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ZAGREB 2017

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Iskra: A suspenseful thriller with a political angle

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- The newest offering from Montenegro, screening at Zagreb, is an accomplished genre movie by first-time director Gojko Berkuljan

Iskra: A suspenseful thriller with a political angle
Mirko Vlahović in Iskra

The fledgling Montenegrin cinema scene is slowly gaining momentum, after the success of Ivan Marinović's Sarajevo title The Black Pin [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Ivan Marinovic
film profile
]
last year. In fact, this year's Zagreb Film Festival has decided to place a focus on this particular national cinema, and has presented a number of successful shorts and a couple of low-budget features by first-time filmmakers.

One of these is Iskra [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, an urban thriller with a political angle, made by Gojko Berkuljan, a young director for whom this is the first feature film. The title character, played by newcomer Jelena Simić, is a young and ambitious journalist investigating a story about the unsolved disappearances of various opponents of the political structures that rose to power after Yugoslavia fell apart in the early 1990s.

The film opens as Iskra's colleague informs her father Petar (Mirko Vlahović, known internationally for The Black Pin and Barbarians [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Ivan Ikic
film profile
]
), a retired policeman, that she has been missing for a couple of days. Petar quickly informs his former partner, now the chief of police, Ranko (veteran thesp Mladen Nelević, seen last year in Train Driver's Diary [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Milos Radović
film profile
]
), and soon they find the car she was driving in the woods by the road. But there is no trace of the girl, except for a spot of blood on the passenger-seat window. 

As Ranko and Petar investigate – each on his own – Berkuljan gives us other timelines and characters to follow. In one, unfolding right before Iskra's disappearance, she teams up with Gojko (Mišo Obradović), whose father's murder in the early 1990s has never been solved, to try to find out what happened to him and others who suffered a similar fate. They go to talk to Mirko (Dragan Račić), an opposition stalwart who was discredited as crazy and forced out of society, and who seems to know more about Gojko's and Iskra's fathers than even they themselves do. 

Another storyline, set in the past, follows two brothers, Marko and Luka, the former a strongman who used to work with Ranko and Petar, and the latter a school janitor accused of paedophilia, in an incident that also included Iskra as a child…

Together with co-writer Ana Vujadinović, Berkuljan cleverly weaves these various narratives together in true mystery-crime fashion, and the audience feels as if the closer they are getting to the truth, the more elusive it becomes. Even by the end of the film, we are still left wondering if what the movie lays out as its conclusion is fully reliable.

Berkuljan's independent, micro-budget production manages to turn a lack of funding into an advantage, and he regales us with a film with sparse, almost ascetic set and costume design, which goes perfectly hand in hand with the visual and editing approach. Frequently employing hand-held camera shots and jump cuts, the filmmaker has delivered a thriller that feels almost Scandinavian in its aesthetics – except, of course, for the essentially Balkan, moustachioed faces of its macho protagonists. 

Festivals with a taste for genre offerings from cinematically less visible industries should take notice of this film, and Berkuljan is definitely a promising filmmaker to watch. 

Iskra is a co-production by Montenegro's Trust Agency and Serbia's Cinnamon Films

See also

Let's CEE
Finale Plzen
 

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