The High Sun (Zvizdan, Croatia-Serbia-Slovenia 2015)


I found this feature the most impressive new film so far at the Leeds International Film Festival. It is part of the Official Selection programme and it will be interesting to learn how the Jury rate it. This is a portmanteau film with three love stories. The director and writer Dalibor Matanić is quoted in the Festival Catalogue:

“As a filmmaker I have been long intrigued by the ever-present inter-ethnic hatreds in the Balkan region, and conflicts rooted in war, religion or politics. With this film, I wanted to explore three separate stories of a Croatian boy and girl from a Serbian family, across three decades. The stories all take place in the same location, in the sun-scorched villages, and the young lovers are always in their early twenties. Using the lens of these three stories, I wanted to tease out the accumulated atmosphere of evil that smoulders among the damaged communities in the region.”

The films are set respectively in 1991, 2001 and 2011. The leading characters are played across the stories by the same actors, who are excellent, especially Tihana Lazovic and Goran Markovic. The characters in each story are discrete but certain characteristics re-appear to good effect. The setting is a coastal area, with low hills and a lake [probably connected to the sea] in which the characters swim. The area is semi-rural and rather different from the city of Zagreb, to which one couple plan to flee.

The film is beautifully photographed by Marko Brdar. The range of close-ups to long shots is exemplary in presenting the characters and situation. There are some fine tracking shots and the use of Steadicam for tracks and simulated hand-held shots. The sound track is equally good. There are distinctive musical themes and songs, though the latter are not translated in the subtitles.

There are visual motifs which provide suggestive comment. At various time the characters swim in the lake: once a single person, then a couple, then a whole crowd. And there is fine underwater camera work at this point. Cars are also important in the plot and setting. The buildings are evocative, first the traditional houses, then derelict buildings, then finally a series of new builds. In one fine repeated shot a young woman sits in an exterior passage as a lone dog lopes by. A different dog appears in another sequence, again with a lone character, suggesting their alienation from others.

The catalogue suggest that ‘love can finally take root’. I felt that the final resolution is ambiguous, leaving a poetic question mark over this journey through two decades of confluent.

The film runs for 123 minutes, it did not seem that long. It is in widescreen colour with English sub-titles. And it is showing again at the Hyde Park Picture House on Thursday November 12th at 8.30 p.m.

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