A Balkan Noir: Revenge and cigarettes
by Vladan Petkovic
- Dražen Kuljanin's dynamic thriller inserts us into the hearts and minds of protagonists who either suffer or inflict physical and psychological damage
Bosnian-born, Malmö-based filmmaker Dražen Kuljanin won the main award in the Warsaw Film Festival's Competition 1-2 in 2014 with his first feature, How to Stop a Wedding. Now he is back at the festival, where his second film, A Balkan Noir [+see also:
film profile], has just world-premiered in the International Competition.
Swedish couple Nina (Disa Östrand, from Feel No Sorrow [+see also:
film profile]) and Oskar (Johaness Bah Kuhnke, unforgettable in Force Majeure [+see also:
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile]) lost their daughter five years ago while on vacation in Montenegro. Now, what "lost" means depends on which of the two you ask: Oskar seems to have come to terms with the tragedy and moved on, while Nina still believes the girl is just missing.
She chain-smokes and gets hold of prescription drugs under the counter through a friend, and is constantly anxious and depressed. Actually, smoking is the main leitmotif of the film; it even opens with a 1950s-style TV advert for Lucky Strike. These short, black-and-white snippets, taking up roughly one-quarter of the screen, come and go throughout the film. Set against numerous scenes in interiors that are foggy with smoke, they break the claustrophobic atmosphere, but in this context, with their jingly music and actors with overly wide grins, their effect is almost manic, bringing us closer to Nina's state of mind, firmly set on revenge.
The other, very evocative, motif is old Yugoslav covers of classic pop songs, including “Sealed With a Kiss” and “Sunny”. They provide the doubtlessly difficult story with an almost dreamlike quality, and as these songs are famous all over the world, they will inevitably prompt nostalgia in the viewer, tying in with the sense of loss.
After Nina unexpectedly hears from another chain-smoker, Montenegrin inspector Nikola (Srdjan Grahovac), who was in charge of the case and is still haunted by the fact that he never got closure on it, she runs off to Montenegro to chase another uncertain lead he has come up with. Soon, we get to meet the potential perpetrator, a local criminal identified only as The Monster, played with terrifying gusto by Serbian star Sergej Trifunović.
Kuljanin employs some disorientating techniques to insert us into the minds of the protagonists, frequently tilting the camera (manned by talented, Russian-born DoP Anna Patarakina) to one side, blurring the focus or splitting the screen to show the division between the married couple.
This highly dynamic thriller should work well at festivals, and the theatrical release in Sweden and the Balkans could bring some nice returns to creative distributors. The slim but sufficient running time of 74 minutes will not hurt either, in the age of overstretched offerings from both Hollywood and the European arthouse scene.
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