Kolkata IFF screening 3: Landscape No. 2 (Slovenia 2009)

I don’t know much about Slovenia, apart from its geographical position and its history as part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire and then Yugoslavia after 1945. I imagined that Slovenian culture negotiates between Catholic Croatia and Orthodox Serbia.

Landscape No. 2 is the official Slovenian nomination for the 2010 Foreign Language Oscars but I think it may challenge the assumptions of Academy voters. Writer-director Vinko Möderndorfer has produced a (very) black comedy which purports to comment on the need to escape from the terrible memories of the past – according to his statement on the official website.

The narrative begins with a burglary by a pair of amateurs who are otherwise engaged in repairing domestic appliances. The older of the two, ‘Polde’, organises the job in order to steal a painting known as ‘Landscape No. 2’ from an elderly ex-Yugoslavian Army General. He knows that the General will pay a ransom to get it back, not because of its intrinsic artistic value but because it actually depicts the place where Nazi collaborators were executed by communist partisans in 1945. Unfortunately, the younger burglar Sergej (Marko Mandic) steals some money and a document that he finds in the safe. The document is proof of the executions and could considerably embarrass the General who is implicated in the executions. When he discovers it is missing, he calls in a ‘fixer’ from the pre-1990 Yugoslavian intelligence forces to retrieve it.

In the subsequent narrative developments there are four brutal murders and several explicit sex scenes. The comic moments come from the ‘jack the lad’ actions of Sergej, who leaves his fiancée in their flat whilst he cavorts with an attractive young middle-class woman, and the completely ‘over-the-top’ antics of the ‘fixer’. The mixture of sex, violence and comic fecklessness was too much for some of the festival audience and I wasn’t convinced by the balance of elements in the mix. The fixer is a comic grotesque and the performance by Slobodan Custic seemed to me to be just too much. The character seems to be psychopathic and this is troubling given the ideological work of the film. Those murdered include two pregnant women, a gay man and an older man whose crime is not so great. Whilst the director’s statement implies a wish to ‘move forward’ and free the current generation from the weight of historical traumas, it is, as one IMDB poster outlines, possible to read the film as an indictment of the communist partisans who were in many ways the heroes of resistance to the Nazis. Of course, we shouldn’t condone executions without trial but in 1945 collaborators were not ‘innocent’ by any means. I fear that the sex and violence in this generally well made film will entertain audiences without prompting a serious reflection on the need to come to terms with the past.

The trailer (with subtitles) is available on IMDB.

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