Director/Writer: Stefan Ivančić
Cast: Isidora Markovic, Jelisateva Karadzic, Stefan Djordjevic, Matija Ristic
Serbia Drama 31min
Yugoslav-born Stefan Ivančić follows last year’s SPRINGTIME SUNS with MOONLESS SUMMER (LETO BEZ MESECA), the final-year project with which the writer-director graduated from Belgrade’s prestigious Faculty of Dramatic Arts. Premiering in the Cinéfondation Selection at Cannes last month, the film boasts a level of sophistication and confidence often absent from such film-school settings. Last week, it screened at the 10th edition of Kino Otok, Izola’s international film festival.
Said screening was part of a themed triptych that also featured SPRINGTIME SUNS and Ivan Salatić’s INTRO. As well as sharing an editorial credit in Jelena Maksimovic, all three shorts are personal evocations of youth – and, by extension, that painful and mysterious space between adolescence and adulthood, not only in terms of individual growth but of political and social maturation: each work is a past-tense memoir-like piece by an artist born in 1980s Yugoslavia.
As its seasonal title suggests, MOONLESS SUMMER is both a continuation of and a departure from SPRINGTIME SUNS. Whereas the previous film was a palpably autobiographical account of four teenage lads enjoying a lakeside night together, Ivančić’s latest focuses on two female characters: seventeen-year-old Isidora (Isidora Markovic) and her older sister (Jelisateva Karadzic), with whom she spends a few days at their childhood country home before embarking upon studies abroad. As fleeting romances develop with two local boys, Isidora enjoys being in the moment, but dormant anxieties emerge.
As previously demonstrated, Ivančić channels presumably personal experience with vivid but unforced detail. It’s too often the case that this kind of ‘authorial’ filmmaking disappears into its own navel – so that one senses the filmmaker ‘needed’ to make the work but that one needn’t bother seeing it oneself; or else, the filmmaker experiments with form so as to paint over the more ostensibly ordinary aspects with a false radicalism. Needless to say, it takes a certain confidence in one’s own material to perspectivise and balance autobiographical elements (which in any case can be easily overstated).
To this end, Ivančić has profitably expanded upon the earlier film while also ‘othering’ it, opting to distance himself from incidents by telling them this time from a female perspective. (Like Isidora, the filmmaker moved to Spain with his parents in 1991; he returned to Serbia in 2009.) MOONLESS SUMMER, like SPRINGTIME SUNS before it, presents us with a relatably straightforward account of an otherwise innocuous vacation, one whose comprising minutiae are nevertheless experienced with a private, inexplicably heightened sensitivity by its protagonist.
Indeed, while Ivančić and cinematographer Igor Djordjevic often frame Isidora in detached, tripod-fixed mid- to long-shots – thereby evoking her conditioning environs as much as the character herself – the film also contains more gestural moments, when it gradually reveals one barely discernible image over another, such as that in which an apparition of Isidora’s holiday crush appears over a landscape shot of the rural surroundings. Suggestive and elusive, such moments juxtapose the world as we see it and the world as experienced by Isidora. When we see the night sky slowly dissolve over an image of two human hands touching, we feel all the romance of an inner cosmos blown out of proportion.
Beneath the veneer of this ever-shifting utopia, of course, is raw vulnerability. Though far removed from emotional hyperbole or some superficial apocalypse, MOONLESS SUMMER captures in its latter moments those often-unstable foundations upon which the straw house of adolescence is built, when it cuts from rigid framing to a handheld shot following an unaccountably tearful Isidora along a shoreline. Tides continue while traumas fade. MICHAEL PATTISON