Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Run, Don't Walk to See Krugovi

The amazing Serbian filmmaking team of and , which brought us Klopka (The Trap, which I reviewed here) is back with their 3rd film, Krugovi (Circles).   But I barely managed to see it, as yesterday I somehow lost 3 Berlinale tix; I'm still not sure where or how.  It's the first time it's happened in 7 years now.  Yesterday I'd just arrived at Zoo train station and reached for them in my special Berlinale coat pocket which was inexplicably unzipped and the three tickets I'd put there gone.  ARRRGGGGHHHH.  What to do, what to do?

I had the presence of mind, at least, to remember that this was a Serbian film, but I hadn't researched this particular offering.  Klopka is the film that first turned me into an avid follower of Serbian cinema, such that I now buy any Serbian film presented by the Berlinale, on the basis of its nationality alone.  So I swallowed hard and bought a second nine-euro ticket (prices have risen by one euro this year) from someone selling an extra one.

The Berlinale master of ceremonies first introduced the director, from whose mouth came that magic title, Klopka, and the memory from 6 years before of its premier in that very same theater, the Delphi Filmpalast.  Lo and behold, I found myself at the Berlinale premier of his third film (which has, by the way, recently also premiered at Sundance).  I'm still not happy about those lost tickets, of course (it's not the 25 euros or so, but more the several hours standing in line to get them that hurts the most). But I was pretty damn pleased that despite it all, I had managed to be sitting in that theater at that very moment.

Golubovic and company have presented only 3 films, each spaced six years apart, starting with Absolute Hundred in 2001. They are all taut and smart, with similar themes of men struggling to do the right thing under tremendously difficult odds.  But each film's situation is unique, with complex interwoven relationships between numerous characters that are masterfully acted.  This is exactly why I go to the Berlinale -- to see film from Eastern Europe that is unlikely to be commercially released.  Serbia in particular is special; there seems to be a cabal of talent that has found a way to work collaboratively, unhurriedly, for as many years as it takes to construct high-quality film from the bottom up.

I compare their work to the Croatian film I saw on Saturday, Obrana I Zastita (A Stranger), which I found muted and lifeless (which admittedly may have been the point).  My response to the Georgian film, Chemi Sanis Naketsi (A Fold in My Blanket), that opened the Panorama section was little better.  It has an interesting Picnic-at-Hanging-Rock vibe but I found it too obscure and introspective to speak to this film freak from an admittedly very different culture.  I can't argue with the young director's response to my question as to whether something can be too minimalist: he sees his work primarily as a work of art, and I am one to give artists tremendous leeway.

It's an interesting debate: what makes a brilliant cinema?   And if cinema is brilliant, will it definitionally appeal to a broad international audience?  We can examine such questions endlessly, but what I am looking for in a film is thoughtfulness coupled with a certain energy.  I find it in both feature films and documentaries.  It exposes the universality of the struggle of and for humanity in its infinitely varied forms.  Turtles Can Fly.  Breaking the Waves.  Sophie's Choice.  The Last Wave. Claire Denis' Chocolat.  Grizzly Man.  The Times of Harvey Milk.
It's not much of a contest, as this is definitely not one of the better Berlinale years. But I will predict that Krugovi is the best film of 2013, just as Klopka was in 2007.  My lost tickets be damned: now I can close my program only 5 days into the festival and go home happy.

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