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ASTRA 2021

Review: Landscape Zero

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- Bruno Pavić takes us on a moody journey with anonymous but affectionately portrayed characters wandering around an infamous polluted area in Croatia

Review: Landscape Zero

A person in a protective suit and a gas mask juxtaposed with crowded tourist sites and people swimming or sunbathing against the backdrop of a monstrous factory on the other side of the beach. It’s not another COVID-19-themed film, as one might think at first glance, but rather the opening scenes of Bruno Pavić’s Astra Film Festival-screened Landscape Zero [+see also:
trailer
film profile
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, which explores a poisoned and decaying part of his homeland, Croatia. Later in the film, we follow a man suffering from a lung disease who is distributing warning posters about cancer rates, and another whose house is attached to an abandoned building surrounded by piles of rubbish, which he co-inhabits with his dog and a herd of goats. These are the same goats whose milk a woman with a radiant face bottles at home and sells at the local market.

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The fourth character of note is a frowning loner with a rifle who observes the factory at night from afar, probably with some kind of plan in mind to protest against the toxification of his land. Passing through this puzzling environment we also encounter a newly wed couple who choose the factory as the background for their wedding photos, a demonstration by (pre-COVID) masked people who insist on their right to breathe clean air, a man fishing between rusty buildings, an archive film that hints at the fact that local industrialisation was glorified in Josip Broz Tito’s times, people roaming in amongst trees, and bushes covered with plastic bags. And waste – tons and tons of it. All of these mundane episodes are broken up by physical performances that take place in gruesome locations, as if they are somehow mourning the loss of the human connection to nature.

Andrea Kaštelan’s camera tours the devastated scenes of this industrialised district while also zooming in on the consequences, such as dirty water and disfigured creatures lurking under the crumbling remnants of an unprocessed and unclean past. It’s impossible to get a glimpse of the formerly beautiful Mediterranean landscape amidst these material leftovers of greed, political ambition and bad decision-making, and so our view of it is reduced to zero.

Straddling the line between documentary observation and video installation with elements of performance, Landscape Zero could be seen as a visually sophisticated and contemplative piece of art. However, if what viewers would like is to discover some actual facts about the pollution in the area, what we see in the film requires further contextualisation, similarly to contemporary art pieces, and explanations can only be found outside of the movie. The place in focus is Vranjic, not far from the second-biggest city in Croatia, Split. There, the Salonit construction-material factory is polluting the area with asbestos, thus causing incurable lung diseases in the workers and the citizens who live nearby. The protesters mostly plead for more efficiency on the Croatian government’s side in resolving the problems related to the sick people's retirement status.

But perhaps, in its ambition to avoid straightforward environmental activism, Landscape Zero prefers to make a silent statement by depicting the area in detail and leaving viewers to draw their own conclusions, while actually rendering the wickedness more aesthetically pleasing.

Landscape Zero was produced by Croatian outfit Udruga Kazimir.

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