"Gravehopping": One Foot in the Grave By Massimo Causo

in 53rd San Sebastian International Film Festival

by Massimo Causo

Gravehopping (Odgrobadogroba) presents itself as a diptych, a half-comedy half-tragedy, in the tradition of Eastern cinema, that looks at the dark and bitter side of meaningless provincial life in today’s Eastern Europe’s.

Jan Cvitkovic ‘s new film starts as a comedy centred on bittersweet characters: a bunch of ordinary people whom live in a remote village removed from the vitality of life, and whom are all stuck in a time warp of sorts, living in the vain hope that something might happen: maybe love, maybe death, maybe nothing at all…

The leading character is Pero, a funeral orator in a small Slovenian town, a professional spokesman for the villagers in the face of Death. He is someone whose role in the life of this small village is as useless as it is insignificant: a storyteller of the end of ordinary people’s life, whose comments no one cares about. Pero senses the insignificance of his role but trys to carry on, searching for a way to make sense of people’s lives, or at least the end of their lives…

Pero is in love with the younger Renata, the only daughter of a widowed man who loves her more than a father should love a daughter, but this relationship can’t give Pero the strength to survive his crazy family. His old father keeps trying to commit suicide, and his sister is married to an insensitive and violent man. The only person who believes in Pero is his good friend Shooki, a young man obsessed with his old car and secretly in love with Vilma, an autistic girl who goes around floating from reality to dreams.

Jan Cvitkovic – whose previous feature film Bread and Milk (one of the most impressive titles of the 58th Venice Film Festival) was rougher than this bittersweet comedy – directs Gravehopping as a kind of double-bill, trying to describe life’s contrasts as a stream of terminal emotions, in which you find happiness and sadness, joy and sorrow, tenderness and cruelty… The film is marked by a caesura in the middle, a kind of narrative wound that inverts not only the story (which becomes ever darker and sadder, with some cruel moments, as it progresses), but also the way in which Cvitkovic films Pero and his friends lives.

In a world in which poetry hardly survives the void into which all is swallowed, and sensitivity has no place among human beings, the real contrast that Cvitkovic proposes is between the talky Pero, who survives on his own despair, and the silent Vilma, who loses her grip when faced with the cruelty of reality and chooses to be with the beloved Shooki in the darkness of the earth, rather than alone in a sunny no-man’s-land.