Limits of Realism

in 39th Chicago International Film Festival

by Borislav Andjelic

Srdjan Karanovic, one of the most important Yugoslav directors of the 70s and 80s, returns to screen after a twelve years’ absence. This return was heartily welcomed by the festival audience which remembered Karanovic’s previous films, such as “The Fragrance of Wild Flowers” (1978), “Petria’s Wreath” (1980), “Something in Between” (1983) and “Virdzina” (1991).

“Loving Glances” tells the romantic and surrealistic story of the relationship between two displaced people in Belgrade in the mid-90s. The main idea is subtle: a poetic search for the cause of the disgrace that was visited upon the Balkans. However, while we cannot deny the positive energy and good intentions that Karanovic had while creating his film, it is disappointing on several levels.

Problems begin with Karanovic’s script. The story is prepackaged to appeal to both his domestic and foreign audiences. His story of loneliness, refugees and love in a context of total chaos resulting from the wars that raged over their soil has great potential.

However, instead of devoting his attention to the main story of love triumphant, he turns to a secondary story about matchmakers in an obvious effort to make the film more humorous and broadly appealing. In his need to say as much as possible, after he’s been away for so many years, he further complicated his story by seeing it in a wider political context, which is the weakest part of the film.

Karanovic approaches this material with full knowledge that when he mixes the “real” world with the “unreal” worlds within the film, he is confronting the limits of realism, or more accurately, the possibilities of levels of reality within the films. I mention this because “Loving Glances”, with its fairy tale style and interaction between “this world” and the “other world” or afterlife actually moves from the moving love story to a relativistic theory about different levels of appearance and reality. But his attitude and insistence on a relatively archaic approach is unconvincing and does not achieve a reincarnation of the ideals of Rene Clair, to whom the film is dedicated.

Karanovic works with the extraordinary cinematographer Radan Popovic and his regular composer Zoran Simjanovic, whose score is supremely touching and atmospheric. The cinematography and music build an emotional core which the film otherwise lacks.

Between the two main characters, Senad Alihodzic, who is very convincing as Labud, and Ivana Bolanca as Romana, Karanovic fails to discover the necessary chemistry, which is a pity, because their love is the primary mechanism driving “Loving Glances”.

The film has several outstanding sequences, mostly in the group scenes, such as a ball, which Karanovic turns into an unforgettable group portrait which serves as a microcosm for the world of the film.

Competing in Venice and Chicago, and screening in Toronto, “Loving Glances” drew audiences and attention to its auteur and his themes. However, it is a pity that the film misses the opportunities created by ideas behind the script.