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IFFR 2023 Cinema Regained

Review: Pero

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- In his homage to departed Slovenian acting legend Peter Musevski, Damjan Kozole creates an engaging and touching picture that speaks of a lot more than just its direct subject

Review: Pero

In the winter of 2019/20, acclaimed Slovenian director Damjan Kozole and one of the country's most recognisable actors, Peter Musevski, started working on a script about the latter's life and roles, imagined as a hybrid of various genres and forms. This would have been their ninth film together. When Musevski committed suicide in March 2020, Kozole still went on to make the film. Albeit obviously different from the original idea, it retains the basic structure, it's called Pero (an affectionate nickname for Peter) and has just world-premiered in IFFR's Cinema Regained section.

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The film is divided into four distinct segments, and starts with a psychodrama workshop with director Tomi Janežič and a group of actors whom Musevski worked with over his career, which took in 55 credits. Some of them will be familiar to international audiences from Kozole's films, such as Primož Pirnat and Nina Ivanišin who acted alongside Musevski in Slovenian Girl [+see also:
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, Jurij Drevenšek in Half-Sister [+see also:
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, Pia Zemljič in Nightlife [+see also:
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, or Nina Rakovec who became a star after Nejc Gazvoda's breakout A Trip [+see also:
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This part reveals the love and respect that his colleagues had for him, but also deals with important issues related to mental health. It was no secret, at least among the actor's friends, that he struggled with depression, and he died by jumping off a balcony. In the film's most poignant scene, one of the actresses "plays Pero" and climbs on the stairs, swinging her body over the railing to stand precariously on the edge. As others gather around her, or stand below her to "catch Pero", bells from a nearby church start chiming. It sounds like it was noon.

The second, fictionalised chapter was also in the original screenplay, and it really happened. It reveals that Musevski believed every role he played on film happened to him later in real life, so when young director Tina Ščavničar approaches "him", portrayed by Pirnat, to play a serial killer, he is on the fence. Pirnat does an excellent job here, truly transforming into his departed colleague.

The third part is the most conventional one, recapping Musevski's roles through excerpts, but also contextualising them to show us the character he was best known for: a flawed father figure, good-natured and humble, but with many complex, deep-seated insecurities and issues. It seems that Musevski himself was very much like this.

Finally, in the last segment, Kozole delivers a chronicle of the month when Musevski died and COVID-19 paralysed the planet. In a grave voice-over, the director tells of his experiences and feelings during those terrible days, to shots of empty Ljubljana streets and anti-government protests, but his mind keeps going back to his friend who was cremated in Zagreb the day after the city was hit by its biggest earthquake in 140 years. It leaves us with a truly apocalyptic feeling.

However, the film doesn't end on a depressing note. Musevski's own mobile-phone video of his dog and wife having a great time by a lake bookends the picture, a warm dedication to the man's spirit.

On the surface, Pero may sound local, but it tells a much wider story that concerns mental health, the film industry and the art of cinema, as well as the nature of relationships, hopes, fears and expectations. It is a well-made film with intense tonal amplitudes that Kozole manages to keep in check for an engaging viewing experience.

Pero was produced by Vertigo Ljubljana, which also handles it internationally.

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