The stultifying idiocy of hardline Communist rule is adroitly mocked in “Slogans,” an affecting examination of the battle between form and content in an Albanian village in the late ’70s. The hypocrisy of collective rule is laid bare when a handsome young biology teacher joins the staff at a rural elementary school only to discover that sensible human behavior runs counter to the hermetic fiefdom built by local officials. Properly marketed, this tragicomic, modest pic has arthouse potential.
Arriving from the capital, Tirana, to take up his post in the poor, rock-strewn mountains, Andre (Artur Gorishti) is given his pick between two slogans — “Hail the Revolutionary Spirit” and “American Imperialism Is a Paper Tiger” — as a gesture of welcome. Andre couldn’t care less and doesn’t understand why choosing the shorter one elicits immediate emnity from Diana (Luiza Xhuvani), the fetching French teacher.
Andre’s slogan-obsessed young students firmly approve his choice — but not for ideological reasons. It turns out each class is required to spell out their assigned slogan along a dirt slope using whitewashed rocks and stones pounded into the earth. The actual meaning of the slogans is irrelevant: the number of letters, and hence the amount of labor required, is primordial.
When a Politburo official is slated to travel past the village, the demanding local party rep (Birce Hasko) goes into slogan-maintenance overdrive, with poignant results. (Not knowing the Vietnam War is over, let alone who won, a loyal constituent who lives outside town is crestfallen to discover that his lovingly maintained “Vietnam Will Win” slogan is obsolete.)
The absurdity of Albania’s former regime rings true throughout via examples that are both hilarious and heartbreaking. Educated Andre’s friendly and helpful disposition is a handicap in the rocky enclave, where the local leaders also seem to have rocks in their heads.
With their distinctive features and stage-trained acting chops, thesps are fine across the board, and the non-pro youngsters are especially good. French money made pic possible, but the agreeably bittersweet production feels entirely Albanian. Lilting score is a plus.