A Truly New Vision, A Clear New Voice

in 26th Palm Springs International Film Festival

by Ernesto Diezmartínez

One of the most interesting sections at Palm Springs International Film Festival is New Voices/New Visions, which consists of ten debut features from different parts of the world, all yet to find commercial distribution in the United States.

Because of my duties as a member of the FIPRESCI jury, in charge of choosing the Best Film, Best Actor and Best Actress of the year from the Foreign Language Oscar submissions, I was unable to watch all the competing films in the New Voices/New Visions section. However, I did enjoy the winning film on the big screen: “No One’s Child” (Nicije Dete, Serbia-Croatia, 2014), Vuk Rsumovic’s extraordinary first feature film, which had already been awarded in Venice 2014 (Best Screenplay, Best Film in the International Critics’ Week and the FIPRESCI prize).

Apparently based on real events, the film is set in a Bosnian town during the spring of 1988, few years before the devastating civil war in Yugoslavia. A group of hunters come across a naked boy who had been raised by wolfs in the forest. The kid, who isn’t able to speak and growls instead, walking on all fours, is taken to the city, where he is baptized with the name of Haris Pucurica. A few days after that, Haris is sent to an orphanage in Belgrade, where he faces the mocking and howling of his mates, with the unexpected solidarity coming from the exploited and abandoned Zika (Pavle Cemerikic), all the while being rigidly protected by the administrator (Milos Timortijevic). Haris will learn, little by little, all the goods that civilization can offer – speech, especially – but also, inevitably, he will get a glimpse of all the bad things that go with it.

Judging from this description, the story may sound predictably didactic. And there is indeed some of that. The parable is self-evident: a savage kid gets separated from his lteral wolf pack and is forced to learn the ways and rules of a totally different “herd”: first, the orphanage, and then of even more different and dangerous mob: the army. Nevertheless, despite the slight obviousness of several plot twists that Rsumovic could have avoided, the truth is that “No One’s Child” remains a remarkable film.

The first thing that earns the film such high praise is that the acting of the young Denis Muric as Haris is more than impressive. In the first half of the film, he behaves as a true animal: he growls, bites, jumps, devours, squeals and has fun in the rain as a wolf, which he in fact believes himself to be. In the second half, we can admire Haris’ perfectly rendered astonishment at the civilization that surrounds him with seemingly magical objects (marble, shadow play, etc.). Equally impressive is the frustration at the boy’s lack of understanding of cultured human behavior, as well as his slow transformation into a teenager confused by both his origins and his new reality as an orphan in the middle of a war.

“No One’s Child” is also outstanding due to Rsumovic’s fine direction and Mirko Bojovic’s editing. Except for the aforementioned pointless plot twist, the Serbian director and his editor avoid dramatic clichés. More than once, the scenes are cut without letting us know what happens immediately afterwards. This proves to be a clever decision for several reasons: the story develops with no time wasted for common sentimentalism and it is up to the spectators to fill in the gaps. Even at the very end, we can still imagine a happy (or, at least, not tragic) ending for Haris. He certainly deserves one.

Ernesto DiezMartinez
(Edited by Michal Oleszczyk)