In the 15th edition of Cinema tous Écrans (Geneva, Switzerland) Here and There (Tamo I Ovde) by Serbian film maker Darko Lungulov was a big success. Not only in the opinion of the criticsand the international jury, but also in the eyes of the predominantly young public. One could say that this success was expected after all the prizes the film won in Belgrade and the USA, coincidentally the two parts of the world featured in the film. Not only because the film maker is originally from Serbia and immigrated to New York in the early1990s, but because the film is the story ofone man’s trip between the Big Apple and a small village in Belgrade. In between, characters see their destiny being changed.
From the beginning, the trip to Belgrade is seen and accepted by Robert (David Thornton) as a possibility to change his life. The fact is that it will, but not as he expected. When he acceptsa deal proposed by Branko (Branislav Trifunovic), a young male emigrant from New York, the middle-aged Brian was only thinking about finding some money as quick as possible. He agreesto help the young man bring his fiancé to the New World by marrying her in Serbia and helping her to get the visa. It is a classical Mephistophelian contract. For five-thousand dollars Robert, a former saxophone player, accepts to go against the law. But instead of damnation because of the deal with the devil, he is saved by Olga (MirjanaKaranovic), Branko’s mother, who is like an angel the musician meets in Belgrade.
The story is like a modern fairy tale. It begins in a very dark atmosphere, but in saying this it is also optimistic. Branko is lost in the big metropolis of New York City and Robert is also completely marginalized. Branko was not happy anymore in Belgrade and emigrated looking for a better life whereas Robert was a great musician but is now an alcoholic and homeless after having lost all attachment to life and to people. He ignores a friend he meets in the street and his girlfriend puts him out of her house. It’s at exactly this moment Brankoshows up with his offer.
When Robert leaves New York it is according to a very simple plan: getting married with Branko’s fiancé and getting paid five thousand dollars. With the plan going well,Robert grows progressively pleased with life in the small Belgrade neighborhood. He rediscovers small gestures like drinking a beer, going to the market to buy fruits and vegetables, shaving and wearing clean clothes, and buying flowers for a woman. He’s forced to change his attitude towards people he meets since he is the only dark face among the joyful locals. The big change will come thanks to Olga with whom he is staying after being she’s presented to him as a business partner of Branko. The divorced woman and the man without feeling come together to rediscover love despite their resistance. Still, they work on the plan.
At the same time, it seems that the demon of the big city is following Robert even on the other side of the ocean. Branko has a complication after his car is stolen, he can’t send the money on time and is involved in a fight and put in jail. The fiancé accuses Robert of being behind this drama because of his materialism, which is how the mother is informed about the whole plan. At that moment Olga realizes the love story,which she started to believe in after years of abstinence and self-denial, turns out to be only a mirage. The disillusion is so strong that she offers the price of the marriage.
In New York, Branko is freed thanks to the intervention of Robert’s friend. Robert doesn’t say a word and it’s at this stage that Lungulovadds some suspense and mystery in the situation. Robert is again put out on the street, the 50-year-old homeless man given the opportunity to rediscover another human feeling when a neighbor offers him a place to sleep until he flies back to New York with Branko’s fiancé: friendship. That’s what happened and if the film would finish here it would be a very superficial story.
The epilogue is the special touch of the young Serbian. This final segment forces the spectator to rethink everything they just saw. Lungulov doesn’t do this by any dialogue exposition, but with gestures and facts. It’s up to the spectator then to bring the events together. One would think that everything is over when Robert is back to New York after having been paid by Olga. This would be realistic, but it’s the filmmaker’s choice to leave an optimistic message and to invite the spectator to believe that there is an unreachable depth of goodness in human beings.
Apparently the world as represented by DarkoLungulov in his film is divided in two parts. On the one hand the materialistic world of New York, governed by money and where feelings such as love and friendship have no value. This is supposed to be the rich part which is supposed to be seen as a dreamland. On the other hand, and completely opposite to this, there’s a world where misery is combined with authentic feelings. Robert had to make the trip from one part to the other and that’s how he findshimself and recovers from his existential sickness. You could say he left the world of the devil for the world of angels.
But the world as it is seen by Lungulov is not so simply dichotomist. There is not a good world on the one side and a bad world on the other. The film is conceived as a research of the depth hidden in every individual that can rise at any moment and challenge the materialistic sickness of the contemporary world. In the end there is no opposition, nor a spiritual distance between here and there.They complement each other despite divisions and borders imposed by history and politics.
Edited by Glenn Dunks
© FIPRESCI 2009