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SARAJEVO 2022 Competition

Review: Riders

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- Easy riders from rural Slovenia make their attempt at freedom on the road in Dominik Mencej's smooth debut

Review: Riders
Petja Labović and Timon Šturbej in Riders

Dennis Hopper’s classic Easy Rider (1968) is never mentioned by its name, but is referred to several times as “The Movie” and certainly serves as a source of inspiration for Dominik Mencej’s debut feature Riders [+see also:
trailer
interview: Dominik Mencej
film profile
]
. This smooth sub-genre blend of a road- and coming-of-age movie may never get as brutal in its exposure of the hostile environment and petty human emotions as Hopper’s film, but it definitely has something to say about growing up and being repressed by life events and a small environment.

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Riders premiered in the Features Competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival, which might serve as a fitting springboard for a film with such tone. Further festival bookings and regional distribution in arthouse theatres could be expected in the foreseeable future.

Tomaž (EFP shooting star Timon Šturbej) and Anton (Petja Labović) are best friends and “entry-level” bikers, driving around on their mopeds through their village in the northeastern part of Slovenia. While Tomaž has the reputation of the good boy and hard worker who repairs machinery in his small shop in the village, Anton is more of a bad boy, constantly getting in trouble with authority figures in his home and at work. Both of them grew up fatherless: Tomaž’s father died, which left the young lad under the constant look of his mother’s (Nataša Matjašec Rošker) vigilant eye, and Anton never had one.

It is the spring of 1999, and the guys decide to modify their bikes into choppers and to take a weekend trip to Ljubljana to visit Anton’s girlfriend Tina. The surprise visit does not turn out to be a good idea, but along the way they pick up runaway nun Ana (Anja Novak) and meet with the old, wise biker Peter (Serbian star actor Nikola Kojo in yet another bravura performance, this time in a really subdued mode). So the duo grows into a quartet (alas, on three bikes only), and the weekend trip to Ljubljana gets prolonged first to an extended weekend towards the coast, and then to a longer trip all the way to Split in Croatia and maybe even to Međugorje, which in Yugoslav countries has the status of a Marian sanctuary and a miraculous place.

For Tomaž, the trip represents an opportunity for first love and also a stage of life in which he won’t be dominated by his mother or his best friend, while for Anton it serves as a chance to understand his anger and deal with it accordingly. For all three young ones, it is an attempt at freedom.

Riders is a very detailed and polished piece of cinematic work in almost every aspect. Samo Jurca’s measured sound design respectfully adds the engine rumbles and natural noises throughout. The visuals captured by cinematographer Janez “Zu” Stucin, edited in a rhythmic succession by Andrej Nagode and Matic Drakulić, are stunning, bathing in the casually brought out details of a certain time and place thanks to the production design of Iva Rodić and the costume design of Katarina Zaninović.

The fine details can also be spotted in Mencej’s and Boris Grgurović’s script (the impending solar eclipse, the end of the century, the fear of the “Millennium Bug” in one paranoid miniature executed by late actor Peter Musevski playing a truck driver in his last screen role), and also in the different dialects all the actors are coached to speak. Strictly on the level of acting craft, Riders also shines, thanks to the natural, spontaneous chemistry between the young members of the cast and the acting authority Kojo provides playing a wise man on a motorcycle. This is a ride to be taken and felt with both heart and mind.

Riders is a Slovenian/Croatian/Italian/Serbian/Bosnian co-production by the companies Staragara, Antitalent, Novi Film, Transmedia Production, Sense Production and NuFrame.

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