A Film a Week - The Summer of '91 / Poletje '91

 previously published on Cineuropa

Slovenia was the first of the Yugoslav republics to secede from the federation and become independent after a ten-day war that happened in the early days of summer 1991. Although there is wide consensus in Slovenian society about the war and subsequent independence as a necessary move, the political parties and their voters are divided regarding the interpretation of the events. For the right wing, the war is key and is a starting point for the new mythology, while the left wing has more of a down-to-earth approach to the topic.

Slovenian cinema and the Festival of Slovenian Film (FSF) are not immune to this ideologically loaded question either, especially when there is a “round-number” anniversary. After last year’s call for artists to thematise the events from 30 years ago, this year’s edition of the FSF is hosting a new competitive section called Films 30, with five documentaries on the national topic. The Summer of ‘91, directed by Žiga Virc (Houston, We Have a Problem!), is one of those five films.

Known for his provocative approach to sensitive topics, based on unexpected revelations, both in his shorts (like the 2009 gem Trieste Is Ours!) and in his feature-length works (Houston… is a perfect example of a thought-provoking mockumentary), Virc opts for something completely different here – a relative lack of his own commentary and the assumption of an ideologically neutral stance on an ideologically charged topic. The Summer of ‘91 is actually a collage of collected home videos filmed by different people from all over the country in the time span from December 1990 and the plebiscite in which the inhabitants of Slovenia voted for secession, to the summer of 1992 and the first anniversary of the war.

The central piece of the film might be the events of the war seen through the lenses of the participants and the observers, but Virc also suggests that regular life that makes “small histories” was also happening during that period, albeit overshadowed by the “big history”. For instance, some people had their wedding scheduled for the very date of the beginning of the war, and some children happened to have their birthdays exactly during the peak of the military operations. Virc also opts to open and close the film with the same music ensemble performing Isley Jasper Isley’s “Caravan of Love” for the opening credits and The Shirelles’ “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for the ending sequence, closing the symbolic circle, showing life going on, for better or for worse.

However, the lack of narration and direct commentary on the footage does not mean that Virc doesn’t comment somehow on the events; he shows his political viewpoint just by the art of selecting the material for the collage, leaving the people in the footage to do the actual talking. Although the raw material has definitely been processed – different passages of it in a different manner even, so we can see the difference if the source material came from a humble VHS or more fancy Beta – there is no reason to doubt the authenticity of the whole thing. Technically, The Summer of ‘91 is a compelling work, with Matej Nahtgal’s sound design and image post-production being the highlights craft-wise, while editor Špela Murenc keeps the whole thing pacey and compact enough, clocking in at a pleasant 72 minutes in the end.

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