Ellen is a film director and freelance film critic. She is a regular contributor to Modern Times Review.

A suggestive, abstract tribute to the golden age of avant-garde film pulls me right in. A hypnotic soundscape in the form of Japanese children’s singing, piano and a narrative voice. But then…

Toward a Common Tenderness

Kaori Oda

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Japan,

My first expectations turn out to be completely wrong. Kaori Oda is not a cinefile, according to herself. I’m becoming curious about this shy Japanese who’s filming in Bosnia. The recordings are not what you’d expect from the war-torn Balkans. The camera dwells on the face of a gipsy man. Lengthy close-ups while the director’s Japanese narrator voice ponders about understanding and giving something back.

I’m becoming fascinated. How has this closeness to this group of people that in Eastern Europe is generally regarded with distrust, fear and distance according to others, come about?


Kaori is filming effortlessly, as if she’s a family member. She moves in for a week, receiving and sharing care and tenderness in the warm closeness expressed by the images. This contrasts with scenes early in the film, where an older Japanese woman turns away from the camera. The woman is filmed from up close, but a certain distance is always present. In some scenes she laughs or smiles. Yet at the same time no closeness or warmth is being expressed. Kaori tells of the emptiness after the first, all too private film she made, and about her mother’s brutal reaction. About disorientation, about choosing Sarajevo and its film school. About the attraction towards a place far from home, and the possibility of learning from her mentor in filmmaking.

The mentor’s name is never mentioned. The mythical Bela Tarr ran film.factory in Sarajevo until the funding ended in 2016. Most of his films have been unavailable. Lengthy takes and a fondness for evocative, apocalyptic moods are his trademarks.

Disheartened uninspired filmmaker? 

Kaori Oda doesn’t follow closely in the footsteps of her mentor. The first, fading recordings of an elderly man and a party with a fairground carousel are not eye-catching. She’s neither motivated nor all in. And she openly tells us so.

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