Dir.: Ognjen Svilicic; Cast: Franco Jakovcevic, Belma Salkunic Mia Petricevic, Klara, Mucci; Croatia/Macedonia/ Serbia 2019, 80 min.
Five years after his award-winning feature debut These Are the Rules, Croatian filmmaker Ognjen Svilicic is back at Busan competing in one of Asia’s top festivals with this restrained portrait of rebellion and religious dogma in today’s Eastern Europe.
The rebel in question is teenager Goran (Jakovcevic) who has been sent to a religious boarding school by his single mother who hopes her only child will been given a Catholic eduction and a new group of friends outside the confines of his sheltered upbringing.
Svilicic handles his theme with great sensitivity showing how Goran’s background has not prepared him for the real world, let alone sharing a room with his rowdy mates. And although the staff seem tolerant at first, Goran is immediately marked as a ‘non-believer’ after he volunteers to play Joseph in a play about the conception and birth of Jesus, refusing to fall in with the traditional concept of the virgin birth, or to apologise for the disruption caused by his failure to accept this most basic credo of Catholicism. It appears Goran doesn’t even believe in God, which immediately sets him at odds with the staff and pupils despite their own inability to explain or fathom out the virgin birth.
The next point of confrontation comes when Goran supports a march in favour of the legalisation of abortion. He is pilloried by the enraged head mistress. But Goran defends the women, and, as a punishment, none of the students is allowed to eat dinner until Goran has retracted his viewpoint. Naturally, he is ostracised by the kids, one of whom boys beats him up. Goran runs off, throwing a rock at the statue of the Virgin Mary in front of the school, and decapitating it. Again, he fails to not apologise, and faints during in an interrogation.
After the headmistress reads an apostolic letter, talking about “the invasion of of Europe from the east”, Goran discusses his opposition with Mirela, a fellow student, who seems to have sympathy for him. At an outing, Goran swims far out into the sea, and has to be rescued by a boat. But Goran holds his ground, repeating his original protest, and leaving the school play after his replacement in the role of Joseph, utters the lines which the intransigent teen objected to in the first place.
Although Svilicic adopts a didactic approach to the narrative, he never simplifies the situation. Crucially, the majority of the students do not seen to believe much more than Goran in the preached dogma: they are more interested in video games and porn than religious education. They pick on Goran, because he makes them feels guilty for their own lack of engagement. DoP Marinko Marinkic’s limpid camerawork shows Goran’s growing isolation at a school where even the chapel has disco lighting. AS
World Premiere | BUSAN INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL | 5 October 2019