27.8.17

A Film a Week - Guidance Through the Black Hole

originally published on Cineuropa

Life itself can be stranger than fiction and that is the reason why documentaries can be as interesting as fiction features, if they are done properly, that is. Sometimes it is a matter of topic; sometimes it’s all about the protagonist. A polished narrative and visual style don’t hurt either. Guidance Through the Black Hole [+], a film by Aleksandar Nikolić and Zlatko Pranjić world-premiering in Sarajevo Film Festival’s Documentary Competition, has it all: the protagonist, the plot twists and lots of style, heart and soul. Further festival exposure is expected, especially in the former Yugoslavian region.
The issue of “immigrant blues” might seem to be used and re-used in cinema, but in the case of the man nicknamed Sule, a Bosnian immigrant and one of the last true bohemians of London’s Portobello Road, it seems completely fresh. An interesting person, a poet, a painter, a serial procrastinator, a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic who is his own worst enemy. He never quite adjusted to life in London, the sole destroyer of his marriage, homeless for several years and with one single dream: to see his hometown of Banja Luka again. He will get his chance at redemption with an offer to exhibit his work in the Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina in London. His only task is to finish the four remaining paintings from the titular cycle.
In a genuine, no-nonsense style, Sule narrates his life achievements, slip-ups and his attitude and opinions on the mistakes that he has made: friendship, fatherhood, religion, art and personal development. He is what he is, he honestly wants to make things better and he gets so close. But can he really change? As a highly individual character, Sule makes his story both distinctive and universal. Guidance Through the Black Hole is not just a film about migration, integration, the lack of it and nostalgia. Neither it is just an exploration of creative processes and making art. It is about life as a whole. 
First-timer Zlatko Pranjić and the more experienced Aleksandar Nikolić - known for his work as a cinematographer, editor, writer and director on another well-known documentary The Serbian Lawyer - felt comfortable with their protagonist and knew what to do with the material he provided them. Filmed almost completely in black and white, the film underlines the moodiness of its main character and contrasts it. One sequence in vivid colour near the end shows the sweetness of success on the horizon. The sound design, consisting mainly of background noises cut with sharp beats accenting the tense scenes, is also interesting and so is the soundtrack, which varies from Serbian alternative rockers Goribor to melancholic Bosnian folk music (“sevdah”) standards.