SHORTS: Neil Young on two notable documentary shorts from Belgrade's Alternative Film/Video
Neil Young
Young is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.
Published date: January 9, 2020

Ibarska Highway, Flânerie 2.0

Aleksandrija AjdukovićChloé Galibert-Laîné

Serbia, France

Ibarska Highway

As the song says, «the road is long, with many a winding turn…». Serbia’s magistrala 22 is widely regarded as the single most notorious and dangerous thoroughfare in the ex-Yugoslavian state, a Balkan nation where hazardous driving conditions are—for various interconnected, socio-economic reasons—regrettably far from uncommon.

Stretching some 298km from the suburbs of the capital Belgrade to the border with Montenegro, «State Road 22» (S-22) is an especially busy and important ribbon of tarmac. It nevertheless stubbornly remains an old-school single-highway affair in each direction; the margins are dotted with busy rakija-dispensing bars and meat-oriented restaurants as well as a myriad of domestic dwellings.

Ibarska Highway, a film by Aleksandrija Ajduković

Dubbed the «Ibarska Highway» because of the way it partly follows the contours of the Ibar river, this legendary piece of infrastructure is now becoming better known beyond the region thanks to a new short film bearing its name. Directed by Aleksandrija Ajduković and edited by Miloš Korać, #Ibarska Highway is a frenetic and vibrant variation on the venerable «city symphony» sub-genre of creative documentary of which Dziga Vertov‘s silent classic The Man With A Movie Camera (1929) remains the best-known example.

Here, however, the focus is strictly on suburban and quasi-rural locales—such as the small town of Meljak, which S-22 bisects. Locals attending a wedding feast pose in front of Ajduković’s lens, showing off their finery. Their exuberance is contrasted with calmer glimpses of roadside residents enjoying their gardens, senior citizens evidently long accustomed to blocking out the sounds, smells, and sights of the huge trucks thundering past with juggernaut intensity. An elegiac note is provided by images of flower-garlanded memorials to the many victims of the so-called «Black Highway» through the years.

Serbia’s magistrala 22 is widely regarded as the single most notorious and dangerous thoroughfare in the ex-Yugoslavian state

Despite the deceptively brief 12-minute running time (including two minutes of credits, in which all 101 on-screen «participants» are alphabetically catalogued), there’s a real sense that all human life is fleetingly depicted here. Korać’s rhythms zip along to the propulsive accompaniment of a jangling, electronic-flavoured score by Mangulica FM.

Fluently deploying different ratios and filming techniques (extra-widescreen «Lomokino» analogue film juxtaposed with sharp, conventional-framed digital video), Ajduković evokes an eclectic range of moods that, with only a few sparing words of dialogue, builds—with the noteworthy assistance of soundscape-creator Miloš Drobnjaković — into an engaging and immersive time-capsule.

Making much from limited resources, Ibarska Highway simultaneously commemorates, immortalizes, and transcends specifics of space and time, allowing the viewer to vicariously sample the chaotic delights of S-22’s trans-Balkan travel without risk to life or limb.

Flânerie 2.0

The borrowed-from-French word «Flânerie» is somewhat prosaically defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as «idle, aimless behaviour». But the term, especially in literary and philosophical senses, has come to encompass a much richer sphere of human activity: it is the means by which an individual sensitively explores a city without a set route, map or plan of any kind, achieving a psycho-geographic understanding of the space in which she/he moves and, ideally, stumbles across inner truths along the way.

Flânerie can, in theory, be conducted in any town or city in the world, but down the decades—at least since Charles Baudelaire strode the boulevards in the 1830s—it has steadily become almost synonymous with one particular metropolis: Paris, eminently walkable, café-strewn home of the flâneur. This connection has been celebrated and strengthened, indeed imaginatively extended into the new digital era, by filmmaker Chloé Galibert-Laîné and her multi-layered 11-minute work #Flânerie 2.0.

Flânerie 2.0, a film by Chloé Galibert-Laîné

Narrated by Galibert-Laîné in a detached, ruminative manner, it takes as its specific starting-point a semi-forgotten feature-length fiction film made in the French capital a full half-century previously. Paris Does Not Exist (Paris n’existe pas) was one of only two movies directed by Morocco-born theorist/critic Robert Benayoun (1926-1996). It boasts a supporting cast that includes chanteur-provocateur extraordinaire Serge Gainsbourg; lesser-known thespian Richard Leduc plays the protagonist, however, an artist whose dabbling with drugs causes him to become somewhat «unstuck» in time.

As this fashionably-attired, tousle-haired twenty-something wanders the late-sixties city, his experience oscillates between contemporary vistas and those of the pre-WW2 past: Benayoun interpolates black-and-white footage shot in 1935 to indicate the dichotomy. 1935 also happened to be the year when philosopher Walter Benjamin published his seminal work «Paris: the Capital of the Nineteenth Century,» in which he (among other things) interrogates and redefines the concept of the flâneur.

Galibert-Laîné draws upon the foundations laid by Benayoun and Benjamin; she also encompasses not only the dérive, a form of semi-deliberate urban navigation proposed in the 1950s by Guy Debord but also the analyses of academic Susan Buck-Morss in the 1980s.

The borrowed-from-French word «Flânerie» is somewhat prosaically defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as «idle, aimless behaviour».

In other hands, this may have been a recipe for an over-dense miniature text weighed down by the intellectual burden of illustrious forebears. But Galibert-Laîné not only sketches a useful primer and introduction to a complex topic but—via playful use of computer-desktop editing—updates it to a time when, thanks to the ubiquity of smart-phones and the like, becoming profitably lost or productively unmoored on the streets of Paris is a regrettably rare privilege.

– these two films were among five equal top prize-winners at Alternative Film/Video, Belgrade, Serbia, 11-15 December 2019, and have also been screened at other festivals.

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