Balkan Nightmares

in 15th Ljubljana International Film Festival

by Peter Kolsek

Films from Croatia, Serbia & Montenegro and Macedonia were invited to the Ljubljana film festival from the south-eastern region, better known as ‘former Yugoslavia’. Since most of these film industries are financially impoverished – the most ‘vital’ is the contemporary Serbian film – producers are seeking co-productions, many with Slovenian institutions.

Serbian cinema was represented with three titles ( Midwinter Night’s Dream by Goran Paskaljevic, The Red Colored Grey Truck by Srdjan Koljevic, Homecoming by Jovan Arsenic), Croatia with three as well (Witnesses by Vinko Bresan, Here by Zrinko Ogresta, A Wonderful Night in Split by Arsen Ostojic), and Macedonia with one (How I Killed a Saint by Teona Mitevska). Among them the best were Witnesses and How I Killed a Saint ; both (in fact all movies from the region) take their themes from Balkan reality of the nineties. It could be said the latter is being written – with a help of a movie camera – for history. Nowhere else in contemporary Europe is time flying by so fast as in the territory where fifteen years earlier Yugoslavian borders once stood firmly.

Vinko Bresan’s Witnesses (it competed earlier this year in the Berlinale) offers – after everything that happened in the conflict with Serbia – a choice for national catharsis. The film is well constructed and carried by analytical, suspenseful editing; it increases the ethnical conflict and unveils it as a pathology of the human mind. A mother of two grown-up sons, soldiers in the Croatian army, raises a nationalistic principle above generally humanistic ones, but at the same time one of the sons embodies a possibility and necessity of cohabitation. Croatian audiences had problems accepting a movie that, in fact, is prejudiced against the Balkan mentality, whereas Slovenian audiences can afford a judgemental distance. Bresan’s film almost won the audience’s award.

Witnesses cathartically summarizes and talks about the Balkan situation post festum, but How I Killed a Saint is deep in the present time, a thrilling, electrifying tension of social circumstances (the Macedonian-Albanian ethnic conflict; tensions between a lofty cultural tradition and a vulgar social underground). It is a dark film about the intolerable present and an uncertain future, filled with youthful creative energy.

Peter Kolsek