The Crucible

in 20th International Film Festival for Children and Young Audience, Chemnitz

by Massimo Lechi

Kosovo, 2004. Nenad (Filip Subaric) has a dark future ahead of him. A shy kid with melancholic eyes, he lives with his surly father (Nebojša Glogovac) and dying grandfather (Meto Jovanovski) in a small Serbian enclave in the heart of Kosovo territory. From their hills, everything looks precarious. Christians among Muslims, Serbs among Albanians, they are much more than an isolated minority: they are air-breathing targets, whose survival in their ancestors’ land depends only on the presence of international peacekeeping troops. Years of civil war have in fact transformed the region to a dry and inhospitable wasteland sporadically crossed by KFOR tanks.

Not far from the hollowed village, the Albanian shepherd Bashkim (Denis Muric) broods over his resentment against the Serbs, whom he rabidly blames for the tragic killing of his father. He is part of a large and powerful clan dominated by his charismatic grandfather (Qun Lajçi), but apart from a couple of “smart-ass” pals nobody seems to really care about him. Toughened by sun, hard work and grudge, he leads a lonely life, dreaming about revenge.

Every morning these two boys meet without physically seeing each other. From a distance Bashkim grimly watches Nenad being escorted to school in an Italian armoured car, while the latter, inside the vehicle, seeks relief from solitude by talking and playing with the valley’s Orthodox priest (Miodrag Krivokapic), his only friend. One day their paths finally cross, with dramatic consequences for both sides.

Winner of FIPRESCI award at the Schlingel International Film Festival, and of the Audience Award at the Moscow International Film Festival in June 2015, Enclave (Enklava) by Goran Radovanovic is a movie that takes its own risks. The premise is pretty tough and ambitious: depicting one of the cruellest conflicts of European history through a tale of ordinary violence, in which kids are not tender and innocent victims but real, nuanced characters whose bad actions do harm and trigger a tragedy. While in cinema children have often been shown as impotent witnesses of wartime cruelties, in Enclave they hold guns and ride in tanks. They are not frenzied child soldiers or shocked refugees on the run: they still live in their villages, do their homework, and care for their loved ones. They still hold on to their traditions and look for someone to play domino with. But, stuck in a forgotten piece of land that has become a burning crucible, they also more or less unconsciously wait for things to fall apart.

So, when during a dangerous game Bashkim forces Nenad under the big bell near the priest’s house and starts firing his gun, we see nothing but the inevitable picture of two boys continuing a war started by adults. And when the bell falls over the Serb and the Albanian falls to the ground, wounded by his own bullets, we can’t help feeling the irrationality of all those fratricidal conflicts that have been driving to despair thousands of families and millions of individuals since the downfall of Yugoslavia.

It’s an old story. Back in the 1940s, the Nobel Prize winner Ivo Andric wrote that “hatred, like anger, has its function in the development of society, because hatred gives strength, and anger provokes action”. This sharp line, after so many years, still summarizes well the forces that have inexorably been destroying the region, and the complex intertwinement of ethnicities and cultures. Hatred and anger have shaped men and societies; they have become the core of human relationships between groups of people who had been living under the same sky for decades, even centuries. In Enclave, the same hatred and anger put guns in children’s hands, rushing them to a painful but necessary process of coming-of-age.

All this is rendered cinematically by Radovanovic through very simple but effective directorial and dramaturgical choices. A plain naturalistic approach allows him to maintain a firm hold on reality, while the fast-paced script gives the film a gripping rhythm, with the narration shifting from Nenad to the other characters quickly moving around the pivotal bell. In the impressive finale, the focus goes back on the little Serb, who now lives in Belgrade, apparently far from cruelty and violence, and far from Bashkim and his people. There is still time for touching moments, when the recollection of the tragic events shows the strength of the bond that will keep the two boys together for the rest of their lives.

“Indivisibiliter ac inseparabiliter” said the motto of the vanished Habsburg Empire, not too far away on the map. Indivisible and inseparable: like this land torn between East and West, between Europe and the Ottoman heritage. Nenad’s and Bashkim’s destinies were already carved in stone.

Edited by Birgit Beumers