TIFF 2012 - Discovery Series
Starring: Goran Slavkovic,
Jasmin Geljo, Edis Livnjak, Minela Jasar,
Jelena Mijatovic, Petar Mijatovic
Review By Greg Klymkiw
Not a single shot is fired in director Igor Drljaca's stunning feature debut Krivina, but the horror of war - its legacy of pain, its futility and its evil hang like a cloud over every frame of this powerful cinematic evocation of memory and loss. The film's hypnotic rhythm plunges us into the inner landscape of lives irrevocably touched by man's inhumanity to man - a diaspora of suffering that shall never escape the fog of war. They might not be dead, but they might as well be, and in a sense, so should we all.
Miro (Slavkovic) lives in the New World. That is to say he's an immigrant to Canada. Having left the former Yugoslavia when Civil War broke out, he's moved from city to city, job to job and home to home. Hearing that his childhood friend Dado might be alive, Miro leaves the grey, lifeless Toronto - a city of cement and darkened office tower windows - a city so cold, so strangely inhospitable that a reconnection with his homeland, his past, his memories of a time when his own country was at peace is what grips him to embark upon an odyssey like no other. Though he searches for Dado, he is searching for himself. War and flight have chipped away at his soul until almost nothing is left within.
Perhaps he will find peace. Until he does, Miro's not unlike another screen character most of us know - a man haunted by war and living in an environment that, in its own way, is as inhospitable as the one he left behind. Like Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, he is "God's lonely man" and most of all, one who almost defines the words screenwriter Paul Schrader placed in the mind of the Taxi Driver: "Loneliness has followed me my whole life." Miro's odyssey of despair, however, is not relieved by a hail of bullets - if it is to be relieved at all, it will be through some connection to his past.
The bucolic countrysides, villages and farms of Bosnia do not betray the reality of spilled blood fertilizing the soil of Miro's place of birth. The land is rich with natural beauty, but also enshrouded in mystery. It haunts Miro, as it haunts us. He meets with several people on his journey, learning more and more about Dado and yet, the more he learns, the more isolated he appears to feel.
Goran Slavkovic as Miro delivers a performance of mind blowing beauty and simplicity. His subtle, reactive qualities work perfectly within Drljaca's mise-en-scène which, in and of itself is one that through its simplicity yields complex tableaux and a dexterous, yet deeply felt narrative that, much like life itself, fades in and out of time, alternating between "reality" and a dream state. It's never confusing, but very unsettling. In spite of these disturbing qualities (and maybe because of them), we're always rooted in the sort of humanistic elements that remind us continually of how the best filmmakers (Renoir for example) can touch both our hearts and minds by rooting us in a reality that can only exist in both cinema and life itself and in particular, a cinematic world that reflects life as only cinema can.
The film's soundscape (a haunting score, strains of folk music, digital manipulation of natural and unnatural sound) transforms Miro's (and our) experience with throbbing, oppressive tones. Like an irregular heartbeat, the layers of sound strain desperately for life, to move on, to not give out until Miro, this human vessel of blood - the life force that courses through the thin meandering highways and byways of veins and arteries - searches, perhaps in futility, for a sense of peace, of contentment.
War, however, has a way of touching every soul that crosses its path. As Miro talks to one person after another on his journey, we see the toll of war etched into the ethos of those who continue to live and this clearly affects Miro as it does us. Director Drljaca achieves the near-impossible - using the poetic qualities of cinema (so seldom exploited to their fullest), that we are narratively and thematically plunged into an experiential work of art that affords us the unique opportunity to find within ourselves the sense of loss that war has instilled in the characters, the world at large and, in fact, all of us - whether we have experienced it or not.
In countries within the Balkans and Eastern Europe, blood always seems to be imbued with properties that are genuinely replete with the seeming eternal suffering of our ancestors - the blood ties us to each other and yet, it the force that inspires so many of us to look inward for answers.
Do we find them?
Yet another question in search of an answer.
Krivina is an extraordinary film - a personal vision that genuinely affects our sense of self to seek out our own worth, our own place in the world. And it moves us - beyond words - just as the film itself thrives best by using the language of cinema: the visual, the aural and the spiritual. Like Olexander Dovzhenko, Sergei Paradjanov and, to a certain extent, Tarkovsky, Drljaca achieves what I believe to be the fullest extent of what cinema can offer - the ability to touch the souls of its characters and, in so doing, touching the souls of those lucky enough to experience the magic that can only, I think, be fully wrought by cinema.
That the film is written and directed with grace and intelligence, photographed with necessity, genuine beauty and "terrible" beauty, blessed with an astounding sound design and score are all more than enough to rejoice in the fact that a powerful new voice in world cinema has found its way to the screen.
I reiterate - no bullets are fired and yet, Krivina might well be one of the greatest anti-war statements ever etched on film. The movie is, sans blasts from automatic assault rifles, explosions from bombs and mines, the screams of death and pain, the blood that spills into the soil, a film that is replete with violence - the violence of both memory and loss.
Until the world of man can move beyond its primitive state, this violence will haunt us all and until such a time and place that we're ready for a more positive state of existence, we can be grateful that artists exist to provide work that has the power to touch us all.
Krivina shook the foundations of my soul and moved me to both tears and an almost transcendent state of both despair and hope. Hope overcame despair, however, and I feel my life has been altered by a consummate work of art. Cinema is truly a great gift to mankind. It should not be squandered solely on ephemeral trifling. It must inspire thought, elicit emotion and change our lives.
I am grateful to Krivina. It succeeds in these goals.
Some try. Some fail. Some don't bother.
Director Igor Drljaca and his talented team of artists go the distance and then some. They have made a film for the ages.
"Krivina" is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012).
It is distributed by College Street Pictures.
Press and Industry can see it Monday Sept 10 9:30am at TIFF Bell Lightbox 5 and Thursday Sept 13 6:45pm at Scotiabank 9.
The general public can see it Sunday September 9 at Jackman Hall (AGO) 9:15 PM, Tuesday September 11 at TIFF Bell Lightbox 4 3:00 PM and Thursday September 13 Scotiabank 9 6:45 PM.
For tickets and further information, please visit the TIFF website HERE.