A Film a Week - Horizons / Horizonti

previously published on Cineuropa

Horizons, a film by Serbian debutant writer-director Svetislav Dragomirović, having its domestic and European premiere at Belgrade FEST after world-premiering at last year’s Cairo International Film Festival tells the familiar story about skeletons in the family closet resulting in tragedy, but in a new and, considering the context of Serbian cinema, refreshing way. If the film were just a tad more accomplished and braver to ditch the melodramatic clichés, it would be considered revolutionary as the first Serbian backwoods noir, but is still pioneering as the first articulated attempt in that direction.

Horizons begin at the end of the story: two brothers Zoran (played by Slobodan Beštić of A Serbian Film) and Milan (Gojko Baletić, known for his roles in theatre and on television) accompanied by his teenage son Slobodan (Nikola Stanimirović) meet on boats in the river. Zoran tries to steal a piece of Milan’s fishing net, the fight ensues and the shots are being fired presumably with fatal consequences. It serves well as a hook (pun intended) since there has to be something more for brothers to try to kill each other than a piece of net.

As the narrative progresses, the layers of mystery are being peeled off, uncovering the story Zoran’s much younger girlfriend Jovanka (Jovana Gavrilović of Requiem for Mrs. J fame) being pregnant with someone else and being scheduled for an illegal abortion with the local veterinarian (Stefan Bundalo) which does not go as planned. With each “reset” in the presentation, more and more pieces fit to the narrative mosaic, with key scenes such as two visits to the veterinarian’s and a hunting-fishing trip being revisited from different angles.

Filmed in widescreen by cinematographer Strahinja Pavlović and using the palette of dirty greys and muddy browns, the film’s visual identity relies heavily on the locations of swamps in Serbia’s north-eastern region of Banat, which is not a bad thing at all. Underlined by the sound scheme of ambient sounds of wind blowing, branches crackling under the feet, car and boat engines running, the sense of isolation and desperation is complete. Production design by Maja Đuričić and costume design by Ivana Nestorović paint the realistic picture of the less glamorous aspects of Serbian rural life.

The third act, set about 20 years after the events and focused on adult Slobodan, now a priest played by Boris Pingović and his cousin Goran (Nebojša Rako) breaks the flow of non-linearity seen earlier, but the pace still remains meditative and deliberate. Thematically reminiscent of the final third of Derek Cianfrance’s The Place Beyond the Pines, but more sedate, it serves well both as an epilogue and a coda to a more than decent film.

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