Review: The Most Beautiful Country in the World
by Camillo De Marco
- Serbian director Želimir Žilnik – a founding contributor to the docudrama format – tackles the issue of integration by following the lives of a few young immigrants in Vienna
What is the most beautiful country in the world? The one you were born in and where a war is currently raging – but for which you feel an irresistible nostalgia – or the one that has welcomed you and offered you opportunities for a future life, far from violence and poverty? The Most Beautiful Country in the World [+see also:
film profile] by Želimir Žilnik – in competition in the Documentary section at Trieste Film Festival – offers its audience the authoritative Serbian director’s viewpoint on immigration. Made internationally famous following his Golden Bear win at Berlinale in 1969 with Opere giovanili, the 76-year-old director – and representative of the so-called Yugoslavian Black Wave – has already made a few documentaries on the theme of integration in recent years, in his true expressive style. Žilnik was among the initiators of the docudrama format, which reproduces reality through fiction, and his films tackle global issues, portraying the everyday lives of individuals on the margins of society, often victims of inequality.
The Most Beautiful Country in the World is no exception. The film is about young migrants living in Austria and is shot almost as if it were a comedy. It opens on a torch, lit for Aleppo, in front of Viennese parliament on 16 December 2016. The camera immediately identifies the film’s protagonist in a crowd, Afghanistan-born Bagher Ahmadi, who is in his early twenties. "Is Aleppo a small city?" asks a young Syrian man. "No, it's much bigger than Damascus, it has seven million inhabitants. And now 60 percent of Aleppo is destroyed," replies Bagher, with tears in his eyes. "Because of a stupid war that reduced Syria to a battlefield." After this prologue, Žilnik immediately gets to the heart of the matter with a significant stat: "The EU gave protection status to 710,400 migrants in 2016 alone." Žilnik picks up a trail that he started in the Balkans, and which he ended in 2015 with the "refugee crisis" in Austria, which paved the way for the country’s historic welcome.
Žilnik seems to operate using minimal plot devices, while working with the "actors" who play themselves, following their experiences, fears, enthusiasm, mutual support and small victories, which are often expressed with humour. Small aspects of everyday life become essential. German lessons, boxing at the gym, a multi-ethnic choir, avisit to the Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas markets), the search for an apartment or a job, happiness after obtaining a residence permit, discussions between women on the rights of men to have more than one bride, as sanctioned by the Qur'an, concern following newspaper articles reporting on Hungary's policy on the border with Serbia. Traditions from the homeland blend with Western realities. Bagher tells his friend about his escape due to the Hazaro, a geographically and religiously isolated people, currently oppressed by the Taliban. The young man is now perfectly integrated into his new society, but his grandfather, Haidar Ali Mohammadi unexpectedly arrives (illegally) in Vienna one day after having crossed through Slovenia. He’s done so in order to remind his grandson that he has a duty to preserve the family name and honour, and must marry a woman who meets the demands of tradition.
Žilnik does not feel the need to look for strong, dramatic stories, instead, he wants to demonstrate how a multicultural, open and diversified society is possible. The documentary ends – in an enigmatic contradiction with its title – on the chorus of Mawtani(My Homeland), a hymn that is transversal to the entire Arab world: "My homeland/We do not want an eternal humiliation/Nor a miserable life/But we will bring back/Our great glory." The Most Beautiful Country in the World was produced by the Viennese company nanook film and co-produced by Tramal Films (Slovenia), RTV Vojvodina (Serbia) and Factum (Croatia).
(Translated from Italian)
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