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FILMS Serbia

Review: Ederlezi Rising

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- The English-language sci-fi title by Serbian debutant Lazar Bodroža, starring Stoya, is a high-concept film about a relationship between an astronaut and an android

Review: Ederlezi Rising
Sebastian Cavazza and Stoya in Ederlezi Rising

With Ederlezi Rising [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
, Serbian screenwriter Dimitrije Vojnov (Little BuddhoThe Samurai in Autumn [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
) and first-time director Lazar Bodroža have teamed up for a minimalistic, English-language sci-fi film exploring one of the genre's most scintillating and oft-visited questions: can there be emotions between a human and an android? Casting porn icon Stoya (who is also of Serbian origin) as the android in a newly ideological 22nd century is the film's main selling point, but the filmmakers go beyond the concept and devise a psychological story about the male ego. The film has just world-premiered at Belgrade FEST

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The opening narrative titles inform us that the year is 2148, and that the capitalism that has exploited every corner of the Earth is now being replaced by socialism, "to bring about balance for the human condition". Big corporations are colonising other planets, and Yugoslav astronaut Milutin (Sebastian Cavazza) is getting sent by the Ederlezi Corporation of the "Reformed USSR" to Alpha Centauri, to "export an ideology".

Before the mission, Milutin is informed by Social Engineer (Maruša Majer) that he will have a companion on his trip, an android named Nimani (Stoya). She is equipped with an advanced operating system that enables her to serve both as a companion and an assistant on the long trip and, as he will learn later, to closely supervise him. 

Distrustful of and bitter towards women who hurt him, when Milutin first activates Nimani, it is of course in sex mode. The first such encounter goes swimmingly, but when he tries to experiment without using her set-ups, this results in rape (one of the most common fantasies that the robots are equipped for, we are informed). Frustrated, Milutin wants to uninstall the operating system so that she will continue functioning based solely on experiences with him.

If Steven Soderbergh cast Sasha Grey as a high-end escort in The Girlfriend Experience, Bodroža connects the world of online porn, where Stoya gained her huge popularity, with artificial intelligence. But beneath this concept is a story that deals with male ego, obsession and frustration, and romantic yearning and a sense of entitlement that the film argues can go hand in hand, rather than the technological-ethical issues of android-human companionship.

The aforementioned ideological background is there primarily for Vojnov's trademark subversive humour, but it also adorns the film with what could be termed neo-Cold War-style imagery (such as omnipresent computer screens with Cyrillic and Chinese), placing it between its two most obvious influences: Tarkovsky's Solaris and Scott's Blade Runner. In much the same vein, the minimalistic spaceship is a shoddy, worn-out vessel with rusty walls and hanging pipes, similar in some ways to the grizzled hero. And the finale of the film employs simple but impressive CGI in scenes of cosmic phenomena that are used in an allegorical, rather than literal, way.

Except for the rape scene, sex is presented almost lyrically, with a lot of sunlight and shadow play in the revolving cabin of the ship, set to Nemanja Mosurović's ethereal score combining a women's choir and an organ. And Stoya turns out to be a talented actress, creating a character that convincingly covers the spectrum between android and human. 

Ederlezi Rising was co-produced by Serbia's Mir Media Group and LA-based Balkanic, Inc. US company Arclight Films has the international rights.

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