A Film a Week - The Black Pin / Igla ispod praga

A Film a Week is a weekly column on this blog, run on Sunday for our English-language readers and friends, presenting usually local or European festival films to a wider audience. Every review is directly written and not translated.

The idea of Montenegrin cinema died about the same time Yugoslavia collapsed in its bloody wars. Since then, there wasn’t much interesting or good films, the production rate was about one feature film a year (usually populist comedies and festival circuit misfires, with just few exceptions like The Ascent). The population of just above 600,000 inhabitants and minimal academia infrastructure did not create a good environment for a budding film scene, and the foundation of national film centre is only a recent development. In that situation, Prague-educated writer-director Ivan Marinović and his charming debut feature The Black Pin are more then good news.

The place is the peninsula of Luštica, the time is now. People are rushing to sell the small portions of land they have to whomever that comes first, usually the Russians. A group of locals has hatched a plan to sell a big piece of land to a British investment fund interested in building a resort there. But there’s a catch: an old woman that has the reputation of a local witch dies before they can make deal with her, leaving the land to distant relatives scattered from South America to Australia. The only alternative for them is to convince the local priest Petar to join their plan.

That could be a problem, since Petar (Macedonian actor Nikola Ristanovski) is not much interested in ephemeral things like money as he is interested in fond memories of his long-gone father, taking care of his demented mother (Yugoslav icon Seka Sablić in one of her crazier parts) and trying to bring up his teenage son Đorđe (débutante Filip Klicov) since his wife left him. More to the point, Petar is quite misanthropic and bitter, and is not on particularly good terms with the men (Serbian character actor Ljubomir Bandović and Croatian chameleon Leon Lučev among others) who are planning to sell and has no wish to help them. Can the retired seaman Dondo (Bogdan Diklić, good as always) help them find some common ground?

The Black Pin is a bit of slice-of-life bittersweet comedy-dramas that can get lost in side-plots and sub-plots that go nowhere. Sometimes, that happens here too, there is a sub-plot or two too much and that time could be better spent developing meaningful relations between characters and adding another dimension to their conflict. But the overall feeling is that Marinović is more interested in the atmosphere and the mood of the local area than in the plot and character details. Well-acted, confidently directed and masterfully shot in chiaroscuro contrasts, The Black Pin works best as a love letter to a place, the director’s childhood and all the local legends and anecdotes every Adriatic village has.

The whole set-up is Mediterranean and Adriatic as it could be, echoing the mentality plays that are typical for neighbouring Dalmatian authors like Miljenko Smoje and both Brešans, late writer Ivo and his filmmaker son Vinko. But The Black Pin’s biggest influence was legendary Yugoslav-era filmmaker Živko Nikolić, who tackled the themes of modernity and freedom (and the lack of it) in traditional, confined, almost insular societies and family units of Montenegro in different periods of time. His work was locally colored, mesmerizing, darkly funny, but also pessimistic. He often lamented that modernity and personal freedom never stood a real chance in underdeveloped society and the conservative tendencies only switched forms throughout the time.

Marinović has done his homework. Like Nikolić, he is locally focused and colourful in the way he is portraying the area and its people, but his themes of miscommunication and opposing world-views are not just mentality play, they are universal for mankind. But compared to often cynical and misanthropic Nikolić, Marinović is more light-hearted and actually cares for his characters. It is obvious that The Black Pin is a work of passion that can serve as a landmark in Montenegrin cinema.

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