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BERGAMO 2019

Review: Borders, Raindrops

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- Nikola Mijović and Vlastimir Sudar’s debut – both of whom were born in former Yugoslavia and now teach film in London – is a call for universal peace and a far cry from traditional Balkan cinema

Review: Borders, Raindrops
Kristina Stevović in Borders, Raindrops

Nikola Mijović and Vlastimir Sudar’s debut, Borders, Raindrops – a co-production between Bosnia-Herzegovina, Montenegro, Serbia, Sweden and United Kingdom, in competition at the Bergamo Film Meeting 2019 – opens on the calm blue waters of the Adriatic Sea. A quiet that anticipates a film eager to promote its peaceful message.

Mijovic and Sudar are hardly two newcomers fresh out of film school. Mijovic, born in Titograd (now Podgorica, the capital of Montenegro), graduated twenty years ago from the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design in London and is now a professor of cinema at the University of the Arts in London. His essays have appeared in "The Cinema of the Balkans" anthology (United Kingdom), and in the Cineaste magazine (USA). Sudar, from Sarajevo, also studied at Saint Martins and is known for his doctoral thesis on the iconic Yugoslav director Aleksandar "Saša" Petrović, later published in England in 2013 in a book entitled "A Portrait of the Artist as a Political Dissident.”

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Borders, Raindrops recalls the unforgettable Before the Rain by Milčo Mančevski, screened at Venice in 1994, and It Rains in My Village by Aleksandar Petrović, presented at Cannes in 1969. In the latter, the Yugoslavian director used a girl with special needs to criticise the communist regime, speaking in a Dostoyevsky manner of the struggle between good and evil.  In Borders, Raindrops, it's up to the sweet protagonist Jagoda, played by Kristina Stevović, to carry the torch of good. Unlike the young woman in Petrović's film, Jagoda is an intellectual, a stand-in for the directors themselves: a philosophy student, we see her reading "L'Échange symbolique et la mort,” Jean Baudrillard’s rejection of Marxism, and "On Populist Reason" by a post-Marxist Ernesto Laclau. However, Jagoda is also a paradigmatic figure, a phantom that traverses the film like an illusion.

The film is set in modern-day Montenegro, in the triangle between Herzegovina and Croatia, where the borders are scattered along the mountain like rain drops. During a hot summer, Jagoda travels from the city to visit relatives in an almost abandoned countryside. On those magnificent hills, far from the sea, a gusla player sings, "Why are we are now two different nations, when we used to be brothers?" The conflict in former Yugoslavia and the dissolution process is a theme that runs through the film, muffled like a memory, representing an insistent but not at all emotional background, but one that is nevertheless intertwined with the protagonists’ very human feelings. Zdravko, Jagoda's cousin, who didn’t want to leave and is rebuilding a collapsed house, is attracted by the young student in a sensual and intangible game. With a view to its international audience (especially the British), the two directors touch on post-war diaspora, the globalisation of the economy and nostalgia for a real socialism in which – as an elderly Bosnian woman states – “young people worked towards developing the country, and there was health, education and security for all.” The film suddenly reverses its perspective and focuses on the children. They pretend to be at war near a minefield, among the graves of massacred Serbs, and spit on a border guard, only to later make friends with the young Croatian man.

Miloš Jaćimović’s photography brings out the splendour of light in the film’s settings, while Aleksander Fry’s editing respects the canons of auteur cinema, which tends to opt for lengthy dialogue, fixed shots, lazy zooms, and a tracking lens. The directors choose a universally appealing path of "peace & love,” responding to Western prejudices about the Balkans with a different image, one of kindness and hope (as Sudar states in an interview), and thus stripping the director's story of the elements that have always belonged to the mighty Balkan cinema that we love so much.

(Translated from Italian)

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