Review: Take Me Somewhere Nice
by Vassilis Economou
- Ena Sendijarević’s feature debut is an enticing and refreshingly original take on the key battles between East and West, and how hybrid cultural identities can coexist in between
Amsterdam-based, Bosnian-born writer-filmmaker Ena Sendijarević has directed a series of successful short films, with her Cannes Directors’ Fortnight-premiered Import also becoming the 2017 Dutch entry for the Oscar for Best Short Film. Take Me Somewhere Nice [+see also:
interview: Ena Sendijarević
film profile] is her feature-length debut and had its world premiere in the Tiger Competition at the 48th International Film Festival Rotterdam (23 January-3 February).
Born and raised in the Netherlands, Alma (Sara Luna Zorić) is on the verge of adulthood when she leaves her mother’s home to visit Bosnia, in search of the father she has never met. There, Alma will team up with her apathetic and “patriotic” cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac) and his charming best friend, Denis (Lazar Dragojević). As Alma attempts to adapt abruptly to a reality she’s not accustomed to, she embarks on an adventurous journey from Sarajevo to Mostar. During this road trip of self-exploration into the Bosnian heartlands, Alma will try to both understand and unearth her roots and her own identity.
With Take Me Somewhere Nice, Sendijarević takes a fresh and enticing approach to breaking down some of the key issues that are troubling a whole generation – a generation that she also loosely belongs to. Taking her heroine’s coming of age as a premise, she decides to emphasise her “bipolar” identity. Alma finds herself in an odd situation, as she has two parallel existences: she is an immigrant in the West and a “walking EU passport” in the East; she’s ice-cold and fragile, and hot-tempered and stubborn; she’s a naïve girl in need of her father and a woman discovering her sexuality; she’s an unprotected child and a fearless adult. Alma is losing and gaining a little bit of balance with every step. The more she abandons the safety and security of being an average Dutch teenager, the closer she is to transforming, in the eyes of everyone else, into a symbol of the post-war “Yugoslav Dream”, perfectly encapsulated by “Sunday barbecuing in a random Western European backyard”.
Sendijarević, who also wrote the script, broadens a sensitive personal and semi-autobiographical existential drama into a universal story. Starting off as a raw road movie, and always retaining this element at its core, it turns into a symbolic journey of self-awareness through the wild fields of the modern-day Balkans. Thanks to her three charismatic, first-time actors, who forge a dynamic connection, she unfurls her own Alice in Wonderland, complete with a generous pinch of Yugoslavian poignancy, dry humour, bittersweet nostalgic melancholia and unexpected romance.
At the same time, Take Me Somewhere Nice does not stray from its very specific geographical setting, and without tackling the post-war anguish in the region directly, it presents the obvious traumas that still haunt it today. Clearly influenced by Brecht’s Verfremdungseffekt (estrangement effect), Sendijarević constructs an almost bizarre, alienated parallel world that we see as if through a prism, which also reflects the absurd bleakness of Bosnian reality. Framed in Academy ratio by Emo Weemhoff and saturated with fairy-tale-like pastel colours, the over-stylised visual aesthetics also hint at magic realism, or at least the requisite magic that a country and a despairing generation have been expecting for the past 25 years in order to feel liberated and more highly evolved.
Provocative and playful, Sendijarević’s appealing new voice sparks an open dialogue that explores the East-versus-West battles over culture and inner identity, which are clearly still leaving their marks today.
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