A Film a Week - Sirin

 previously published on Cineuropa

According to Eastern Slavic mythology, Sirin is a creature with the head of a beautiful woman and the body of a bird, usually an owl, that, like the Ancient Greek Siren, lures men to chase it until they lose touch with the Earth and die. It usually symbolises unattainable happiness. Sirin is also the title of Senad Šahmanović’s feature debut, which has premiered in Sarajevo’s Open Air section, and while the myth itself is read out later in the film, its central metaphor is the principal topic of it.

Šahmanović opens the picture with a flashback to 1993 and the event that still traumatises people in three countries of the former Yugoslavia. During the war, members of the paramilitary forces of the Republika Srpska boarded a train in the village of Štrpci, and abducted and executed 18 male passengers from it. Their only “crime” was having Bosniak names. The whole thing is observed from the perspective of a little girl who, thanks to her very existence, manages to save her father’s life.

Back in the present day, the same train stops at a similar location, and it seems that one of the passengers, Nathalie (Serbian-Danish actress Danica Ćurčić, recently seen in Murina), is visibly disturbed by it. She is travelling with her colleague and boss Valerie (May-Linda Kosumović, glimpsed in The Land Within) on a business trip. They work for a US law firm, and their job is to execute the last will of the late Sanja Đurđević, who stated that she wanted to build a chapel on her family’s land. However, her brother Andrija (Marko Baćović) is opposed to it, so the two have to navigate the complicated social landscape of the small town of Krivi Do.

Luckily, Nathalie is actually from that area and speaks the language, although she would prefer to be seen as just another American investor type. However, memories and relationships cannot be forgotten that easily (after all, she was born there under the name Sanela) and, seeing the rift between Sanja, Andrija and his wife (Jasna Đuričić, of Quo Vadis, Aida? fame, in another strong performance), she also has to navigate her own personal emotional landscape, which involves her sister Jasmina.

Sirin is a proper piece of actors’ cinema, and Ćurčić once again offers a master class of subdued acting that channels strong emotions which are hard to express out loud. Luckily for the other members of the ensemble (along with the aforementioned thesps, there’s also Nikša Butijer and Lidija Kordić as a father-daughter duo running the local hotel, Izudin Bajrović as a shady mayor and Momčilo Otašević as a young, ambitious contractor), she does so in such a way as to avoid dominating or eclipsing them, but still draws them into the interplay, so they seize the opportunity to breathe life into some meaty, lifelike episodes.

The craft components are on a high level, too. Šahmanović’s directing is measured and functional, while the cinematography by Aleksandar Janković, the editing by Tomislav Pavlic and the original score by Ivan Marković are put to good use to faithfully paint a picture of the protagonist’s state of mind.

The only thing that could be considered a flaw could be the fact that Šahmanović and his co-writer Claudia Bottino are using the real, traumatic event only as the lead character’s distant background, rather than pointing more of a finger at it. But, as a film of human emotions and a metaphor for the ever-futile quest for success and happiness, Sirin is a very strong piece of cinema.

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