A Film a Week - The Building / Hrvatskog narodnog preporoda

 previously published on Cineuropa

The town of Sisak, its (former) industrial heritage and the uncertainty of the modern times serve as an endless source of inspiration for Goran Dević, the Croatian filmmaker active mainly in the documentary format. The observational approach is also the backbone of his documentary filmmaking, and he uses it to make a point or set a new discourse without ever feeling preachy. He already demonstrated this with Steel Mill Caffe (2017) in which he listened to the “pub talks” at the factory bar over the course of its last operating week, as well as with his award-winning title On the Water in which he followed the life on all of three rivers that run through the town, asking some questions from the not-so-pleasant recent past.

Dević is now back to feature-length documentary filmmaking and back to Sisak and its former industrial pride, the steel mill, in his newest work The Building, which just premiered in the regional competition of ZagrebDox.

Using some old newsreel footage and archival TV material from the pioneering age of the media in Croatia and former Yugoslavia, Dević defines its principal subject, the titular building that once served as the centrepiece of the town within the town, constructed around the mill to provide housing for its growing workforce. Once the imagery is widened from the 4:3 to the 16:9 aspect ratio and the black and white colour scheme is dropped in favour of crisp digital footage in full colour, quite elegantly using the same neo-classical score to create the sense of continuity, we get to see the title and learn about the filmmaker’s primary object of interest.

Dević studies the building, once considered to be the peak of modern housing solutions and now seen as the relict of past times, and its inhabitants, over the course of a very specific yet very ordinary week in the summertime. An internationally recognised street artist from Zagreb is painting a huge mural on the building’s crumbling facade, and her act awakens curiosity in many of the tenants and anger in one of them in particular. An elderly lady whose health is crumbling waits to move to a church-owned retirement home, and gets to it too. Some new neighbours are about to move to some of the empty apartments, raising the suspicion of some of the tenants. In a twist of irony, those refugees are less than pleased with their new assigned accommodation. The other neighbours do they neighbourly stuff: looking for a missing cat, complaining about health, their children and their children’s health, having small talks on the bench in front of the building and making assumptions that the building’s basement has become the new home of a homeless person who used to be a factory worker.

Obviously, The Building is a testimony of changing times and of a place changing with them or against them, but it is also the testimony of Goran Dević’s great filmmaking skills and his strong voice in observing and tastefully commenting on the state that Croatian society is in. It is a bit unlikely that three major events (at least from the narrow perspective of the very building) would occur over the course of a single week, especially given that everybody pretty much complains that nothing ever happens there, but we can just take that leap of faith, since Dević rewards us with keen observations in wonderfully composed shots, executed by the film’s DoPs Damian Nenadić and Jurica Marković, while the inch-perfect editing by Jan Klemsche creates just the right amount of tension for most of the pleasant 68-minute runtime.

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