‘Hope is the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of man.’ Nietzsche, 24 July 2006
Author: Grady Harp from United States
‘You never get out of the sewer’ is the sad summary toward the end of this remarkable film from Macedonia. Director Svetozar Ristovski co-wrote this screenplay with Grace Lea Troje, a story of the struggle of youths in a country devastated with poverty and corruption – a place without hope. The message is grim, the story is brutal, but the impact is stunning.
Marko (twelve-year old Marko Kovacevic in a brilliant debut) lives with his abusive, alcoholic father Lazo (Vlado Jovanovski) whose only work other than drinking is bingo games and who is in defiance of the American occupation of Macedonia; his mute and terrified mother Angja (Elena Mosevska) who remains a pathetic victim of abuse; and his trashy, angry, abusive sister Fanny (Slavica Manaskova) – all of whom hate each other and fill their hovel along the railroad tracks with cruelty. Marko happens to be a fine student who writes poetry and is encouraged by his Bosnian Professor (Mustafa Nadarevic) to write a poem for a competition that would reward him with a trip to Paris. Marko’s schoolmates are disgusting thugs who beat him at every provocation: the Professor, fighting his own demons, does little to control his outrageous classroom.
Marko escapes his ugly household by finding a spot on a deserted train where he can be alone and it is here that the movie takes on magic. Marko ‘creates’ a friend named ‘Paris’ (Nikola Djuricko) who gives him hope that Marko can come with him as he leaves the little cruel village. Paris teaches him to defend himself and to support himself through stealing and shoplifting, all with the goal of escaping from Macedonia. As Marko slips down the path of crime his teacher tries in vain to feed Marko’s hope of writing his way to Paris, but when the gang of boys force Marko to the limit, Marko’s new self challenges them, establishing his independence. The two beacons of Hope for Marko (Professor and Paris) both fade and the ending of the film comes as a shocking surprise, yet one that mirrors Nietzsche’s astute quotation.
This is a grim film to watch, overflowing with brutality of both the physical and the mental types, but the journey is worth it due to the overwhelmingly fine performance by Marko Kovacevic, a lad with the same degree of quiet facial expressiveness and acting skill as that of such greats as Giulietta Masina. The gritting, well-composed cinematography is by Vladimir Samoilovski and the haunting musical score is by Klaus Hundsbichler (with a little help from Eric Satie!). This is one of those films that is disturbing in the best sense of the word: it makes us think beyond our safe borders and contemplate the plight of the oppressed, both children and adults, in a country torn by recurring violence.
Subtitles:English (idx/sub and srt), Spanish