Review: Newsreel 80 – Metka, Meki (2021)

Crossing Europe Film Festival
Competition Documentary

Courtesy of Crossing Europe

Nika Autor is a Slovenian documentarist who creates as a member of the Newsreel Front film collective. The filmmaker and the collective usually deal with the socially conscious, politically charged topics in their films, often applying experimental techniques. Compared to the other films made by the collective, Newsreel 80 – Metka, Meki that has just internationally premiered at Crossing Europe seems like a pretty plain deal, but it is actually an experiment of merging a few documentary sub-genres into a coherent whole.

Firstly, Metka, Meki is an example of a portrait documentary, centred on the auteur’s elderly relative Metka Autor, a former worker at Metalna factory in Maribor who was one of the first people to leave Yugoslavia and find work in West Germany in the 60s. She kept ties with Slovenia by visiting her hometown and the seaside every summer, while slowly building a new life in the new environment. She was always willing to fit in and to work hard, which eventually resulted in a comfortable life, an own house and pension.

On the other hand, Metka never forgot the kindness of other people experienced in the early stages of her “guest worker” life, especially the widow who took her, her husband and other Yugoslav immigrants to her home. Fifty years later, Metka feels the moral obligation to pay back for it, and as there are enough people from other countries who are seeking a better (and safer) life in Germany, she takes them to her house and helps them in every way possible. Therefore, Metka, Meki is also an example of “social issues cinema”. On top of that, given that Metka spends most of her screen time by the stove (cooking typical German dishes, as well as the domestic Slovenian ones), or at least near it (organizing lunches and dinners for the refugee family that lives in her house), the film also expresses some characteristics of a cook book in the documentary film form.

In practice, it looks like that: the film is divided in chapters, each titled after a dish and starting in the kitchen. While Metka prepares the food, she also narrates her experiences, musings and ethics directly to the camera, sometimes addressing Nika directly. On the other hand, Nika Autor is a good listener who rarely talks back or asks additional questions, letting her subject and protagonist dominate the screen. The continuum of the “kitchen sink idyll” is rarely interrupted, usually by photos from the old albums, and only occasionally by home movies from Metka’s personal archive. Topics seemingly pop up freely, the conversation goes in a number of directions, but it somehow always comes back to the relation between the migrant life then and now and the urge that Metka feels to do the right, humane thing.

Metka, Meki (the other part of the title is the protagonist’s slightly “Germanized” nickname, a derivate of her first name) is a hearty, sympathetic documentary that profits from Metka’s pleasant, but gripping personality and from the intriguing structure imposed by Nika Autor that deftly simulates the absolutely free form. However, the stories and points seem to repeat every once in a little while. It never approaches to the level of being preachy, but those repetitions are certainly felt even in the compact format of 71 minutes, so a shorter and firmer cut (maybe to a TV format) might not be a bad idea. On the other hand, recording Metka’s simple recipes could prove to be a reward on its own.

Original title: Obzornik 80 – Metka, Meki
Year: 2021
Runtime: 71’
Country: Slovenia
Languages: Slovenian, German
Directed by: Nika Autor
Written by: Nika Autor
Cinematography by: Nika Autor, Jošt Franko
Editing by: Nika Autor
Music by: Matevž Kolenc
Production company: Newsreel Front
Sales by: Newsreel Front