Friday, 25 January 2013

KRIVINA - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Great New Canadian Feature Film Begins Its Theatrical Run in Canada at Toronto's Royal Theatre before rolling out in a platform release across Canada. Powerful anti-war dream film has direct stylistic connection to the earliest days of English Canadian cinema.

KRIVINA debuts theatrically at Toronto's Royal Cinema January 25 - 31, 2012 with showtimes daily. Q&A sessions with Cast and Crew Members after EVERY show.  For further information and to buy tickets in advance, please visit the Royal's website HERE.
PLEASE NOTE: I have added text to this review (which first appeared during TIFF 2012) that elaborates on KRIVINA's place within the history of Canadian Cinema, specifically in comparison to the dawn of English Canada's feature film industry in the 60s and 70s when our filmmakers delved into the angst-ridden lives of solitary Canadian Men. This cinematic Canadian obsession directly paralleled a similar movement in American cinema during the Easy Riders, Raging Bulls period and now, over 30 years later, Drljaca's great film explores similar territory, but in a completely new context.

Krivina (2012) **** dir. Igor Drljaca
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 and finally 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 essentially 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, will not be relieved by a hail of bullets - that would be far too easy, too American, if you will. If the pain is to be relieved at all, it will be through his past - perhaps and hopefully a past unfettered by the pain of war. Maybe, just maybe, he'll be able to look into the eyes of his old friend and find a mirror of what life was like before it was, for all intents and purposes, destroyed.

It is of more than passing interest, at least to me, that my initial observation of Miro and the manner in which his character parallels that of Travis Bickle is one that's as rooted in the past as it is in the present (and ultimately, with little hope for the future). The late 60s and 70s Easy Riders, Raging Bulls period of American cinema spawned an incredible body of work that might best be typified as existential male angst and thematically, Drljaca's film settles comfortably in this thorny nest of despair. What's even more interesting is that Drljaca's film, in a historical context, feels like a natural extension of Canadian Cinema during the aforementioned period of angst.

American men, coming of age in their late 20s and early 30s, almost in a state of arrested development were typified in the cinema as man-boys infused with roiling turmoil and loneliness - with an inability to move forward. America had suffered through the Vietnam War, the Kent State Massacre, Altamont, a variety of anti-government riots and protests, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, Malcolm X and Martin Luther King.

One or two of these events would have been enough to jangle the nerves and stain the soul, but America's youth had been pummelled mercilessly with one horrific event after another wherein questioning their country (and its values, or lack thereof) extended to the pain of questioning themselves and their own place in this world. It's frankly no wonder the American cinema of this period is like a perpetual rendering of anguish, a veritable cinematic daisy chain of Edvard Munch's The Scream.

Canada was a slightly different story. We came out of the Expo 67 celebrations that infused us with a sense of nationhood and promise, yet roiling deep beneath the surface was the inequity and racism towards French Canadians in Quebec, the eventual FLQ Crisis where Prime Minister Trudeau instituted the War Measures Act (with Montreal jails and prisons serving as a Gitmo long before Gitmo). Racism and Anglo-Puritan-fuelled ethnocentric hatred towards anything not tied to the ruling powers of the Commonwealth was alive and well in the seemingly pure Canada. In fact, it was so muted, so subtle, it might have been equally (if not more) insidious than that plaguing America.

Canada was also not immune to the aforementioned strife within the United States. In fact, many of the nation's future great thinkers, academics and artists were young Americans who sought asylum in Canada from the draft in the USA. A good half of my own post-secondary teachers were astounding, exciting and brilliant young men from America who left their country behind because of the draft - better to be Canadian than walking around as an eventual pile of meat to be stuffed into a body bag for no good reason.

On an even more personal level, I had two extremely special expat Americans in my life who touched not only me, but a multitude of other Canadians. Movingly, both of them seem(ed) more "Canadian" than "Canadians" and their impact upon indigenous Canadian culture is unparalleled. (One being a great screenwriter and English professor, the other being dear departed film distributor and educator.)

Still, there was always something more benign about the Canadian experience during this time and this was certainly reflected in our national cinema. Whereas the existential male angst of American cinema was ultimately rooted in extreme overt violence (Taxi Driver, The Gambler, Fingers, etc.), the Canadian cinema of the same period delved into a similar existential male angst where violence was always deep below the surface.

