Ungiven: The seasons of the mind
by Jesús Silva
- Croatian director Branko Schmidt offers a heart-breaking story about an elderly couple confronting routine, patriarchal attitudes and the relentless process of dementia
The 15th edition of the Brussels Mediterranean Film Festival is currently under way, unspooling from 4-11 December in the Belgian capital with a great selection of features from different Mediterranean countries. In its Main Competition section we find Croatian filmmaker Branko Schmidt’s latest feature, Ungiven [+see also:
film profile], awarded with two prizes at the 2015 Pula Film Festival – Best Screenplay and Best Editing (read the news) – and the Prize of the Ecumenical Jury at Cottbus earlier this year (read the news). The film revolves around an elderly Croat couple who return to their hometown after the war, and it was produced by Goran Radman for Hrvatska radiotelevizija (HRT).
Kata and Slavko (two amazing performances delivered by Nada Đurevska and Ivo Gregurević) come back to their village in the Croatian countryside after several years of conflict, only to find that their old farm has been virtually destroyed by the war. Determined to move on, they decide to restore the place and start a new life, but it is not only their house that seems to have fallen apart; their relationship is also collapsing due to Slavko’s aggressive temperament and Kata’s increasing forgetfulness, which makes him even grumpier. We follow their daily interactions and recurring activities (making coffee, collecting water, repairing the farm…) throughout the four seasons of the year, which represent the subsequent chapters of an unrelenting process: every day, she becomes more absent and depressed, while he turns extremely irritable and frustrated. His patriarchal stubbornness means that he is unaware that she is actually suffering from a disease, and only towards the end of the film does he realise that her recurrent failures may be caused by dementia. At this point, Slavko starts showing real proof of his kindness and compassion, changing his behaviour and revealing his true love for her, which had formerly been imperceptible.
Although the whole narrative appears overly simplified, and based to a great extent on repetition, Ungiven offers another touching approach to the theme of dementia, and how it develops within the arduous routine and the personal dynamics of an elderly couple. The original title of the movie, Imena Visnje (lit. “The Names of the Cherries”), refers to Kata’s wish to plant a cherry tree in the garden so that she can prepare sweets for her grandchildren. This becomes a meaningful decision for Slavko – who previously refused the idea, considering it pointless – and provides a deeply emotive conclusion to the story: it leads to his ultimate gesture of love and redemption, when she is no longer capable of even remembering her own offspring. Ungiven is overall a strong cinematic reflection about time, memory and loss, intended to depict the tragic consequences of patriarchal values, as well as a lack of sympathy with and understanding of our loved ones.