Dead Fish: A post-war mosaic of human destinies in a divided town
by Marko Stojiljković
- Kristijan Milić’s third feature is a study of post-war life, echoing Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, which has world-premiered in Pula’s Croatian Film Competition
The trickiest thing with wars is not the shooting and the imminent death lurking around every corner. No, every war leaves its mark on people, who are left in the limbo of PTSD and frustration while trying to get back to a life they could call “normal”. Some make it, others don’t. Some turn to alcohol for comfort, others don’t. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it doesn’t. Some find the will to live, and some just give up and commit suicide. Kristijan Milić’s latest film Dead Fish [+see also:
interview: Kristijan Milić
film profile], which had its world premiere at the Pula Film Festival, studies the scars of the war in Yugoslavia left on the people, and the long-term consequences for the cities and countries.
The story, based on a collection of short stories by Josip Mlakić, who adapted it into a screenplay himself, is constructed in Altman’s Short Cuts fashion, and follows a group of war veterans and younger people on both sides of the city dealing with both the visible consequences of war and havoc, as well as the long-term ones hidden under the surface, simultaneously catching the spirit of the place and dealing with universal issues. Some of those stories and their characters are better developed, for instance in the first half of the film a suicidal man nicknamed the Professor and played by Dragan Despot is basically the protagonist, whose death links all the other pieces of the mosaic, while some of the other stories are just little vignettes with somewhat under-developed characters.
On the other hand, Kristijan Milić does his best to keep the whole film compact and audience-friendly at just over two hours, which can be hard when trying to link lots of different stories. After two genre flicks, The Living and the Dead (2007) and Number 55 [+see also:
film profile] (2014), this is his first attempt at doing something at a more measured pace, and he does with a good sense of rhythm, adding occasional bursts of action into this toned-down film. Visual references to Jarmusch and Hitchcock are evident, but work as subtle tributes, and Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Bergman’s The Seventh Seal are quoted in the film’s text often to an awkwardly humorous effect, which makes Dead Fish easily watchable, yet a profound film experience and a meditative addition to the filmmaker’s war-themed work.
The film was shot in Mostar, a divided city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the name is rarely spoken. The locations are unique and recognisable to the domestic crowd as well as foreign tourists, but the story of a divided town can be applied to many places all over Bosnia and former Yugoslavia. Soft black and white cinematography by Mirko Pivčević conveys the dark and gloomy mood, and is underpinned by Andrija Milić’s somewhat jazzy score.
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