"How to Become a Hero": Warmth and Humor By Gorazd Trusnovec
Before he became well known for his feature film — the urban basketball drama 1 on 1 (2002) — Mladen Maticevic had shot a number of documentaries for the Serbian National Broadcasting Company and under the independent label B-92. Among them was also Ghetto from 1996, which features Cavke, the drummer of a famous punk/alternative group “Elektricni orgazam” (Electric Orgasm), walking through Belgrade in the middle of international sanctions against Milosevic’s regime, meeting different groups of friends, musicians and underground artists from the alternative scene, which were using their own creativity against everyday madness and decay of the metropolis. When Cavke returns to the starting point the next day, he finds out that he is at the crossroads.
Also at the crossroads is, in a way, the protagonist of his latest documentary How to Become a Hero (Kako postati heroj). In the focus of attention is the director himself. He is fat, forty and depressed and in his mid-life crisis “awakes to the realization, that unlike the types of movies he aspires to make, his life is anything but heroic”. His career seems to have stalled; he hasn’t made a movie with Clint Eastwood or some other idols of the same status. So, to the great surprise of his surroundings, Mladen Maticevic decides that he will be ready to run a marathon in less than a year. He persistently records all the skepticism and mocking of his family and friends, as well as his own physical and mental preparations.
The major part of documentary cinema shows the wounds of a desperate world, critical situations, urgent problems and individual tragedies. It rarely allows us to laugh and it usually also seems to be improper to laugh. It is the first merit of How to Become a Hero to provoke a healing and liberating laughter. Turning the camera on himself, the filmmaker makes first a fool of himself and second, of our societies where so many cheap heroes are the idols of the day. It looks like the prophecy of Andy Warhol has suddenly fulfilled itself in a grotesque way, the prophecy which said that “in the future, everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”
The basic form of the film is part of the trend, most famously represented by Michael Moore or even better, Morgan Spurlock with Super Size Me, the trend of the documentaries which put the author in the center and make us accomplices of their exploits and experiments with themselves. This attitude offers a number of issues to reevaluate the position of the author and his relation to the material with even the most objective documentary. However, Maticevic doesn’t pretend ignorance and playfully combines spontaneous scenes with documentary reconstructions, and basically with a great deal of wit and self-irony mocks the Rocky cliche. The story of a hero with no real chance in the fight with the opponent, who is not up to his task and undergoes rigorous training of body and mind. The suspense is built up to the finish, which is by no means predestined.
The film is full of refreshing humor and is, at the same time, an excellent allegory of the marathonic struggle of the everyday survival in a region still trying to deal with economic transition and consequences of war. The world, offering one tragic story after another, would surely be a more pleasant place if everything wouldn’t be taken so deadly seriously.