A Film a Week: A Fleeting Dream / Yu Grupa - Trenutak sna

 previously published on Cineuropa

The “rockumentary” genre might be seen as trivial, but there is usually a more complex story going on than one solely about the band, its members and their music, since every group and performer exists in a wider social context. This is certainly the case with Darko Lungulov’s A Fleeting Dream, a documentary about one of the oldest and the longest-living Yugoslav rock bands, Yu Grupa, whose cultural significance is immense for the region. World-premiering at the Belgrade International Film Festival, this documentary about a band whose significance is strictly regional might prove hard to sell to “regular” film festivals, but it should fare reasonably well on the regional circuit and at specialised film gatherings.

Founded in 1970, Yu Grupa is a phenomenon for several reasons. Its founding members are the Jelić brothers: the eldest, Žika, on the bass and the youngest, Dragi, on guitar. Their previous musical projects also involved the middle brother, Rade, whose son, the film’s main narrator and music composer Petar, joined the band in the 1990s. The “family affair” was rounded off with a string of drummers: Raša Đelmaš, Dragoljub Đuričić and Saša Radojević Žule, who played with the band in different phases of its journey.

Music-wise, Yu Grupa was one of the first bands to forge a distinctive blend of Yugoslav rock that combined influences from the West, such as rock and roll, and rhythm and blues, with folk/ethno tunes from the Balkans. As such, the group was among the first to legitimise the new, “Western” sound in the socialist country of Yugoslavia, and even had a shot at international glory at one point, but it remained faithful to its home country, since the members saw their work as an integral part of its transition to a more open society.

The most interesting thing about the band is probably the context of the very country that the group outlived, and its history as seen from the point of view of the distinctive individuals. Firstly, the Jelić brothers and their parents were among the first settlers in New Belgrade, the town founded by the new government after the war. And secondly, the fact that a band named after the country outlived it without even changing its moniker is pretty amazing.

But after the 45-50 years of the band’s existence, there are new personal and global challenges to overcome. To allow his son to get proper therapy, Petar has to move to Sweden. And, of course, COVID-19 could prove especially dangerous to his elderly uncles, Žika and Dragi. Can the band survive it?

A move in the direction of a “trivial” genre might seem a strange one for a filmmaker as seasoned as Lungulov, but there is nothing trivial about A Fleeting Dream. The director and a small army of cinematographers spent seven years filming the new material, while the helmer worked with editor Miloš Korać for two additional years in order to combine it with footage from public and private archives, the latter including the Jelić family’s Super-8 home movies. The blend of interviews with the musicians, with other family members and with rock critics, old and new concert videos, family photos and home movies, as well as the archival material thematising the less well-known parts of Yugoslav history, is smooth and emotional, as it serves up a lot of information in an unrelenting, rock and roll-like rhythm, while Petar Jelić’s score consisting of rearranged, slowed-down themes from the band’s songs always strikes the right chord. As is the case with the band, A Fleeting Dream is not an ephemeral thing, but something that stays with us.

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