Withering: Terrible children and even worse parents
by Vladan Petkovic
- A bleak look at Serbian relationships and culture
The second feature film by Serbian director Miloš Pušić, Withering [+see also:
film profile] world-premiered in the East of the West section of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. This bleak, cruel and at times powerful film explores the relations and borders between urban and rural, traditional and modern, old and new ways, and the generation gap which seems to have never been bigger than it is between today's youth and their parents.
The film opens with 30-something Janko (Branislav Trifunović, last seen in Death of a Man in the Balkans [+see also:
film profile], who also produced the film) coming back from Belgrade to his birthplace, a remote village in the hills of central Serbia. The village has almost died out, with only a couple of families left due to increasing migration to cities that has taken over Serbia and most of the Balkan countries in the last 20 years.
He is welcomed by his mother Milica (Dara Džokić, a veteran of Yugoslav cinema) and neighbour and his deceased father's best friend Strahinja (intensely emotional Boris Isaković, also seen this year in Circles). Strahinja seems like a well-meaning, mellow man, who has big problems of his own - his son, Janko's best friend, commited suicide, after which his wife Jovanka (Jasna Djuričić, from White White World [+see also:
film profile]) stops speaking and his daughter Stamena (Milica Janevski) becomes an alcoholic.
Disappointed with his unsuccessful attempt to find work in Belgrade, Janko has decided to emigrate to Switzerland and he wants to sell the land inherited from his father to be able to finance the trip. But father was buried on this plot, and of course everybody interprets it as if he was actually selling his father- especially Milica, who was hoping that her son has returned for good. In spite of everyone's protests, Janko goes on with his idea with help of a land surveyor friend (Bosnian star Emir Hadžihafizbegović, providing some comic relief).
With help of cinematographer Aleksandar Ramadanović, Pušić makes excellent use of the hilly landscape, coloured in yellow tones in the hot summer season when there has been no rain at all and the crops have been burned beyond recognition. The heat is almost palpable, and the tension is heightened with the sound design (by one of the Balkan's top experts Zoran Maksimović) which prominently features the sound of flies frequently landing on the character's faces.
The cast mostly does a decent job, with Isaković standing out, although some different casting choices could have been more effective. The screenplay, adapted by Dušan Spasojević from his own theatre play, seemingly suffers from cliches about the rural Balkans, but actually the story and the setting are completely authentic - this really is the way it is in Serbian villages. After all, stereotypes have to come from somewhere.
While it initially seems that the new generation is the one who is the problem here- selfish, self-centered, disrespectful- Withering is actually, in its essence, a story of terrible children and even worse parents. It is also a film about the fluctuating borders between urban and rural and how the perception of these categories changes in accord with circumstances. After all, Pušić's first film Autumn in My Street was a decidedly urban story, but both works show an interest for marginal characters who are as much suffering for their own deeds as they are victims of having had the bad luck to be born in the wrong place at the wrong time. There are no easy answers to the generation gap and there are no bad guys nor good guys in this film. At times they all seem like decent human beings, but it takes very little for the viewer to perceive them as monsters.
Withering was co-produced by Serbia's Hit and Run Productions and Switzerland's Secondo Film and Burning Parrot. The international rights are still available.
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