A Film a Week - Incarnation / Inkarnacija

A suited man wakes up in a busy city square, having no recollection who he is and how he got there. He starts walking down the street and masked assassins catch up with him and kill him. Ha wakes up at the same place and the same time again. He explores other alley. They catch and kill him again. And again. And again. Every time he gets a bit further, learning a thing or two about himself, so we also get to know him a tad better. We even start caring for him, nevertheless he remains nameless.

If it were a computer game, that guy, that everyman played by Stefan Đorđević, would be us and our mission would be not only to survive, but also to make it right so we could either live or die. However, Incarnation is a film, a brisk and sharp-looking low-budget soft SF action thriller directed by first-timer Filip Kovačević and we have seen that kind of mechanics before. Edge of Tomorrow and Souce Code meets Memento and (the original) Bourne’s Identity and the mix simply works: a basic idea is done with sufficient technical accomplishment - the mystery unfolds nicely, the pacing is good and it is fun to watch.

Let us be realistic, a modest Serbian production cannot compare to Hollywood in the terms of budget and experience in genre filmmaking. The dialogues, together with voice-over narration, written by Kovačević, Maša Seničić and Ivan Stančić, could seem a bit stiff from time to time, so it takes its toll on line delivery by Đorđević and the rest of the film’s cast. And together with shaky choreography of action scenes, especially fights, it can all be written off as the baby-steps of still emerging Serbian genre cinema.

On the plus side, the editing by Đorđe Stanković is rapid and flawless, the pounding action-movie soundtrack by Draško Adžić dictates the tempo and the camera-work by Uroš Milutinović is brilliant, combining the cold grayish palette with fluid and controlled movements. The locations of Belgrade city centre, Novi Sad and Petrovaradin fortress underground corridors are attractive and the continuity between them would not be a problem even with the most nagging viewers among the Serbian audience.

But the real deal about Incarnation is Kovačević’s story-telling. The universal questions of who we are, where do we come from, where are we going and can we change something over the course of our way are being asked and explored with genuine philosophical and anthropological interest in the way of a tense action thriller. The context of contemporary Serbia cannot be ignored either, with the history of violence and the variety of it in its recent past, our nameless, amnesiac hero trying to get to the bottom of it all all make it better is not a simple movie gimmick, but a metaphor. Incarnation is a textbook example of the intelligent filmmaking with lots of heart and soul.

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