Humidity: An ambiguous drama with the tension of a thriller
by Vladan Petkovic
- BERLIN 2016: Serbian director Nikola Ljuca's new atmospheric drama has world-premiered in the Forum section of the Berlinale
Serbian director Nikola Ljuca's Humidity [+see also:
interview: Nikola Ljuca
film profile] is a rare gem: an atmospheric drama about identity and a generation stripped of its ideals, with a narrative in which not much seems to be happening plot-wise, but still possessing a thriller-like tension, is an unexpected achievement for a first-time director. The film world-premiered in the Berlinale's Forum.
Written by Ljuca and Staša Bajac, Humidity opens with a steamy sex scene between Mina (Tamara Krcunović, so far criminally underused in Serbian cinema) and Milan (Slaven Došlo, who broke out last year with roles in Panama [+see also:
film profile] and Next to Me [+see also:
interview: Stevan Filipović
film profile]). It's the scorching end of July in Belgrade, and after the sweat dries off, Mina drives to the airport to pick up her husband Petar (Miloš Timotijevic, from No One's Child [+see also:
film profile]) and his co-worker Srdjan (Dragan Bakema).
They work for a construction company, and there's a party that night in one of their colleagues' summerhouse. When Mina and Petar get home, they lie down for a nap, and he wakes up to see her gone. She does not answer her phone, but he sees no reason to worry. He goes to the party, and when he doesn't find her there, he invents an excuse.
She is not back the next day either, and Petar just goes to work, where he is encouraged by his boss to close a shady deal revolving around the construction of a bridge, potentially endangering thousands of lives in a future distant enough not to worry about right now – an everyday practice in corrupt Serbian society.
Days pass, each marked by a narrative title, and Mina is still missing. Petar visits her mother, talks to her friends, all the time pretending that everything's fine. He spends his nights jogging or partying, looking for a release from anxiety and preserving the image of a perfect life.
Petar belongs to the generation that grew up in the 1990s, lived through the Yugoslav wars, the UN embargo and the NATO bombing, protested against Milošević, and was left disillusioned when, after the dictator's fall, society only became more brutal, with the influx of big capital.
He now drives a BMW, and when he gets a promotion, he buys a new, slightly bigger one. Meanwhile, Petar's sister Bojana (Katarina Marković) and her husband have opened a fancy restaurant. This is not a milieu of people who care to reflect on anything except money and status. “I don't have time to be depressed,” says Bojana, lying by the pool in a posh spa.
Ljuca gradually ratchets up the tension as Petar runs away from anything that might mirror his flawed, artificially created identity. On this note, the director gives a classy nod to Lynch's Lost Highway.
Timotijevićis a revelation in the main role. It takes an actor of a special sensibility to convey a character whose irrational actions feel so plausible. Krcunović has very limited screen time, but gives the film exactly what it needs with just a few restrained facial expressions and perfectly measured lines. While Timotijević carries the film on his back, she – or rather, the lack of her – is the element that excites us and makes us think.
Belgrade itself plays an important role in the film. With the refreshing touch of up-and-coming DoP Maja Radošević (Next to Me), Ljuca has shown the city with a mixture of love and reproach that can only come from a person who knows it right from its dirtiest basements to its shiniest rooftops.
Humidity is an impressive debut, and the best thing of all is that what you are reading now is just one possible interpretation. There are numerous apparently inconsequential details that could inspire a particular line of thought in the viewer, and discussions about the film's themes and meaning after the screening are guaranteed.