Ivan Velisavljevic
Ivan is freelance critic and regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

Serbian cinema takes a leap onto the world stage with the programme presented at the international film festival Visions du Réel’s Focus Serbia.

The 18 documentaries selected for international film festival Visions du Réel’s Focus Serbia programme this year are a strong representative sample of Serbian documentary production from the past decade. Several films being screened either analyse or reinterpret important historical events from the country’s turbulent history – whether from the wars in the 1990s or the socialist Yugoslav period. As is often the case, many deal with society’s marginalised, or simply vivid characters that live their lives in the forgotten corners of the country. And quite a few are not related to Serbia itself, but other countries, cities and places in our globalised world. The Focus Serbia collection contains films from all three groups, with humour and bitterness, nostalgia, emotional and political issues often intertwined. All of them are highly personal and very different in terms of style and mood.

History revisited

On-screen personal interpretations of historical events take viewers down somewhat radical roads in recent Serbian documentaries. In Thetha Rhythm (2010) Bojan Fajfric painstakingly reconstructs a day in the life of a politician from the 1980s. The protagonist misses the chance to actively participate in the famous 1987 Communist League of Serbia session that brought Slobodan Milosevic to power and sat the wheels in motion for the breakup of Yugoslavia. But the politician in question was the filmmaker’s father – the reconstruction is not just an exercise in art direction and research, but a deeply personal history that reflects on the choices we may or may not make, and our own paths, often unaware of our bigger picture.

https://vimeo.com/231889825

Using a mixture of interviews and archival sources bolstered by interactions with her mother Srbijanka, Mila Turajlic in The Other Side of Everything recreates her mother’s life story: she is a politician and an activist embodying The Other Serbia, an opposition group fighting against Slobodan Milosevic. But the story is also told using the symbolism granted by the divided apartment, half of it nationalised by the communist government after WWII and given to a poor proletarian woman. The narrative line leads Turajlic towards a story quite resonant in contemporary Serbian society: that of a bourgeois family whose struggle for democracy and Western liberal values is accompanied by a longing for lost privileges and its property.

Ideology and recollections of war

Marta Popivoda also uses archival footage and a voiceover in her experimental documentary Yugoslavia, How Ideology Moved Our Collective Body (2013), creating an essay-like audiovisual meditation on massive gymnastic festivals celebrating socialism, and mass voluntary labour activities that rebuilt the country after WWII. Both Popivoda and Dane Komljen rely on certain devices of experimental filmmaking and intend to touch on the political and the collective through the personal.

«Since Serbia is a country with many ethnic minorities, they’ve always been a topic of Serbian cinema.»

Komljen’s Tiny Bird (2013) assumes a more meditative, introspective tone – starting from his father’s documents, Komljen uses associational form to go deeper into the meaning of friendship and new beginnings. Although Ognjen Glavonjic’s Depth Two (2016) shares certain characteristics of the same minimalist style used by Komljen, it is the most grim of all in this category. A story of Serbian war crimes in Kosovo and the corpses of Albanian POW which were carried secretly in trucks to be disposed of on Belgrade’s periphery, Depth Two juxtaposes the seemingly peaceful landscape with voiceovers from witnesses that describe the concealment of mass death – if not for the witnesses, would we even know?

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