Taurunum Boy

previously published on Cineuropa
The perception of the township of Zemun, near Belgrade, is slightly controversial. For some, Zemun is a municipality that is merely a part of the metropolis. Locally, patriotic-minded Zemun residents do not agree with that assessment, stating that it is a separate town with significant historical, cultural and even lifestyle differences to the country’s capital. Both native to Zemun, cinematographer Dušan Grubin (Luka Bursać’s Blackness and Afterparty) and editor Jelena Maksimović (Vlado Škafar’s Mother, and Ognjen Glavonjić’s Depth Two and The Load) drew their inspiration from their home town’s youth in their joint directorial debut, the feature-length documentary Taurunum Boy, world-premiering at the 17th edition of Dokufest.
The title is a fine example of poetic misdirection. The term “Taurunum Boy” is more closely associated with the supporters of a local football club than with the city itself, even though Taurunum is an ancient Latin name for Zemun. Maksimović and Grubin underline this with the opening sequence at the local stadium, filming the fans entering to watch the game while the off-screen speaker announces the names of the players. Later, they keep the camera focused on the faces of teenage fans, the future protagonists of the film. So we do not have just one boy (although one of them kind of stands out as the emotional core of the film), but rather a group of school friends in their formative years.
Football fandom is just a part of their culture. We also see them playing sports, and hanging out together in public and at abandoned places, such as a rusty ship on the river and defunct factories, at celebrations with their families and even on their last elementary school trip before they split up and go to different schools. The summer is coming, but so is the threat to their friendship, since adulthood is just around the corner. They are growing both physically and emotionally, becoming more and more confused about who they are and who they want to be, enduring the pressure of their parents, school and their peers, and trying to meet the standards of toughness and machismo that are imposed on them on both the national and the local level.
The subject of masculinity on the verge of adulthood and a sense of expectation might seem universal, but Maksimović and Grubin succeed in their intention to highlight the local context of it. For decades, Zemun has had a bad reputation owing to its high crime rate, and there, being tough and suppressing one’s emotions are still cultural priorities. However, the youth – mostly but not exclusively boys – is not portrayed as a bunch of future criminals: they might look uniform to a certain extent, with the same type of clothes and hairstyles, and the same “I don’t give a shit” attitude, but they are also sensitive, open, occasionally humorous and quite normal. The directorial duo has done a great job of gaining their trust and encouraging them to be open and be themselves while on camera.
As is to be expected for a film by a cinematographer and an editor, the camerawork is top-notch, and the rhythm of alternating the static takes from afar with gently moving close-ups is more than effective in making Taurunum Boy serve as both an observational and an emotional experience. The musical choices of local pop-folk, hip-hop and even 1990s dance music are colourful and add a lot to the style.

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