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SARAJEVO 2022 Competition

Review: A Ballad

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- Aida Begić’s Brechtian and melancholic comedy finds a young divorcee returning to her hometown to re-examine her life

Review: A Ballad
Marija Pikić in A Ballad

Adapted from a regionally famous South Slavic folk ballad, Aida Begić’s A Ballad [+see also:
interview: Aida Begic
film profile
]
aims to render in cinema terms the tumbling pathos of a slow, emotive song. The logic is musical, the rhythm variable: we transition between realistic sequences and interludes of visual experimentation, and from comical confrontations to moments of inner calm. It’s fair to say that wider audiences beyond Southeastern Europe will miss some of Begić’s references, and the film may be lost in the shuffle in the competitive battle for festival slots and wider distribution. Yet always palpable is its sense of a Bosnia and Herzegovina modernising itself and loosening the shackles of its past, assisted by a savvier and more creative younger generation – here incarnated by a hip filmmaking team who know their way around an angular, dyed haircut. The film world premiered in competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival

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Meri (Marija Pikić, a regular in Begić’s work) is the focal point of this ballad. Unemployed and divorced (although her marriage itself was not officially ratified), and absent for her beloved daughter Mila (Gaia Tanović), she has returned, aimlessly and regressively, to her family home alongside her mother Zafira (Jasna Žalica) and ne’er-do-well younger brother Kenno (Enes Kozličić). There, we find the expected dramatic beat of a custody battle as Mila lives in the grungy confines of her father Hasan’s (Milan Tocinovski) abode, leaving Meri to turn to the slimy lawyer Samir (Slaven Vidak). But the early encounters in Samir’s mottled brown office help provide the film’s leitmotif: to help the case for Meri's parental suitability, he suggests marrying her himself. And here, Begić begins a number of broadsides against the Bosnian patriarchy.

Two lifelines and narrative arcs begin to offer a path to transformation. First, we have the aforementioned film project, which dots sudden, unannounced cuts away from the typical ensemble, where suddenly we’re being confronted with a would-be actor intensely meeting our gaze with a performed monologue. Begić teasingly emphasises the meta-progression of one talented actor in Pikić, playing a non-thespian civilian, who then attempts acting herself. And this crux in the narrative helps the film shake off its more prosaic realism, as an encounter with a high-school friend, the snarky hairdresser Adela (Lana Stanišić), leads to Meri and her becoming outlaws on the lam, after an armed confrontation with the former’s jealous ex.

A Brechtian coda to the story further underlines this intermingling of art and life, or performance and illusion. It cannily allows us to question if nearly everything in the film is indeed the film that’s being devised by the millennial characters, and if any hope for liberation, to break free of the negative consequences of living in that society, can be attained in real life rather than in an artist’s mind. And watch out for Begić using some of the best-deployed 180-degree flipped footage since Gaspar Noé’s Climax [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Souheila Yacoub
film profile
]
.

A Ballad is a co-production of Bosnia and Herzegovina and France. It was produced by Film House Sarajevo and Les Films de l’Après-midi.

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