A Hunting Party in the Middle of a Forest

in 71st Venice International Film Festival

by Sergio Di Giorgi

The first scene is a hunting party in the middle of a forest. After a few moments, in a aerial long shot, we see the hunters chase – and soon after catch – a human figure walking on all fours. Cut. In the next scene, we see in a closer shot in the back of a car, a dead wolf, covered in blood, and a boy curled up, dirty and trembling, lying next to each other.

This is the start of No One’s Child (Nicije dete), the full-length debut film by Serbian director and screenwriter Vuk Ršumovic (born in Belgrade in 1975). The film was selected, among another eight, for the 29th International Film Critics’ Week (independent Section, organized by the National Union of Italian Film Critics-SNCCI). It won the prize from the public (‘RaroVideo Audience Award’ for the best film) alongside with FIPRESCI Award (as best film in this section and in the ‘Orizzonti’ official section).

The story of a boy-wolf growing up into the wild woods, inspired by true events, is set in 1988 in the mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina. The director was fully aware that such a story is deeply rooted in myths and fairy tales (meeting the audience after the screening, he also referred to the archetypes of Carl Gustav Jung) and that it would have been confronted – at least in the cinéphiles’ memory – with other referential movies such as Truffaut’s The Wild Child (L’enfant sauvage, 1970) and Herzog’s The Enigma of Kaspar Hauser (Kaspar Hauser-Jeder für sich und Gott gegen alle, 1974).

Ršumovic, though, makes his own choices on both the stylistic and narrative level. As the film goes on, he takes more and more on the boy’s perspective, leaving apart the doctors’ and educators’ points of view (as those other well known  films did). He also works out a way to avoid the trap – so frequent in first time movies – of overemphasizing (that’s why, as he said during the debate, he decided to remove from the final version the sound of a rifle shot), using only the emotional and metaphorical potential of the story itself.

The result is a debut film marked by great narrative impact, where all the dialogues are essential and every shot has the right angle and timing. Also impressive is the eloquent participation of all the actors. Denis Muric’s performance stands out, as he plays the main character, Haris (a name with a Muslim origin) ¬or Pucke, as he is nicknamed in the orphanage, the real and symbolic setting where the “no one’s child” is locked up and left to the mercy or sadism of fellow inmates and bureaucrats. But, when the  civil war bursts out  in 1992, the authorities get rid of him once again, sending him to the front with a gun on his shoulder.

No One’s Child is not a film on the war in what was Yugoslavia. The main film theme is, according to the director, the conflict ‘about the desire to belong and to be loved’. Not a simple task, within a context that doesn’t seem to know anymore what taking care, protecting and loving means. Even his young mate Zika, the only one who shows an interest in him, manipulates Pucke as a toy or a Trojan horse to conquer a girl, or to escape, in vain, from his loneliness.

In that sense, we can easily understand how Ršumovic has identified himself with Haris’ human condition and fate: ‘at that time, Haris was an adolescent, like me. As almost everyone in my generation, I felt myself abandoned by the State’.

Bureaucracy’s cold face is one of the narrative fil rouge or threads, starting from the printed form where all the boxes are left empty, with the exception of the boy’s name. This is only one of the many arbitrary acts he has to suffer, and which  will influence his life during the war, forcing him to take a free decision on his own for the very first time in his life, giving to his destiny a symbolic, circular ending path.

Edited by Derek Malcolm