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SARAJEVO 2020

Review: Homecoming - Marina Abramovic and Her Children

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- Ostensibly a documentary about the famous artist's life, career and her 2019 retrospective exhibition in Belgrade, this film from Serbian director Branko Miljković is a quasi-arty TV biopic

Review: Homecoming - Marina Abramovic and Her Children

Serbian-Montenegrin artist Marina Abramovic, one of the key figures of performance art who helped bring the form into the mainstream, is the subject of the new documentary Homecoming - Marina Abramovic and Her Children, directed by Serbian filmmaker Boris Miljković. In essence more of a TV biography than a proper documentary, it is an artificial panegyric to the great artist whose work has always been instinctual, introspective, political and critical — everything that this film is not.

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Having world-premiered in the Sarajevo Film Festival's Summer Screen section, it will probably be picked up by every festival out there for their arts & culture programmes, and its TV future is guaranteed. But those who expect an in-depth exploration of the artist's work or an honest look at her personality should not get their hopes up.

The narrative is structured so as to lead up to Abramovic's retrospective exhibition "The Cleaner," which was set up in Belgrade in 2019, in a controversial decision that saw the Serbian government — not exactly famous for its support to arts and culture — dish out €1.3 million for this event, which blew up the media and public discourse at the time.

The voice-over used in the film is Abramovic's own, reading from her 2016 memoir "Walk Through Walls", and starts off with her well-known disdain for her native country of Yugoslavia and her harsh, callous mother. A wealth of archive materials, plus conversations with the director as the two of them sit in a car, serve as the background for Abramovic's history. Peppered throughout the film are a bunch of quasi-arty B-rolls of a truck driving around or sitting on a barge on a river, loaded with silver screens showing footage of her performances.

In parallel, a group of young artists from around the world — Abramovic's "children" from the film’s title — are preparing to reperform her works for the Belgrade exhibition, in an idyllic setting on the river Drina. One of them, a Swiss artist, elaborates on the meaning of reperformance, and later her own family history is confusingly and clumsily shoehorned into the narrative to mirror Abramovic's story.

In the film's only authentically documentary moment, Abramovic visits her parents' old apartment in downtown Belgrade. As a lady now living there opens the door, she goes in the large place and talks about her childhood, while everything around her is blurred, making for disconcerting viewing; a sort of a snapchat-like nightmare.

But what those who have not read her memoir or her interviews find out here is that her parents were part of the communist bourgeoisie, and while she was abused at home, she certainly led a sheltered life in a Yugoslavia she repeatedly described as an authoritarian hell. When she relates how, in the 1970s, she packed a bag and simply got on a train to Amsterdam (no visa required, no border guards stopping her), it is difficult to perceive her as a dissident artist gasping for freedom.

While not every documentary has to be critical of its subject — especially one co-produced by the subject's own company — there are bigger problems with the way this one was made. Serbian national broadcaster RTS lended the production substantial technical support, and the filmmaker takes full advantage of it, constantly using steadicam, dollies and drones, the camera interminably and insufferably circling around whatever it is focused on. This, along with the excessive use of slow motion and a reverberated piano score, puts the film firmly in TV territory — and not in a good way.

Homecoming - Marina Abramovic and Her Children is a co-production of Serbia's Action Production and New York-based Abramović LLC. Taskovski Films has the international rights.

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