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Review: Black Eyes (2008)

Director: Jan Bosdriesz | 97 minutes |

In the course of time, filmmaker collected many objects, such as a “piece of stone that tries to be a statue”, a block plane, a reed dildo that he received from a Japanese camera crew because he did not want to go to the brothel. When he is gone these objects will lose their meaning. Bosdriesz has been fascinated by the past for as long as he can remember. He inherited two stacks of 78 rpm records from his father Evert Spaans. “They date from the time when in the house was still a miracle,” says Bosdriesz’s voice-over. The family (the animated narrative Anske Vuyk-Bosdriesz and Marieke Wiedemeijer-Bosdriesz and Bosdriesz herself) can still remember the arrival of the LP. The device was bought for Bosdriesz’s father in 1947, it cost 75 guilders and it was paid for in cash. Bosdriesz speaks lovingly about his father, breathlessly listened to his stories and wanted to become a ‘wanderer’ just like him. Many of those records are by Pjotr ​​Leschenko, a Russian singer who was hugely popular in the 1930s and 1940s, but equally controversial. Bosdriesz decides to document his quest for who Leschenko was and during this process discovers that his own is also very interesting. His idealistic stepfather, of whom he only bears the name, was against violence, he was a member of a Christian pacifist movement. During the he distributed a brochure in which a pastor called on fellow pacifists to remain nonviolent in principle and to help Jews. He naively thought that the Germans would not find this offensive, but because his address was on that brochure, he was arrested anyway. He ended up in a concentration camp. During his quest Bosdriesz unexpectedly ends up in this Sandbostel, where his stepfather spent the last weeks of his life. “His disappearance colored my childhood, while hardly any talk about him,” said Bosdriesz.

About Leschenko he says the following: “A singer of innocent sentimental songs crushed like an enemy of the Romanian state. Why actually?” A fair question. The beginning of Bosdriesz’s search goes well, he soon meets a woman who was married to Leschenko’s son Igor (and later divorced him). She shows him photos of the singer who she admittedly never knew, and for whom she admits to feeling admiration only now. The divorce regrets her, she quite frankly admits to have been arrogant and that communication in the marriage was not the strongest point. It is just one of those personal stories that you are presented with, but which manage to move you. Also touching is the woman who says she would like to celebrate her seventeenth birthday in a bar. This turned out to be Leschenko’s bar. The day after, when she sighed in glorious sigh to an acquaintance who worked in that bar that so many nice young men had danced with her, she found out that her father had paid these students to give his daughter a good night. Bosdriesz will also visit Alla Baianova. Although this 93-year-old woman looks frail, she did one more successful performance three weeks before the interview. Dressed in lace gloves and black sunglasses (which she happily takes off later) and urged on by her help Natasja, she reminisces about the time she sang in Bucharest in one of Leschenko’s restaurants and when she and his first wife and a whole army of artists traveled through Europe. that so many nice young men had danced with her, she found out that her father had paid these students to give his daughter a good evening. Bosdriesz will also visit Alla Baianova. Although this 93-year-old woman looks frail, she did one more successful performance three weeks before the interview. Dressed in lace gloves and black sunglasses (which she happily takes off later) and urged on by her help Natasja, she reminisces about the time when she sang in one of Leschenko’s restaurants in Bucharest and when she and his first wife and a whole army of artists traveled through Europe. that so many nice young men had danced with her, she found out that her father had paid these students to give his daughter a good evening. Bosdriesz will also visit Alla Baianova. Although this 93-year-old woman looks frail, she did one more successful performance three weeks before the interview. Dressed in lace gloves and black sunglasses (which she happily takes off later) and urged on by her help Natasja, she reminisces about the time she sang in one of Leschenko’s restaurants in Bucharest and when she and him and his first wife and a whole army of artists traveled through Europe. Although this 93-year-old woman looks frail, she did one more successful performance three weeks before the interview. Dressed in lace gloves and black sunglasses (which she happily takes off later) and urged on by her help Natasja, she reminisces about the time she sang in Bucharest in one of Leschenko’s restaurants and when she and his first wife and a whole army of artists traveled through Europe. Although this 93-year-old woman looks frail, she did one more successful performance three weeks before the interview. Dressed in lace gloves and black sunglasses (which she happily takes off later) and urged on by her help Natasja, she reminisces about the time she sang in Bucharest in one of Leschenko’s restaurants and when she and his first wife and a whole army of artists traveled through Europe.

Bosdriesz slaagt er in de kijker geprikkeld te houden; afwisselend graaft hij dieper in Leschenko’s en die van zijn eigen familie. De geweldige collectie brieven en notitieboekjes die zijn halfzussen bewaard hebben helpen hieraan mee. Ook laat hij mensen aan het woord die slechts heel zijdelings iets met een van de twee centrale figuren te maken hebben. Johann Hudaff is zo’n iemand, en zijn aangrijpende verhaal over dat hij als zestienjarige Duitse jongen mee moest helpen een massagraf te graven bezorgt de kijker kippenvel en diepe ontroering.

Of course we hear a lot of Leschenko’s music, that gives the images meaning and a background. The images shot in contemporary Moscow, Riga, Bucharest, Chisinau, Isaevo, Odessa and Sandbostel add the necessary local color. Although the is on the long side, the topic remains compelling. ‘Black eyes’ is immediately a plea for the preservation of personal things, on the basis of which entire human histories can be told. Recommended!

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