Hilarious black comedy explores Balkan mentality
by Vladan Petkovic
12/07/2012 - Miroslav Momčilović started off as the screenwriter for the local Serbian mega-hit urban comedy When I Grow Up I'll Be a Kangaroo in 2004, which he followed with his directorial debut omnibus Seven and a Half (2006), and another odd title for a film, Wait for Me and I Will Not Come (2009), a tragi-comedy set in New Belgrade tenement blocks. All these films explore Balkan mentality in urban settings, and with his latest effort, Death of a Man in Balkans, Momčilović finally took it out of the region, winning the Independent Camera Award at Karlovy Vary.
Screened out of competition at Sarajevo Film Festival's 3,000-seat Open Air, the black comedy appears to be a more appropriate material for home viewing, as it is all filmed in one shot (or looks like it) by a camera that stands in for a webcam. But with Momčilović's unique brand of black humour, featuring the regional star, Bosnian Emir Hadžihafizbegović (Buick Riviera, Snow [trailer], Armin [trailer]), Death... could be a regional hit in the hands of a skilled distributor.
In the first scene, a composer living in a Belgrade apartment commits suicide, just off the webcam on his work table, which gives an unusally good view of the living room. Disposing of the titular character in the first minute of the film, played by probably the most popular actor in the Balkans, Nikola Kojo (most recently starring in the regional blockbuster The Parade [trailer]), Momčilović explores his immediate surroundings and builds a study of Balkan mentality through the category of neighbours, which is rather universal than local.
The first on the scene is Aca (Hadžihafizbegović), next-door neighbour and a Bosnian school janitor who fixed the parquette for the composer. His wife comes in, then a female neighbour, and finally Aca's friend Vesko (Radoslav Milenković), who lives in the apartment on the floor below and starts off complaining about the noise the composer used to make when playing his piano (seen partially in the corner of the webcam recording).
More characters follow, as an undertaker arrives before the ambulance Aca's wife called, which is typical of the Balkan industry of death: ambulance crews have deals with companies who cater for the dead, and they are often first on the scene, offering caskets that range in price from €300 to €5,000. When the police finally arrive an hour later, this practice is frowned upon but not punished.
Death of a Man in the Balkans shows all the worst aspects of the Balkans, from petty interests to superstition, fear of authority, a tendency for hedonistic indulgence regardless of the situation, double standards and outright hypocrisy, but also gives it a touch of the human soul. This story is so local that it becomes universal, and a thinking person in any part of the world will recognize their own people in it. Hadžihafizbegović gives the performance of a lifetime, and the simple setting should boost its comedic aspects. The English translation, crucial for a talky film like this, is quite successful, and the film should receive attention outside the region as well.
The film was produced by Belgrade-based Brigada and still has no sales agent attached.