By Vassilis Economou

Slovak cinema has gained some acknowledgement during recent years, especially in festival circles. Až do Mesta Aš (Made in Ash) is participating in the official competition of the 30th Torino Film Festival. Torino is known for promoting new directors, and Iveta Grófová has made her debut with this feature film. Made in Ash already had a world premiere at the International Film Festival of Karlovy Vary and this is Slovakia’s official selection for the Best Foreign Language Oscar at the 85th Academy Awards.

The film starts in Slovakia, where Dorotka (Dorotka Billá) has just graduated from high school. Her parents who are not eager to feed her anymore force her to move to the town of Aš (Ash) which is situated near the Czech-German borders. Dorotka, once there, will start working as a seamstress for a textile factory. Her only company is her roommate Silvia (Silvia Halušicová) who also moves there for work. Ash is a dead town. Due to the low cost of living, the unemployment and the proximity to the borders, it has become an ideal place for middle aged Germans who are looking for female company, just like Johann (Robin Horký). Bohemia has gradually become Germany’s poor man’s Thailand.

There is no doubt that Made in Ash is a bleak film and doesn’t try to prettify the awful situation that it presents. The miserable and desperate lives of these young girls are shown in the most obvious way. They are forced to stay in wretched rooms and they are working for the minimum wage. They also face the threat of reactions by the locals, since they are immigrants in a region that doesn’t offer any more jobs. The factory decides to shut down and move away and that makes things even worse. Even their parents are not compassionate, their only advice is: “Find another job, any job, and live. Don’t come back”. After that and when you feel that you are drowning in the mud, any “innocent” attempt towards prostitution seems legitimate.

Iveta Grófová seems highly influenced by the past. She presents the events in an extreme naturalistic way that’s really close to documentary style. The colors, the camera movement and the whole feeling of the film recalls a lot of the past. Also her choice to use non-professional actors shows her respect to the principles of Slovak filmmaking. It is not an accident that the initial shots of the working seamstresses resemble the early works of Czechoslovak New Wave. She pays homage to that styling and it could be described as socialist realism set during a highly capitalistic period. Grófová is all over her film and she makes it truly personal. The original story is written by her and she co-wrote the script with Marek Lescák. She also participated as producer and with Jozef Elšík she created some animated sketches that depict Dorotka’s emotional expressions. The cinematography is by another debutante, Viera Bacikova.

All in all, Made in Ash is an unconventional film that probably will gain attention only from the most demanding audience. This is an extremely interesting start that creates higher hopes for the future. If the viewer can overcome the initial fear of the raw reality, then he can identify Grófová’s talent and her modernized vintage cinema.

Director, producer, camera: Iveta Grófová
Cast: Dorotka Billá, Silvia Halušicová, Robin Horký