Tina Poglajen
Poglajen is freelance film critic.

SERBIA: A locked door inside a Belgrade apartment has kept one family separated from their past for over 70 years.

A flat in a Belgradian town house, in which the educated, well-off Turajlic family had lived, was partitioned to house two additional families at the onset of the Communist revolution in Yugoslavia of the 1940s. The doors between the part where the Turajlic family was allowed to remain and the two newly-formed nationalised thirds of the flat have been locked and glued shut to remain that way for 70 years – which is when Mila Turajlic’s mother, Srbijanka Turajlic, who at the time of the partition and nationalisation was two years old, decides to apply for restitution of her family’s former real estate, in order to be able to bequeath it to her children. In the historical space in between those two events, the documentary film The Other Side of Everything happens. The door being locked and shut and then only opened three-quarters of a century later makes for lovely bookends for the story, which, as its central motif suggests, happens at the crossroads of the historical, the personal and the political.

The Other Side of Everything is an examination of three distinct political and historical periods of the country, during which the door in the middle of Srbijanka Turajlic’s flat is closed shut: The era of Yugoslavia as a Socialist Federal Republic, the period of the breakup of the federation, the rise of ethnic nationalism and Slobodan Miloševic’s rule, and finally, the contemporary Serbia, which is at least nominally supposed to be on its way to a true multi-party democracy. In examining the past of her mother, her family and her country, Turajlic firmly positions herself in the contemporary tradition of the more and more subjective documentary practices, which incidentally have been embraced in large part by female documentary filmmakers.

Her approach makes a lot of sense: The Other Side of Everything is as much a story of her
mother’s life as it is about the societal, historical and political turmoils of the former Yugoslavia and contemporary Serbia; Srbijanka Turajlic, who today is a retired professor at the Electrotechnical Faculty of the University of Belgrade, has been one of the leading figures of the fight for democracy in Serbia and an active member of the national movement Otpor! (“Resistance!”), a civic protest group and later a movement which led the nonviolent struggle as a course of action against the Miloševic-controlled Serbian authorities. She did not do well in any of the regimes after the World War Two: She was coming from a bourgeois family which had been regularly spied on by the Yugoslavian Secret Police, UDBA, she organised anti-Miloševic protests and gave public speeches against his politics, defiantly wearing the Otpor! T-shirt even after some of her colleagues wearing it had been beaten, to the dismay of her husband, and pessimistically dubbed an award for her contribution to the prevailing of democracy in Serbia “a fiasco” during its acceptance. Her story is, as the title of the film implies, one of the stories from “the other side”, the ones that are not heard as often compared to the dominant narrative of Serbia before, during and after the war. It is also a fascinating story of a person of an extraordinary courage and unbending mind, a call for a re-examination of the extent of today’s active citizenship and the struggles for political causes, especially in light of the recent debates surrounding the contemporary social media civic engagement and activism.

This is not to say that the film preaches to its audience or tries to take a didactic turn. The Other Side of Everything remains a subjective and a deeply personal documentary to the end, with the director of the film – the daughter of the woman who is, in her seven
ties, still being regularly called on with requests for interviews and comments on contemporary political events and anniversaries of mass demonstrations such as the Bulldozer Revolution – turning the film’s examining eye onto herself and her own willingness to stay in the country where there are no tangible prospects and carry on the fight of the generation before her for a more democratic and just society, perhaps sacrificing her life in progress, or do what so many of her peers have done, pack up and leave after finishing her studies to seek a better life in Western Europe or somewhere else. “All of us could get onto a single bus and leave the country, and the rest of Serbia would be pleased to see we finally had,” she says. It is a dilemma so universal and important that it manages to transcend the story-frame of the film which it is posited by. Which says a lot about the film itself – and how it makes for an excellent example of how meaningfully relevant a documentary film can be.