A Film a Week - The Other Side of Everything / Druga strana svega

Resistance to the dictatorship of Slobodan Milošević in 90’s Serbia was stronger, at least in numbers, and more eventful than it seems from the information provided by the media, Serbian and international. Still, it was not powerful enough to prevent a madman from doing the damage to the neighbouring countries, national economy and his own people. People who took part in it, my elementary / high school self included, tend to romanticize their futile fight for freedom. It took ten years of fighting to kick him out, ten years marked with the collapse of the former country, bloody wars, destruction of cities like Sarajevo, Vukovar and Dubrovnik, economy experiments, collapses and theft through multi-level banking schemes and finally the change was pretty cosmetic – “The Butcher of Balkans” went to The Hague to stand trial for his war crimes, but the system and the “deep state” remained intact.

From that time on, the name Srbijanka Turajlić has been very well known in Belgrade and in Serbia. Even though rarely (if ever) politically active as a member of a certain party, she was a political figure coming from the university circles, organizing the protests and attending them side by side with her students. And that qualifies her as a good subject for a documentary about those uncertain times.

However, HBO-produced The Other Side of Everything, the film which premiered in Toronto and won big at IDFA, was made by the subject’s own daughter Mila Turajlić, known for her previous effort Cinema Komunisto. And here we are on a slippery ground from an ethical point of view. Will a mother be completely sincere with her own child? Could a daughter treat her mother with the same distant objectivity / objective distance as it would be the case with some other subject? What about the memories that are not that stable and can be easily manipulated to fit the existing narrative? And finally, what about the theme or themes, would a filmmaker closely related to her subject be able to filter all the important moments from the unimportant ones?

But the film starts quite simply, with a text card explaining the always locked door in the living-room of the Turajlić family apartment. Two doors in the same room have been locked from the time of nationalization in 1947 when the luxurious apartment belonging to Srbijanka’s grandmother (a widow of a former government minister) was divided in smaller units to accommodate some of Belgrade proletariat. Seems a bit odd to start a documentary about a distinctive political figure with such petty and petit-bourgeois problem like nationalized apartment, but it is an efficient way to point out that the Turajlić family was often on the wrong side of historical tendencies thanks to their own personal ethics. Srbijanka’s parents were social democrats and they were opposing the communist regime, which was enough to mark them bourgeois and label them as class enemies. Srbijanka and her husband were pacifists in the war time and convinced democrats under the dictatorship. Mila might find herself in a similar situation in near future.

Mila Turajlić succeeds in intertwining the intimate, family history with a national one, but the topics she juggles with are numerous which makes film uneven. The topic anticipated as central, Srbijanka’s account of the events of the 90’s and post-Milošević times, does not bring anything new and unknown to the table for someone who witnessed the same events, but might shed some new light for someone less informed. The ending, with the very same door from the beginning being finally open, seems a bit neat, and it closes the proverbial circle, which seems to be its only purpose. With more than a decent look, top-notch editing and evocative moments like contrast between the turmoil on the streets of Belgrade city centre and the calm of organized chaos of Turajlić home, The Other Side of Everything is not an essential viewing, but it is not a waste of time either.

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