBO series is set in a post-apocalyptic world of the near-future. There, hardened smuggler Joel (Pedro Pascal) finds himself in the company of teenage Ellie (Bella Ramsey), a girl who seems mysteriously immune to the mutated fungus that has largely destroyed humanity as we know it. Written and produced by Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann, the game’s writer and creative director, the series is a truly international affair, bringing together cast and crew from all over the world. Russian director Kantemir Balagov will direct two out of the show’s ten episodes, including the pilot, working alongside Ksenia Sereda, the cinematographer of his 2019 Oscar-shortlisted film Beanpole. Bosnian director Jasmila Žbanić, best known for her Oscar-nominated 2020 war drama Quo Vadis, Aida?, will also direct an episode.
Paul Negoescu’s fourth feature, Men of Deeds, centres around the character of Ilie, played by Iulian Postelnicu. In his late 30s, Ilie works as a policeman in a northern Romanian village and leads a rather quiet life — even if not everything he does is strictly above board. Then, a dramatic event forces him to take a closer look at his own moral values and those of his neighbours, prompting a difficult decision on the kind of person that Ilie wants to be. Negoescu seeks to explore a personal ethical crisis by focusing on the problems of toxic masculinity and perpetuated abuse of power. “My interest in these characters was their inability to adapt, as they are all unable to connect with their emotions, running from reality until fate forces a reality check upon them,” the director told Cineuropa.
Bálint Szentgyörgyi’s eight-part spy drama is set in 80s Hungary — or more specifically, at the Budapest University of Economics. Co-produced and distributed by HBO Europe, the show follows freshman Geri, who has just moved to the capital from the countryside in a bid to study. Along the way, he parties, finds friends, and falls in love — all while reporting to the State Security Department on the actions of his fellow students. His younger brother is gravely ill, and it is within the state’s power to provide him with a life-saving medicine — if Geri proves useful. But the closer he gets to his rebellious classmates and the better he understands their values, the less obvious this choice becomes. What sets Informant and its otherwise classic premise apart is Szentgyörgyi’s exploration of the reality of young people in a totalitarian state: the paradoxical condition of being hopeful for the future, while knowing that these hopes can be crushed at any point.
Another work reckoning with a communist past, Captain Volkonogov Escaped goes as far back as 1938. It is a surreal story of an NKVD agent, who, in a not-so-sudden turn of fate, is hounded down by his former colleagues. Volkonogov knows he will ultimately be captured, but when he gets a message from Hell that he still has chance to repent, he takes on this challenge and tries to redeem himself before it’s too late. Captain Volkonogov is not a grave slow-paced drama, but a gloriously designed, action-packed movie: the titular character is on the run quite literally, storming through the heavily stylised streets of Leningrad. As soon as the film premiered at the Venice Film Festival, it was praised as the most powerful Russian film of the recent years — and only gained relevance since, in light of the recent closure of Russian human rights’ group Memorial, an organisation that researched Stalinist purges in the Soviet Union.
While the title of this film is sometimes translated as “Poet”, in Kazakh culture, akyns are far more than wordsmiths: their works are improvised and sung to the accompaniment of a dombra, a traditional plucked string instrument. Darezhan Omirbayev’s feature film focuses on two akyns: Didar, a 30-something editor at a small newspaper, and his hero, Makhambet Otemisuly, a legendary 19th century poet, composer, and political leader, who led rebellions against the then-dominant Russian empire. Otemisuly wasn’t the only literary inspiration behind the film: the director said the idea for it actually came from Herman Hesse’s short story Autorenabend (“Author’s Night”), where the narrator comes to a town for a reading only to learn that even the people who invited him have no interest in literature. Akyn premiered at the Tokyo Film Festival, where Isabelle Huppert headed the international jury that awarded Omirbayev Best Director. This year, the film was included in the first 10 titles of Berlinale’s Forum programme.