A handful of examples include such Canadian film classics as: Zale Dalen's Skip Tracer, wherein a solitary psychopathic debt collector "legally" drives one of his "clients" via constant verbal harassment to commit a multiple homicide-suicide; or the fresh-faced young hockey player from small-town Ontario in George McCowan's hit film Face Off, who sublimated his desire for celebrity at all costs by turning to thuggish goon behaviour on the ice and driving away those who would give him love off the ice and; most tellingly and brilliantly, Peter Pearson's Paperback Hero wherein a small, isolated prairie town ne'er do well, played by 2001: A Space Odyssey's Keir Dullea, struts about in a studly manner, fucking any fuckable woman available to him and sporting a gun, cowboy hat and the borrowed Gunsmoke monicker of "Marshall Dillon" (with not-so-surprising tragic results, especially given the constant refrain of Gordon Lightfoot on the soundtrack singing "If You Could Read My Mind").

These are but three films of at least 30-40 titles that represent the beginnings of cinema in English Canada where despair is always present and violence burbles and bubbles deep in the soul and psyche of the angst-ridden Canadian male characters. I haven't even begun to scratch the surface of this fascinating genre - there's still works by Don Shebib (Goin' Down The Road, Rip-Off and Between Friends), the true Master of Canadian existential male angst and Paul Lynch's despair-ridden The Hard Part Begins with Donnelly Rhodes as a washed-up country and western singer playing to ever-unappreciative audiences in small tank-towns.

The list goes on.

And here were are, in Canada, over 30 years later, and Igor Drljaca - whether intentionally or not - has picked up the baton of this strange form of Canadian drama. The big and most interesting difference is that the 60s/70s Canadian pictures in this genre focused primarily on White Anglo Saxon Protestants. Krivina deals with surface despair and inner violence within the context of recent immigrants to Canada - and in this case, they are immigrants who have experienced the savagery of war in their countries of birth.

(Top Left), FACE OFF (Top Centre), PAPERBACK HERO (Top Right), THE HARD PART BEGINS (Middle Left), GOIN' DOWN THE ROAD (Bottom), KRIVINA (Middle Right)
One of the most haunting elements of Miro's journey from Canada back to Bosnia is how the bucolic Bosnian countrysides, villages and farms 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.

Krivina is Canadian to the hilt, though unlike its 60s/70s predecessors, we're dealing with "New" Canadians. This, in so many ways, is a natural thematic visit to a time and place that obsessed young Canadian filmmakers at the dawn of English Canadian cinema. A new day in our cinema is dawning and it's a very good sign that our cinematic storytellers, from all walks of life, are reflecting our culture as mediated through their own personal experience - one that truly does mirror the multicultural makeup of Canada.

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.

After a triumphant debut at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF 2012), KRIVINA will make its International Premiere at the Rotterdam International Film Festival. Hilariously and pathetically, Canada's official federal agency to support Canadian Cinema, Telefilm Canada, invited the film to apply for Marketing Assistance Funds to promote the movie to international audiences at Rotterdam, then turned around and denied the film funding under its appallingly ethnocentric and discriminatory policies that will only acknowledge a film's "Canadian-ness" by the languages spoken in the film. To qualify for ANY Telefilm assistance, a film must be in English or French (Canada's "official" languages), though there are grudging exceptions on a case-by-case basis to acknowledge the languages of Our First Nations.) KRIVINA, a powerful anti-war film about the effects of the Bosnian War upon immigrants who fled to Canada to seek a better life is mostly in the Bosnian and Serbo-Croatian languages. Makes sense to me. The last time I checked, Canada, by the tenets of Pierre Trudeau's historical policies when he was Prime Minister, is in fact, a multicultural nation. Wander into virtually any "ethnic" business, bar or cafe in either French or English Canada and tell me how much English or French you actually hear. Yet another disgraceful cultural policy to drive nails into the coffin of Canadian Culture because bureaucrats seem unable to get their narrow minds around the fact that things don't always fit into the nice little boxes designed to make things easier for bureaucrats to assess projects with tick-boxes and/or handy-dandy check-lists rather than having to, uh, maybe, uh, think. Luckily, this is one of the best and most critically acclaimed films of the year and puts many of the Telefilm-supported films with substantially huger budgets to shame, so without the agency's help, I'm hoping domestic and international audiences will have enough advance notice to make a point of seeing the film. So, just go see it! You'll be rewarded with a transcendent and moving motion picture experience.

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