Review: Hotel Jugoslavija
by Vladan Petkovic
- Swiss filmmaker Nicolas Wagnières' documentary is an intimate exploration of the history of the titular Belgrade hotel and its relation to the country it was named after
Lausanne-born filmmaker Nicolas Wagnières is the son of a Swiss father and a Serbian mother, and his first feature-length documentary, Hotel Jugoslavija [+see also:
film profile], starts with this information as he pans his camera through the corridors of the titular establishment, once the biggest and grandest hotel in the Balkans, whose history overlapped with the destiny of the country it was named after. After its European premiere in the Berlinale's Panorama Dokumente programme, the film screened last week in the Thessaloniki Documentary Festival's International Competition.
On an intimate level, Hotel Jugoslavija represents a combination of the filmmaker's own memories of being a child who went with his parents for holidays in Yugoslavia, fused with sociological and philosophical musings on nostalgia for a country that was never his own, collective memory, and the nature of historical changes. These are represented through the hotel built in 1969, which served as a backdrop for visits by heads of state and film and sports stars during Tito's rule, a hotspot for (war) criminal groups in the 1990s, and a symbol in itself when it was bombed in 1999 by NATO. Today, it is once again a luxury hotel with the biggest casino in Belgrade and some dubious interior design.
Wagnières' own thoughts, provided via a voice-over, are interspersed with interviews with his own mother, who remembers her childhood in Belgrade after the Second World War and provides some useful historical background material, as well as chats with former employees of the hotel and, finally, with Slobodan Čerović, Serbia's Minister of Tourism at the end of the 1990s, when he oversaw a partial reconstruction of the facilities, which went through three different owners during the time that Wagnières spent working on the movie.
The filmmaker deftly combines these with archive materials from different eras that Yugoslavia and the Jugoslavija went through. Hardly any of these are new; we have already seen them in various documentaries about the country, but they make a different kind of sense in this particular context of a well-informed foreigner's point of view.
This position is always tricky for a documentary filmmaker, as it is easy to slip into a colonial mindset (and even easier to be accused of it), but Wagnières manages to avoid it, despite some overly obvious and broad parallels that he draws, such as using excerpts from Jovan Jovanović's 1971 anarchistic and long-banned masterpiece Young and Healthy as a Rose, in which a group of armed militant youngsters violently occupies the hotel, then a symbol of political power. On the other hand, these excerpts are so impressive that it is easy to understand why Wagnières included them – unlike the ones from the Kevin Costner vehicle 3 Days to Kill, filmed in the hotel in 2012.
Hotel Jugoslavija is a competently made documentary that benefits from a measured approach, with a minimalistic score and sound design, and precise cinematography and editing. Cinematically, it is a film worth seeing, but in any political or historical sense, it is largely irrelevant.
Hotel Jugoslavija was produced by Swiss company C-Side Productions, and London-based Taskovski Films has the international rights.
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