Classical pathos moves Novković’s White White World
by Vladan Petkovic
Oleg Novković’s White White World [+see also:
film profile] is a classical Greek tragedy packed into a Balkan film. It is precisely this classical quality that provides the enormous strength that juries in Locarno, Cottbus and Mar del Plata recognized.
Set in the Serbian mining town of Bor, once Europe’s biggest copper mine and today just a depressing place full of unemployed, unhappy people, the story is truly tragic. King (Uliks Fehmiu), a former boxer and now a bartender, goes to bed with Rosa (Hana Selimović) as soon as she steps into his bar. Her father Animal used to be King’s coach, and was killed by Rosa’s mother Ružica (Jasna Djuričić), who has just finished serving a ten-year sentence.
Rosa hates Ružica’s boyfriend Beli (Boris Isaković) and hangs out with Tiger (Marko Janketić), a young man desperately in love with her, with whom she shares booze, joints and heroin. King sleeps with both mother and daughter, although that may be too romantic a term for the way he treats women. Of course, the tragic denouement will concern this unlikely love triangle – with an accent on unlikely.
The whole story would seem preposterous if it weren’t clad in the robes of classical tragedy. Exposition and character establishment are effected through songs composed by well-known Serbian composer Boris Kovač, with lyrics by the film’s writer, Milena Marković. The characters sing about themselves and their lives, usually while playing drunken, stoned, exhausted or simply depressed states of body and mind. The lyrics, like the sparse dialogue, often invert word order, and some words are repeated twice in the same line, whether it’s spoken or sung.
This is only one of the methods that Novković uses to lift White White World from traditional cinema. He and editor Lazar Predojev employ jump cuts, splicing together a shot with another that is almost identical, only the characters and objects in it are in slightly different positions, or the camera angle is just a little off. This gives the impression that time has skipped, that the proceedings have jumped five seconds – or five minutes or five hours – from the previous perceived moment.
Miladin Čolaković’s camera is another interesting element. It frequently moves around swiftly, jumping from the main action in a shot to a certain detail in the surroundings, and then back, without a cut. Čolaković often goes for the upper right or lower left angle, which by rule points to a twist in a character or its skewed perception.
But the strongest aspect of White White World is its energy, which literally splashes from the screen and is probably impossible to achieve consciously in any film. The whole cast plays with such power that the spectator feels as if the characters were pushing their way out of the screen – even when they’re just sitting and singing. This theatrical play would seem out of place and over the top in a more conventional film, but in order to immerse audiences in pathos and strong emotions, that is exactly what you want the actors to do.
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