"Armin": Father and Son By Ronald Bergan
in 19th Palm Springs International Film Festival
“It is about the war again. It’s stupid,” says 14-year-old Armin (Armin Omerovic) who has travelled with his father Ibro (Emir Hadzihafisbegovic) from a small Bosnian town to Zagreb to audition for a role in a German-produced film on the Balkan conflict. The rather simple-minded father replies, “A foreign movie can’t be stupid”. This exchange reveals so much about the way the relatively recent war has been portrayed on screen and the way foreign film companies have exploited it. (Ironically, Armin is itself a Croatian-Bosnian-German co-production.)
The Croatian director Ognjen Svilicic, in his screenplay, never directly confronts the war but subtly intimates the unseen horrors that the father and son have endured or witnessed. This underlies the serio-comic manner of the film which evokes an absurdist world, mostly symbolised by the Holiday Inn in Zagreb where most of the (in)action takes place.
It is there that the auditions are being held, but Armin and Ibro arrive too late, their bus having broken down. (Only one of several mishaps.) The father manages to cajole the management, much to the embarrassment of his son, into giving Armin an audition. Armin is unwilling to play along, finding great difficulty in smiling for the camera (a reflection of the actor’s own performance) but subsequently gives a heartfelt song accompanying himself on the accordion. It is clear from the sensitively realised ambivalent father-son relationship, that the boy is the more mature of the two. The director quite rightly concentrates his unflinching gaze on the two interacting main characters, and is rewarded by superb performances.
Although Svilicic claims that his master is Robert Bresson — the pared down dialogue and images — the wry tone and episodic structure is often closer to Otar Iosseliani, who in turn was influenced by Jacques Tati. Witness Ibro’s delight and frustration with the big city, and his remark about McDonald’s, where, desperately trying to please his son, buys him two hamburgers. “It’s so clean here, it looks like a hospital.”
At the end, when they are asked (rather unconvincingly, though essential to the denouement) by the German crew if they would allow them to make a documentary on their experiences of the war, both father and son reject the offer and retain their dignity. In fact, never once does the director patronise the characters, who are seen with a sort of objective affection.
Armin is another sign that film directors from ex-Yugoslavia, although never fully having shaken off the war as a subject, are finding new oblique ways of coping with it.