Gravehopping (Odgrobadogroba), recently screened in competition at the 7th Bratislava International Film Festival, has already earned its director Jan Cvitkovic a Best New Director Award earlier this year in San Sebastian.
Following the traditions of the ever so popular dark comedies from the Balkan region, Gravehopping starts in a hilarious tone with the camera moving upward from the grave perspective showing Pero (Gregor Bakovic) delivering a funeral speech, accompanied by a soundtrack playing Gloria Gaynor’s I Will Survive in Boban Marcovic Orchestra style. The story follows Pero, a thirty something young man, whose strange occupation provides most of the film’s dark humor. Living in a small town with his relatives and killing time by staring at nude pictures in the local pub, Pero leads an ordinary life. If it hadn’t been for his father’s meticulously planned suicide attempts, his life would lack excitement almost completely. Having been through some odd therapy sessions with the local shrink, life provides a comforting and heart-warming resolution for the suicidal old man, just like in Wilbur Wants To Kill Himself. He becomes the only happy survivor of the story, moreover, his new romance proves to be the least troublesome. All the others are doomed to failure and unhappiness in one way or another. Then Pero’s love affair with the pretty blond student, which seems to be so full of hope at the beginning, turns bitter when the girl reveals her dark secret, not to speak about the other romantic link between a deaf and dumb girl and our hero’s best friend. The graveyard humor and the notion of death, which crop up in almost every conversation and in every scene, foreshadow the darker ending that is to come and which takes the viewer by surprise. As the story unfolds we witness perversion, incest, violence and brutality which is absolutely out of tune with the relatively light-hearted and entertaining beginning, as if the small Slovenian town had turned into Twin Peaks all of a sudden where the innocent looking student, Pero’s love interest, has a peculiar masochistic and incestuous relationship with her father, and where the romance between the deaf and dumb girl and Pero’s best friend is disrupted by an exceptionally cruel rape scene leading to a tragic ending.
Cvitkovic blends dark humor and everyday life and reality so beautifully that it feels like a punch in the nose when the film loses its delicate balance. Apparently the director wanted to add some heavier texture and wanted to go beyond the seemingly ideal surface, but the graphic nature of bestiality and perversion leaves the audience grasping for breath. The dramatic pictures are further weighted down by the use of sound effects. In the most horrifying scenes there is no music at all, and only the dropping of a tool or the sound of earth being shoveled on a grave breaks the utter silence. It takes an excruciatingly long amount of time until we hear the tune of I Will Survive bringing some slight relief, and suggesting that whatever happens Pero will survive. However, he seems to remain trapped in this world, just like the butterflies fluttering their wet wings on the water in the recurring motif of the film.