A Film a Week - Dead Fish / Mrtve ribe

originally published on Cineuropa:
The trickiest thing with wars is not the shooting and the immediate death lurking around every corner. No, every war leaves its consequences on people who are left in the limbo of PTSD and frustration while trying to get back to a life they could call “normal”. Some make it, some do not. Some take alcohol as a comfort, some do not. Sometimes it helps, sometimes it does not. Some find will to live, some just give up at one point and commit suicide. The latest Kristijan Milić’s film Dead Fish, world-premiering on Pula Film Festival is one of the studies of scars the war in Yugoslavia left on people and long-term consequences for the cities and countries.

The story, based on a short-story collection by Josip Mlakić who adapted it to a screenplay himself, is constructed in Altman’s Short Cuts fashion and follows a group of war veterans and younger people on the both sides of the city dealing both with the visible consequences of war and havoc and the long-term ones hidden under the surface, simultaneously catching the spirit of the place and dealing with the universal issues. Some of those stories and their characters are better developed, for instance in the first half of the film a suicidal man nicknamed Professor played by Dragan Despot is basically the protagonist whose death becomes the link between all the pieces of mosaic, while some other stories are just little vignettes with somewhat under-developed characters.

On the other hand, Kristijan Milić is doing his best to keep the whole film compact in audience-friendly format, a notch over two hours, which can prove to be hard for that kind of “hyperlink” stories. After two genre flicks, The Living and the Dead (2007) and Number 55 (2014), it is his first attempt to do something in a more deliberate pace, which he does with a good sense of rhythm, adding occasional bursts of action into a toned-down film. Visual references to Jarmusch and Hitchcock are evident, but work as subtle homages, and Coen brothers’ No Country for Old Men and Bergman’s The Seventh Seal are quoted in the film’s text often to an awkwardly humorous effect, which makes Dead Fish easily watchable, yet profound film experience and a meditative addition to the filmmaker’s war-themed opus.

The film was shot in Mostar, a divided city in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the name is rarely spoken. The locations are unique and recognizable for domestic crowd and foreign tourists as well, but the story of a divided town can be applied to many places like that all over Bosnia and former Yugoslavia. Soft black and white cinematography by Mirko Pivčević dictates the dark and gloomy mood and is underlined by Andrija Milić’s somewhat jazzy score.

Dead Fish was produced by Eurofilm from Zagreb and Oktavijan from Mostar with additional funds of Croatian Audio-Visual Centre (HAVC) and Cultural Fund of Sarajevo Catnon.

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