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Chicago Serbian Film Festival 2015

December 3, 2015

serbianfilmfest2015

 

For film enthusiasts, one of the benefits of living in a big city are the continuous opportunities to attend festivals offering  foreign films throughout the year. Besides the many films offered at the Chicago International Film Festival, there’s the Greek Film Fest Chicago as well as the various selections that can be found at the Siskel Film Center. This weekend the Chicago area will be treated to some of the best selections in Serbian cinema at the 3rd annual Chicago Serbian Film Festival, for three nights, Friday, December 4th through Sunday, December 6th, at Muvico Rosemont 18 in Rosemont, IL, located between Chicago city limits and O’Hare International Airport.This is a rare chance to experience Serbian culture from the unique perspective of filmmakers who were raised in the region. Of the seven films offered, there are stories that are either based on actual events or semi-autobiographical in a the war-ravaged country of the early 1990s as well as modern character-driven dramatic stories. Many of these films have already won multiple awards on the festival circuit, yet have never screened in the U.S. until now. Radoš Bajić’s “For the King and Homeland” is making its U.S. premiere at the Chicago festival on Friday, December 4th. Later that night “No One’s Child” by Vuk Ršumović, is scheduled to screen with the director in attendance for a Q&A..

Another film making its U.S. premiere is Marko Novaković’s “Stairless”, which focuses on a man stricken with Alzheimer’s. It will be shown on Saturday, December 5th, and will be followed by Goran Radovanović’s “Enclave”, Serbia’s official submission to the 88th Academy Awards for Best Foreign-Language Film.

On Sunday, December 6th, two other films, Darko Bajić’s “We Will Be the World Champions” – a basketball drama featuring a supporting turn from John Savage (“The Deer Hunter”) that tells of the development of the sport in Yugoslavia – and Borisa Simovic’s “While They Were Flying to the Moon” – a story taking place in Belgrade on July 20, 1969 when Apollo 11 landed on the moon – will also receive U.S. premieres. They are followed by the world premiere of “Legacy”, which finds Nemanja Cipranic making his feature-length directorial debut.

A full schedule can be found here.

Of the films I’ve seen, one acting standout is a talented young man named Denis Murić, who can be found in two of the films presented this weekend. Murić plays the title character in “No One’s Child” and a sort of antagonist in “Enclave”. In both films, he delivers intense and committed performances that will no doubt resonate with viewers.

Below are mini-reviews of the four films I’ve viewed….

 

 

kingandcountry

 

FOR KING AND HOMELAND

written and directed by: Radoš Bajić/97 min.

A reflective drama, following old Serbian soldier Milisav Janjic (Nenad Okanovic), who fought in World War II against the German occupancy, as a member of the Serbian resistance movement lead by Yugaslov Serb General Dragoljub “Uncle Draža” Mihailović (Nebojsa Glogovac) – a staunch royalist who retreated to Ravna Gora, the highlands near Belgrade when the Germans overran Yugoslavia in April 1941.  Mihailović organized a band of guerrillas there that would come to be known as the Chetnik Detachments of the Yugoslav Army, which Janjic was a part of. Now, after his emigration to the United States 70 years ago, he has returned to his homeland for the first time and memories come flooding back to the tired old man. Writer/director Radoš Bajić brings to light a part of war history that will prove to be educating for most viewers and he knows the best way to do that is to use the recollections of someone who lived through as a gateway for the audience. I certainly had never heard of the Chetnik movement and found the storyline compelling. Although I had some difficulty following who’s who (in both modern-day and during flashbacks) and the film’s music become jarringly operatic at times, this was nevertheless a powerful film with a timeless anti-war message.

RATING: **1/2

7:15pm, Friday, December 4th – writer/director Radoš Bajić will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.

 

 

nooneschildharis

NO ONE’S CHILD 

written and directed by: Vuk Ršumović/97 min.

Here’s a film that reminded me that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. The fact that this strange story actually happened is unbelievable and mystifying, but those often make for great cinema. In the Spring of 1988, a group of hunters in the Bosnian mountains find a feral boy (Denis Murić in an impressive debut) who had been living with wolves. It is uncertain where he was from or how he came to live in the woods, nor does writer/director Vuk Ršumović focus on such understandable questions. Instead, we follow the boy, who is given the name Haris Puchke, to an orphanage in Belgrade, where he is under the care of Ilke (Milos Timotijec, “The Chernobyl Diaries”), a sympathetic counselor. Although he is ridiculed by his peers, he finds friendship in an older boy, Žika (Pavle Cemerikic), who helps Haris assimilate to the strange world that is thrust upon him. Over the course of four years, Haris slowly develops from grunts and growls to functioning as a fairly socialized young man who can read and write. But as war develops between Europe and the Balkans, change is forced once again upon the boy. Led by a powerfully committed lead performance, Ršumović (who has primarily done TV work and shorts up until now) has made an absorbing film that focuses on internal isolation and the longing for acceptance. “No One’s Child”, or “Ničije Dete” is much more than a coming-of-age story or a folklore story, it’s both a poignant political tale and a study in humane behavior.

RATING: ***1/2

9:15pm, Friday, December 4th – writer/director Vuk Ršumović will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.

 

 

enclave

ENCLAVE

written and directed by: Goran Radovanović/92 min.

Set amidst the Serbian/Albanian dispute that took place fifteen years ago, “Enclave” introduces us to a a small Serbian enclave in Kosovo where ten year-old Nenad (Filip Subaric) lives with his father Vojislav (Nebojsa Glogovac) and his sick grandfather Milutin (Meto Jovanovski). They are the only Serbs for miles.  Nenad is escorted in a KFOR military vehicle to his school every day, accompanied by Serbian Orthodox priest Drazha (Miodrag Krivokapic), where he is now the only student. He longs for companionship from his peers, but it seems less and less like something that could happen. He sees two Albanian boys his age through the slots of the armored vehicle and a thirteen year-old shepherd boy, Bashkim (Denis Muric), who despises Serbs after his father died in the war. The focus is a Serbian community that remained living in Kosovo in small isolated communities, aka enclaves. They are restricted to this confined area, but these parameters become complicated when someone dies and the cemetery is outside the enclave. It takes a Serbian boy to forge a friendship with an Albanian to change the atmosphere of this period in time. While the politics of the story are somewhat hazy, “Enclave” is populated by fascinating and charming characters in a coming-of-age story set amid the animosities of war.

RATING: ***

8:45pm, Saturday, December 5th – writer/director Goran Radovanović will be in attendance for a Q&A following the film.

 

 

whiletheymoon

 

WHILE THEY WERE FLYING TO THE MOON

written by: Borisa Simovic and Svetozar Vlajkovic, directed by: Borisa Simovic/21 min.

On July 20, 1969, when the U.S. was landing Apollo 11 on the moon, the city of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, was deserted. Seemingly everyone was watching the televised landing and understandably so. One man (Tihomir Stanic) and woman (Jelena Djokic) show no interest in that landmark in history. They have admired each other from afar for some time and are now sitting separately from each other in a desolate restaurant. Both of them seize such an opportunity to finally connect and exchange flirtatious banter. Borisa Simovic has directed (and co-wrote) an enjoyable short that at times feels like an ad for a cologne or liquor. He balances their story with what feels like obligatory filler shots of the lunar landing. It’s not clear why, since the focus on the two leads would be sufficient enough. The two charismatic leads are interesting and work well off each other, but this short ultimately felt like something was missing.

RATING: **

A full schedule of the festival can be found here. 

 

 

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