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Recensione: At the Door of the House Who Will Come Knocking


- Il primo lungometraggio documentario della regista bosniaca Maja Novaković racconta una storia criptica di perdita, dolore e solitudine attraverso elementi naturali splendidamente rappresentati

Recensione: At the Door of the House Who Will Come Knocking

Questo articolo è disponibile in inglese.

In her short film And Then Comes the Evening, a festival hit in 2019, Bosnian filmmaker Maja Novaković displayed a sumptuous, painterly talent for depicting nature. Her first feature-length documentary, At the Door of the House Who Will Come Knocking, which has just world-premiered in Sheffield Doc/Fest's International Competition, employs this flair to tell a cryptic but instinctively intelligible story of loss, grief and loneliness.

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The natural beauty of Bosnia is usually described as “rugged”, but it is Novaković who finally gives real meaning to this platitude by creating the emotional landscape of her troubled protagonist. We are introduced to the unnamed old man as he breaks the ice in a trough for his horse, his solitary companion, to get a drink of water. It is in the reflection that we first see his face: with Gandalf-level hair and beard, he looks about 1,000 years old. But it’s impossible to tell his age, even in the rare but powerful close-ups.

His little old house stands on the edge of a village and near the forest. He has no electricity, uses a petroleum lamp and a burner stove, but we see that there are power lines in the village, so we figure that he probably doesn't want it. A neighbour visits him, looking for firewood. Soon, we watch him hack at a tree in the forest with an axe and struggle to get it home after attaching it to the horse's harness.

We keep watching the protagonist undertaking monotonous daily activities (a playful kitten adds some warmth and softness), but Novaković introduces an element that may represent a dream, a vision or a memory: a little boy is seen running through the woods in misty darkness. This time around, there is no snow – the film's story takes place during a snowy winter, and other seasons are shown, but it is clear that these segments don't represent reality.

Soon, we see the boy interacting with the old man: as the kid unspools a ball of wool, the man is rolling it onto his fingers. Is this a device to show the old man's memories? Is the little kid him from decades ago? Or is it someone he has lost? What should we make of the old wedding photo on the wall? The emotional landscape Novaković has built definitely points to loss, grief and loneliness, but there is no exposition, so by skipping the rational level, she makes it all the more immersive.

The surrounding nature looks gorgeous, and there are recurring visual symbols, such as a traditional, brightly coloured carpet, used to enhance the hero's world. Some shots are as beautifully composed as masterworks of painting. There is barely any dialogue, but there is a narrative line, told through visuals, intense sound design and music. The latter two are a true work of art by Luka Barajević, and are employed in the editing by Novaković and Nebojša Petrović to guide the viewer through troubled aspects of the hero's psyche.

Along with horns, flutes and strings, usually in minor keys, there is loud percussion that marks certain emotional knots. The score accompanies various approaches in the editing, with creative match cuts and crossfades that serve to depict the passing of time or to imply shifts in the hero's state of mind. Novaković also has a knack for the bombastic, as some of the scenes are almost painfully intense without anything specific happening in them.

At the Door of the House Who Will Come Knocking is a sensitive film with a vague narrative that is nevertheless rock-solid in the cinematic sense. It is a Serbian-Bosnian-Belgian co-production staged by Kinorasad and Seafarer Films. Lightdox has the international rights.

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