A Journey Through the Balkans By Doris Senn
by Doris Senn
Exactly 20 titles — a fifth of all films shown at the 16th Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFE) — come from the Balkans. The emotional scope covered by these films range from deep black pessimism as shown in Mirage (Iluzija, Macedonia), Svetozar Ristovski’s debut feature film, to fleet-footedness as in the documentary comedy The Shukta Book of Records (Czech Republic, Serbia-Montenegro), directed by Aleksandar Manic. Manic’s film is an inventive portrayal with a touch of Fellini that takes us on a journey through a Macedonian Roma city full of loveable outcasts and weirdoes. The film won at the LIFFE the newly established Human Rights Award.
Mirage interweaves the coming to terms with past war-related events that took place in the Balkans, with the difficult relationship between generations. Milos Radivojevic’s Awakening From the Dead (Budenje iz mrtvih, Serbia-Montenegro, Croatia, Slovenia) deals with similar issues. The film tells the metaphorical story of a man who holds his father responsible for his own existential and ideological crisis. It climaxes with the disillusioned son murdering his father before committing suicide himself. A View From the Eiffel Tower (Pogled sa Ajfelovog tornja) directed by Nikola Vukcevic is yet another political metaphor that takes as its main focus the conflict between parents and children. The movie’s narrative centres on a young woman who has been sexually abused with the knowledge of her father and now tries to cope with the aftermath of her traumatic experiences. Milutin Petrovic’s film South by Southeast (Jug jugoistok) unfortunately represents a rather failed attempt to reflect on the social changes that have taken place since the Balkan War. In his film an ageing actress (played by formerly renowned actress Sonja Savic) not only loses her sense of reality but also heads for professional and personal doom. Neither does Nedzad Begovic attain the goal he has set for himself in his Totally Personal (Sasvim licno, Bosnia-Herzegovina). The director is not able to move beyond a literal navel-gazing when he unfolds the story of an artist’s struggle to survive in times of war. His use of the essay form as a narrative device seems exerted as does his anecdotic selection of narrative events. An outstanding, because accurate, depiction of a very special day in the life of a Croatian family is the FIPRESCI-awarded What Iva Recorded on the 21st October 2003 (Sto je Iva snimila 21. listopada 2003).
Two world premiere films were shown at the LIFFE: The TV co-production Ljubljana The Beloved (Ljubljana je ljubljena)by Slovenia’s venerable Matjaz Klopcic (he received at the LIFFE the Life Achievement Award) and the documentary Divided States of America — Laibach 2004 Tour by Saso Podgorsek, also from Slovenia. Klopcic’s film, which concluded this year’s festival, creates an atmospheric, but rather lengthy and too stylised reconstruction of autobiographical recollections from the time between 1934 and 1941. In his Divided States Of America, Podgorsek accompanied the Slovenian dark rock band Laibach (German for Ljubljana) on their tour throughout the US right after the re-election of George W. Bush. The band’s monumental show design and its anarchic political song lyrics provoke but are cheered by an almost exclusively anti-Bush crowd. Podgorsek thus not only portrays Laibach’s tour performances but also draws a bracing picture of lively political opposition in the United States.