"Forever": Unhappy Forever By Nadir Öperli

in 19th Ljubljana International Film Festival (LIFFE)

by Nadir Öperli

In the first scenes of the brutal marital confrontation, unfolding in Forever (Za vedno), Tanja (Marjuta Slamic) says to Mare (Dejan Spasic) that theirs is no life and she wants to leave him. When her brute of a husband asks ironically what she knows about life, she responds simply that she knows enough to realize she is unhappy. Mare retorts in an even stupider and brazenly annoying manner: “You know how many people there are in Ljubljana? Not all of them can be happy…”

Mare’s irritable cocksureness however is a continuous set back of Damjan Kozole’s Forever contributing considerably to the sour aftertaste the film leaves us with. One of the few internationally acclaimed directors of the post liberation Slovenian cinema — famous for such films as Spare Parts (Rezervni deli, 2003) and Labour Equals Freedom (Delo osvobaja, 2004)— Kozole has picked up domestic violence as a theme for his latest pic. Almost entirely shot within the close confines of an apartment, Forever invites us to witness a typical night in the couple’s life. Tanja arrives home late only to find out that Mare, always suspicious of her, has already set the stage for what seems to be a routine late night scandal. By leaving — or as he says, forgotten — the key in the door lock, he makes Tanja ring the bell and thus wake him up. Once she steps in, he begins his nagging interrogation, which Tanja is unable to counter in any rational way since he has long convinced himself she is cheating on him with another man. Before long all the hell breaks loose and Mare, possessed by paranoia, resorts to physical violence. Tanja, humiliated and scared, locks herself up in the bathroom, but her resistance takes the scandal to an even more brutal level. Realizing that anything she does drives Mare crazier, Tanja tries obedience and, when the police — tipped by the neighbors — arrive, she does not even file a complaint. Eventually her strategy works and once Mare calms down, she manages to escape from her own apartment.

The original title of the film, “Za vedno” is a pun in Slovenian, meaning both ‘forever’ and ‘aware’. Kozole asks his audience to be aware of the domestic brutality that goes on forever behind closed doors. His depiction of the fierce clash between Mare and Tanja is well supported by the expressive low key acting of Dejan Spasic and Marjuta Slamic. By setting the story in a claustrophobic location and creating a contrived feeling of authenticity thanks to the consistent camera work, Kozole enhances the impact of the psychological and physical tension between the two characters. However, during those rare moments when the camera leaves the apartment — providing a much-needed respite for us — the dark spell of the frustrating but otherwise coherent mood of Forever is broken. Moreover, the tiresome narrative repetitions and awkward ending damage additionally and irreversibly the psychological intensity of the film. The enchanting soundtrack — featuring scores by Kozole’s long time collaborator, composer Igor Leonardi, and the two moody songs (‘Nikoli’ and ‘Ljubezni najine prt’) by the remarkable Slovenian band Patetico — remains unbalanced by the unrefined sound design.

Themes such as abuse and violence against women are not new for Kozole, who dealt with another dysfunctional marriage in Stereotip (1997), considered “the first encounter of Slovenian Cinema with feminism.” (See Zdebko Vrdlovec’s article in “Filmography of Slovenian Feature Films”, published by Slovenska Kinoteka). However, in Forever, Kozole’s attempt to side with his victimized heroine is arguably rendered futile by the “she-was-asking-for-it” type of ending. And although he depicts Mare as an emotionally and psychologically unstable abuser, Kozole’s intentions are blurred at the finale, which vindicates his paranoia. Therefore the happy ending, designed to emphasize Tanja’s liberation, works more as a justification of all her suffering.

Forever does not contribute a lot to the body of films, dealing with spousal abuse, a controversial theme handled so well in films like R.W. Fassbinder’s Martha (1974) or Icíar Bollaín’s Take My Eyes (Te doy mis ojos, 2003). Lacking the courage, insightfulness or subtlety of these films, it would hardly be very appealing to an international audience. However, production-wise it is important, since Kozole has succeeded in finishing it at a time when, in 2007, the Slovenian national film production was jeopardized and brought to a stand-still by the self-serving policies of the Ministry of Culture. With the public film funds seized, Kozole managed to shoot Forever in six days with almost no budget, using his and his producer’s apartments as main locations. In one of his interviews, the director stated that the physical and mental abuse of the wife in Forever could be read as a metaphor of the abuse Slovenian filmmakers were subjected to by the Slovenian government. Although this might sound as an exaggeration, it cannot be denied that Kozole’s determination to see his film through sets a heroic example for Slovenian filmmakers, who might be forced to work again in times of crisis. Hopefully, in the near future this would not be necessary as the cultural policies in Slovenia seem to be back on track since the election of the Social Democrats in September 2008.