Director: Chantal Akerman
This stylised documentary from the (always art) House of Akerman is the product of the director's travels from East Germany to Moscow shot over some six months. Without the conventional documentary techniques of voiceover, commentary or even inter-titles, From The East makes the most of striking composition and heightened sound grabs to catch the nuances of space, expression, distance, movement and volume that go to make up 'the East'. There's more than a touch of Antonioni in Akerman's ability to capture the ominous stillness that characterises a series of cultures at the crossroads. In fact, roads are an important element of this documentary - from the shiny opening shots of cars speeding down a motorway, the film gives way to a veritable convoy of people caught in between places and acts - cycling, ambling, posing, preparing, patiently waiting for buses or trains or just plain hanging out. It's a procession of the personal that marks a political difference. Akerman evocatively reveals the 'East' to be a world poised or suspended - a place of twilights but also of dawns. It is only at the end of the film that Akerman gives her subject the stage - a cello concerto that perfectly complements the elegiac tone that From The East sets throughout it many stories.
Chantal Akerman has avoided the sensationalism typical of so many documentaries attempting to trace the significant changes occurring in Eastern Europe. This is a rich film that never takes the cheap shot at the expense of the former Eastern Bloc. The people that fill From The East stare ambivalently toward, and often past, the camera - looking through the lens at another time or place - perhaps the future, possibly the past.