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Review: Pavilion 6


- Croatian director Goran Dević’s COVID-19 documentary takes a sober look at the era, and turns what seems like a bad dream into a vehicle for compassion and healing

Review: Pavilion 6

If the COVID-19 years of 2020 and 2021 seem like a bad dream today, look no further than Croatian director Goran Dević's new documentary, Pavilion 6, to bring things into perspective. Not only that; the film, which world-premiered in Sheffield Doc/Fest's International Competition, takes both a wide and a detailed look at the state of society and people's minds at the time and, with its sober framing and well-measured editing, can help awaken your compassion for others and yourself, and support your healing process.

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The mass COVID-19 vaccinations took place at the titular pavilion of the Zagreb Fair, and Dević covers one of those days. It opens with people standing in line or, rather, multiple, complicated lines that two overworked, nervous security guards are trying to keep in order. It's a grey day, people are wearing winter coats, and there is a palpable atmosphere of anxiety and confusion, but also of community. Everyone here is in the same situation, so conversations between strangers are struck up easily, often following off-hand comments on the organisation of the vaccination itself or the political situation in the country. These sometimes lead to arguments, but more often, there is a feeling that people need communication, both to help alleviate their fear and to get that human contact that was so hard to come by in those years. Zagreb was never under total lockdown, but the fear of endangering those in high-risk groups kept families and friends apart.

But if people are anxious outside, once they come inside the huge pavilion, meet the patient and organised doctors, nurses and other staff, and realise that the process is streamlined and rapid, most of them relax. As they sit for the mandatory 15 minutes after receiving the jab, conversations develop both between strangers and among those who came along together. Two elderly women show each other photos of their grandchildren and exchange contacts; two old friends have finally met in the line after many years and remember old times after sharing some jovial banter with one of the doctors; a middle-aged couple takes an inventory of virus-related theories, some of which were eventually confirmed to be conspiracies, while others have been proven true. In a particularly touching scene, a mother and a daughter remember grandparents who died before the vaccine arrived, despite all their efforts not to infect them.

Of course, there are less-friendly exchanges and tricky situations, too. An entitled couple has to be escorted out after harassing a doctor, a secondary-school professor's blood pressure skyrockets, and after the medicine he is given by the emergency services doesn't help, he has to be taken to hospital.

With Damian Nenadić's fixed camera in the large room dotted with desks and chairs separated by the mandatory distance, Dević takes a sober snapshot of the societal picture of the time, but also zeroes in on telling details that can't help but bring back memories of our own experiences. Strangely enough, this has a healing effect on the viewer: despite the inevitable echo of the anxiety that we all experienced, the narrative decisions made by Dević and editor Vanja Siruček help us forgive others and ourselves for all the destructive thoughts and conversations the crisis kickstarted in us. By looking back soberly on that very recent era that seems so distant today, we realise that despite all the divisions and conflicts, we struggled to do our best, all in the same boat, on the same, tumultuous sea. This stirs our compassion and reminds us that we are all still healing.

Pavilion 6 is a co-production between Croatia's Petnaesta umjetnost and BBC Storyville. Film Harbour has the international rights.

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