Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Manchevski's SHADOWS opens at NYC's Cinema Village

I still remember how impressed I was seeing Milcho Manchevski's Before the Rain back in 1995. The manner in which he chose to tell his story, the sumptuous cinematography, the sterling work from actors Rade Serbedzija and the late Katrin Cartlidge -- they all came together so well that the movie won a fistful of awards & was nominated for Best Foreign Film.

When his next movie, the 2001 big-budget Dust, opened and mis-fired badly, many of us, I think, chalked it up to some sort of sophomore slump. Now that his third film SHADOWS (Senki) has appeared, it seems the slump is still with us.

Not nearly as foolish as Dust but nowhere near as accomplished as Before the Rain, Shadows is a kind of ghost story that draws from folk tales coupled to the past of its characters, with a little sociology and psychology tossed into the mix. I use the word "character" with some tentativeness, however, because our protagonist (played by Borce Nacev, partially shown below, left) hasn't really got one. We see him only briefly, via a family argument, before he is nearly killed. He then spends the rest of the film coming to terms with the results of his injuries, which include ghosts and what not, being very scared, trying to figure out what is real and what is not, spying, screwing, and carrying on like the crazy nut he just might be. But since we never had more than a glimpse of who he was, pre-accident, the fellow does not exist except as a cipher who galumphs from scene to scene.

The rest of the cast exists as satellites revolving around our cipher: mainly his Alpha-female mom (played by Sabina Ajrula) and an absolutely gorgeous young first-time actress named Vesna Stanojevska (above) who comes into his life rather bizarrely, as does just about everything else in the film. Well before the two-hour running time drew to a close, my mind had tired of all the back-and-forth game-playing so I did not particularly care what happened or why. In fairness to Shadows, my companion found it more tolerable than I, and we both agreed that the ending had its moving moments. But in tossing so many disparate elements into his pot, the writer/director can't reach home with any of them: not the horror, psychology, thrills, mythology, history, medicine nor even -- yes -- Lady Macbeth. The director is on record as saying that his film tries to imagine what might happen if Shakespeare's character "had lived today and survived to have a grown-up son who might try to come to terms with her overbearing presence and her transgressions of the past." Okey-dokey. Whatever you say, Milcho.

SHADOWS opens Friday, January 30, for a run at one of NYC's better foreign/independent film venues: Cinema Village.

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