Filip is a reserved teenage kid full of doubts and anxiety. His feelings would be temporary and treatable in a warm family milieu, but he lives in a shabby suburban foster home with many of his fellow sufferers. Filip has a desire for love and being cared for by others, but all he finds is exploitation and cruelty. When the city’s corrupt police chief sets his sights on the kid, forcing him to commit unforgivable crimes, Filip has to step over a limit beyond which he can no longer be saved, either by his gentle and sensible friend, Petar, or the one kindly teacher at the juvenile center. Against all odds, he decides to become the leader of the lost boys, and they gang up to take vengeance on the whole world for all their broken dreams.
Amok is not another ‘coming of age’ movie about deviant youngsters, but it is a poetic allegory of the circle of violence. Vardan Tozija, the Skopje-based director, studied law and political science in addition to filmmaking. In his previous shorts, he already proved his sensitivity toward social issues and the barriers of the human psyche. But with his first feature, which won the Fipresci Prize of the 9 th Prishtina International Film Festival, Tozija has issued a strong artistic statement. In this film, he uses the cinematic motif of violence in a very reasoned, non-exploitative way.
The clue to understanding of the nature of violence lay in the figure of Martin Gjorgoski, the non- professional teen in the leading role, whose astonishing performance is both pure and. He is a real master of his own body, transforming from a bull-necked, dangerous delinquent into a confused child and back again, from one moment to the next, again and again, never losing the rhythm. The smart choices for the supporting roles are also worth to mention. Deniz Abdula as the true-hearted Petar and Nikola Ristanovski as the sympathetic veteran teacher are also accurate in their character formation.
The images of cinematographer Vladimir Samoilovski grab and hold the viewer, leading them through the grey and merciless streets of the city. The endless running between narrow alleys and devastated factory spaces dominates Amok’s dynamics, not only with its factual visual refrains but also in broader allegories. As we learn from one moment of desperate dialogue, the orphans are nicknamed ‘rats’ by the good citizens, and their restless quest for some means of escape resembles the working of animal instincts. Even though the plot becomes predictable at several points, and the words not spoken tell more than the explanations, the atmosphere is never less than compelling. Amok is a strong debut from a promising filmmaker.
Some have suggested Amok is the new, Macedonian version of the early 2000s cult film, City of God, but this one is less shiny and, in a way, simpler than the earlier film. It seems to display a more uniquely Balkan theory about the nature of violence, proving how fragile and slight is the maze we call human culture.
Edited by Michael Sicinski
© FIPRESCI 2017
Janka Barkóczi is a Hungarian film critic and film historian. She writes regularly for various Hungarian and foreign periodicals and works as an associate of the art programs of Budapest Metropolitan University.