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FILMS Serbia

Review: Horizons

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- Svetislav Dragomirović’s debut feature is an interesting mixture of melodrama and backwoods noir fuelled by family secrets

Review: Horizons

Horizons [+see also:
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, a film by Serbian debutant writer-director Svetislav Dragomirović, which is having its domestic and European premiere at Belgrade FEST after world-premiering at last year’s Cairo International Film Festival, tells a familiar story about skeletons in the family closet resulting in tragedy – but in a new and, considering the context of Serbian cinema, refreshing way. If the film were just a tad more accomplished and willing to ditch the melodramatic clichés, it would be considered revolutionary as the first Serbian backwoods noir, but it is still pioneering as the first articulated attempt heading in that direction.

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Horizons begins at the end of the story: two brothers, Zoran (played by Slobodan Beštić from A Serbian Film) and Milan (Gojko Baletić, known for his roles in theatre and on television), accompanied by the latter’s teenage son Slobodan (Nikola Stanimirović), meet aboard boats on the river. Zoran tries to steal a piece of Milan’s fishing net, a fight ensues, and shots are fired, presumably with fatal consequences. This serves very well as a hook (pun intended), since there must be something more than just a piece of net to cause the brothers to try to kill each other.

As the narrative progresses, the layers of mystery are peeled off, thus unearthing the story: Zoran’s much younger girlfriend Jovanka (Jovana Gavrilović, of Requiem for Mrs. J. [+see also:
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 fame) is pregnant by someone else and has scheduled an illegal abortion with the local veterinarian (Stefan Bundalo), which does not go as planned. With each “reset” in the presentation, more and more pieces slot into the narrative jigsaw, with key scenes such as two visits to the veterinarian’s and a hunting-fishing trip being revisited from different angles.

Filmed in widescreen by cinematographer Strahinja Pavlović and using a palette of dirty greys and muddy browns, the film’s visual identity relies heavily on being set in the swamps of Serbia’s north-eastern region of Banat, which is not a bad thing at all. The sense of isolation and desperation is heightened by the soundscape, consisting of ambient sounds of wind blowing, branches cracking under people’s feet, and car and boat engines running. The production design by Maja Đuričić and costume design by Ivana Nestorović paint a realistic picture of the less glamorous aspects of Serbian rural life.

The third act, set about 20 years after the previous events and focused on the adult Slobodan, now a priest played by Boris Pingović, and his cousin Goran (Nebojša Rako), interrupts the flow of non-linearity seen earlier, but the pace remains meditative and deliberate. Thematically reminiscent of the final third of Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, but more sedate, it serves well as both an epilogue and a coda to a more-than-decent film. 

Horizons was produced by Cinnamon Film and Gray Tree Film.

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