"Work Liberates": Does Size Matter? By Hrvoje Puksec
Since the most usual organiser’s sentence while promoting the Motovun Film Festival was “Motovun is the biggest small festival in the world!” it can be only right to wrap it up with a few words about a film that is both big and small, just like (nominally) the festival itself. Work Liberates (Delo osvobaja) is a film by Damjan Kozole, a quite successful Slovenian director whose career started during the late eighties. His debut Usodni telefon (1986) was one of the first independent films in the former Yugoslavia, but for true acclamation he had to wait until the new millennium. Porno Film (2000) made Kozole a big name in Slovenian, and three years later with Spare Parts (Rezwevni deli) it was obvious that on the sunny parts of the Alps lives and works a quite talented director.
Work Liberates is a film with a heavy weight title, but after the first minute of its 70 minute duration it was absolutely obvious that we will not watch another feature about the Holocaust in Europe, but a bitter-sweet crossover between comedy and drama, with the emphasis on the comedy part. The dreaded Nazi sentence from the gates of Auschwitz is dragged out of the WW2 context and placed into a society that is no longer socialist/communist yet still struggles to become capitalist. To be precise, the society has adopted the new values that some of the people just couldn’t. Peter (a very good Peter Musevski performance) is an unemployed engineering technician who has no chance of finding work since his profession is simply obsolete. Without work, regular incomes and self esteem he is desperately trying to preserve his marriage to ambitious and professionally successful Vera (an excellent Natasa Barbara Gancer performance). As days go by Peter is spending more time in bars and Vera is getting more frustrated. The break up of the two is inevitable; still there is one small problem: their young daughter.
Can there be a life without a job? That is the question contemporary Slovenian film often asks. Jan Cvitkovic asked himself the same in his Bread and Milk (Kruh i mleko). The film brought the author a special reward in Motovun 2001. In a way it was a great rehearsal for the actor Peter Musevski. Apparently his physical appearance — combining a sturdy body and good-natured face which reflects a fragile soul — is as though it was invented for those types of roles. The loss of job in the situation when every cent is vital for survival (both physically and mentally) is a no–win situation, especially for the generation that Kozole portraits. Being born in the late fifties and sixties, those are people who defined their social status before the political changes began. Redefining for some was possible, but for the most very traumatic; even impossible.
Damjan Kozole approached Work Liberates in a smart way. Problems that are troubling his little family are externally conditioned, but they are escalating within the very walls of the home. Therefore, most of the film is shot in the interiors. When the camera leaves the safeness of the home things just get from bad to worse. Either it is another failure in the employment bureau, or by a bad car that ruined the attempt of going on vacation. In the end, Peter realises that his Vera has a lover. The director (who also wrote the script) through all these small tragedies never condemns his protagonists. He portrays them with a lot of love and understanding, depicting both their flaws and advantages. Extracting the conclusions from this is left to the viewers.
Since it was already said that Kozole’s latest film is more comedy than drama it is obvious that a happy ending is a logical finish. And, of course, there are no Hollywood deus ex machina solutions; no lottery wins or fat cheques from rich relatives from abroad. In the end everyone’s lost a lot, but gained a single, precious thing: the opportunity to move forward. Maybe they weren’t hoping for such an ending but it was the only one possible. Life has its own, for the involved hardly transparent, ways. Damjan Kozole understands this and that’s the reason why Work Liberates should be considered as authentic, very well made film without any loose ends. On top of it all, by filming an intimate movie he managed to give a universal air to it, at least for all the Eastern European countries.
Returning to the topic of this article: rhetorical questions always have a preceding answer. That much we know. Size is relative when talking about films. The small frame often hides big surprises — Damjan Kozole in Work Liberates proved it once more.