Lazar: A portrait of a young man’s moral awakening
by Paraskevi Karageorgu
- Offering an insight into refugee smuggling, the new film by Svetozar Ristovski is a reflection on dehumanisation and a corrupt society
With his third feature, Lazar [+see also:
interview: Svetozar Ristovski
film profile], screened in competition at the Brussels Film Festival, Svetozar Ristovski returns to the topic of a society that is corrupting its population. While in his previous Macedonian film from 2004, Mirage, a teenager is faced with the cruel realities of Macedonia immediately after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, Lazar is set in the present day, where borders still define people’s faith, and follows the life of a man in his twenties (Vedran Živolić), who lives off illegally trafficking humans into Europe.
Lazar depicts the realities of a couple of years ago, when for refugees, Greece was an entrance to the promised land of the EU. The film, therefore, represents a direct insight into the roots of the problem, which has escalated in Europe over the past year, turning Macedonia into part of the Balkan route, through which thousands of refugees have passed in search of a better life. A very challenging perspective is depicted: that of the human traffickers themselves. Here, unemployment, a lack of opportunities and corruption force a group of people to become involved in smuggling refugees. The dehumanisation of the people being smuggled is the only way that traffickers can get on with their job, and the director successfully portrays this on camera: the refugees in Lazar are nothing but shadows, nameless and faceless figures.
Lead character Lazar is discreet, intelligent and efficient, a breakthrough performance by Živolić, whose portrayal of a young man’s inner struggles, doubts, disgust and helplessness as he finds himself in a deadlock, enthrall the audience. However, the focus of the film is not entirely on Lazar, as his encounters introduce many other characters that provide various representations of contemporary Macedonia: a young girl selling tiles (Natasha Petrovic), hoping to go back to university, who Lazar falls in love with; Lazar’s brother-in-law (Dejan Lilic), a desperate man crushed by his failures, who wants to make his son proud; Lazar’s mother, abandoned by her husband, who has emigrated to Germany and has a new family there; and a young man, Lazar’s friend, who has acquired a Bulgarian passport - the easiest way of gaining direct access to the EU - and recommends that he do the same.
With its combination of various different elements of social-realist drama and a hint of the French gangster film to it, Lazar is about a young man’s moral awakening, as true love and a tragic incident make him reevaluate his life choices and take a closer look at the people who surround him – a captivating feature questioning human (co)existence and the price of survival.
The film is a co-production between Macedonia, Croatia, Bulgaria and France, through Arizona Productions, Gala Film, Small Moves and MP Films. Arizona Films is also selling the film internationally and distributing it in France.