Nikoli nisva šla v Benetke
Slovenia, 2008, colour, 62 mins
- Director: Blaž Kutin
- Screenplay: Blaž Kutin, Rolanda Rebrek
- Photography: Mitjs Ličen
- Editor: Jure Moškon
- Music: Polona Janežič
- Producer: Andrej Kregar, Rolanda Rebrek, Blaž Kutin
- Production Company: Tomahavk
- Cast: Aljoša Ternovšek (Maša), Ivan Krajnc (Grega), Peter Ternovšek (Tone), Tadej Toš (Samo)
The only world premiere in the 2008 Sarajevo Film Festival competition, Blaž Kutin’s debut feature was sadly also its biggest disappointment, a study of bereavement that offers so little dramatic meat to chew on that it barely sustains even 62 minutes. While it’s unfortunate that another Sarajevo competition film, Händl Klaus’s March/März, dealt with virtually the same theme in a far more complex and dramatically compelling fashion, Kutin’s film would struggle to make an impression even without that drawback.
The narrative premise sees middle-aged Tone visiting his son Grega and daughter-in-law Maša for 24 hours prior to what, judging from Tone’s black suit, seems likely to be a funeral. The tone and content of the entire film is encapsulated in the two opening shots: the first is a long sequence, shot through a car windscreen, of Tone driving to the couple’s home in Ljubljana, the natural sound of the falling rain broken by Polona Janežič’s simple, repetitive piano theme, which will make regular reappearances thereafter. The second shows Grega and Maša sitting expressionless on the futon - they wait for the third ring before admitting Tone, giving us plenty of time to scan the composition for situational clues: the broken clock on the floor, the small collection of children’s toys, the way the couple do anything but look at each other.
The rest of the film spans the time that Tone spends with the couple: although he initially attempts small talk (his first conversation is about their teeth, his apparently expert knowledge suggesting that he’s a dentist or hygienist), and suggests driving them to various places, it’s very clear very early that Grega and Maša are in no mood for conversation, so he stands back and lets them deal with their private traumas in whatever way they deem appropriate.
Much of the time, Kutin’s camera stares fixedly at Grega and Maša as they distract themselves by throwing stones (initially at offscreen metal objects, then, more alarmingly, at Tone as he swims), playing children’s ‘I Spy’ games, randomly assaulting tethered bicycles (presumably, this is a sign of the circumstances of their own child’s death), verbal and physical bickering, pushing each other away and then desperately embracing, all the while fantasising about travel plans - they clearly want to escape their present existence, but have no idea where to go.
About three-quarters of the way through, a fourth character is introduced when Grega impulsively pays a midnight visit to Samo, an old college friend, whom he clearly hasn’t seen for years, since he’s unaware of the couple’s present situation and tactlessly opines that Grega would be a great dad. Despite extensive travelling, Samo lets slip that he’s never been to Venice (only just over the Italian border), which inspires Grega and Maša to go there - but the combination of water and tolling bells proves emotionally overwhelming, or at least to them.
Although individual sequences can be very effective (the Venice scenes aside, there’s a tentative mid-point reconciliation in a forest, with the sun breaking through the rain - Mitjs Ličen’s cinematography is so beautiful here that the effect is nowhere near as clichéd in practice as it sounds in theory), the film ultimately has as little to say as Grega and Maša themselves. Because we’re given next to no context (Tone, the viewer’s onscreen surrogate, is presumably privy to far more information, but reveals little aside from a brief mobile phone conversation, presumably with his wife), it’s difficult to generate much empathy, especially when Grega’s behaviour towards Maša veers uncomfortably close to physical and psychological abuse.
The film’s central thesis, that the recently bereaved will often behave irrationally and impulsively, is scarcely a novel observation (and one that in any case is explored more imaginatively in March), and Kutin’s visual approach, whereby his camera stares fixedly at the couple in a series of long, static takes (the camera only moves when tracking a moving vehicle), creates an overall effect of voyeuristic eavesdropping on private grief. The net result is that we ultimately feel as uncomfortable as Tone - more so, in fact, since we have no reason for being there.