“The hardest thing in life is letting go of those you hold dear. After that, everything is easy.”
So says a Bosnian car mechanic to Emir (ERnad Prnjavorac), the cousin of our sullen protagonist, Alma (Sara Luna Zoric), who has come to her father’s homeland of Bosnia for the first time, ostensibly to reconnect with her absent father.
This could refer to her father and his desertion of his family in the Netherlands when Alma was young to return to Bosnia. It could refer to Emir, who explains the difference between a nationalist and a patriot as acting with hate or love; his stepping on glass analogy seems to explain his ugly masculinity in a broken country. Or, of course it could refer to Alma’s physical journey to a Bosnia and a father who is part of her history but foreign to her.
Alma arrives with a suitcase, a new dress and a sense of entitlement that Emir will help her out. He’s not so interested and it is his ‘intern’ Denis (Lazar Dragojevic) who looks out for her. Neither men really meet her needs though and she sets out alone to travel to the town of her father.
Alma is not an easy character to like, with her impassive petulance and bad choices, but her scrappiness and dogged determination can’t help but win you over. She is in a country that doesn’t seem to treat people well, especially women, and her emotional motivations don’t seem to be a response to her own desires, rather a learned protective action. She is reckless, from hitchhiking alone to unprotected sex, and it’s unclear whether this stems from self hatred or a lack of sense of place and power. The weakness of the story is the lack of clarity about Alma and her motives. And a niggling disbelief in how she keeps her phone charged when she loses her suitcase – that dress ain’t got no pockets.
The film is full of still frames with exquisite composition, as if we are looking at a series of photographs. We see reflections, aerial views and the backs of heads. Small depth of field keeps us intimately aligned with Alma’s viewpoint. Bosnia seems to be a land of beauty but also tawdriness, suburban mundanity and a barely concealed violence.
Alma, Emir and Denis perhaps personify three different perspectives on Bosnian youth – the dispossessed, the patriot and the opportunist. None of their prospects seem hopeful, not because of the country but because of a death or a dearth of community and connection.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.