Friday, August 9, 2019

Serbia and a family--past and present--in Mila Turajlic's THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING

If you think you know Serbia -- as TrustMovies rather foolishly imagined that he did -- simply from earlier history and/or reports of the wartime genocide and destruction of Yugoslavia back in the 1990s, here is an unusual and surprising documentary -- THE OTHER SIDE OF EVERYTHING -- made by a filmmaker (Mila Turajlic) about her mother (Srbijanka Turajlić), a former professor, constant activist and noted scholar. The movie's concen, one of them at least, is what the modern "creation" of a separate Serbian state has meant to mom, her friends and family, and to the barely recognized old woman who, along with her late husband, had been living ensconced in a couple of sealed-off rooms of the family's apartment for decades. Yes: Right about now, you're entitled to be asking, What the fuck?

Who was this old woman, and why has she been there? That's just one of the several questions opened up and only somewhat answered in this slow-burn exploration by a daughter (shown at right) of what it has meant to be her mother over not simply the decades that daughter has been alive, but back to the time of her grandparents and great-grandparents. Simultaneously, the documentary explores what it has meant to live in Belgrade over these lifetimes, during which, as mom points out, you took for granted (don't we all?) that your city would always be part of the same country.

One of the more telling moments comes as mom recalls filling out the first census under Serbia's genocidal President Slobodan Milošević and no longer being able to check off, under "country," the choice of Yugoslavia. The younger Turajlić certainly has visual flair: From her opening, as we view the building in which she grew up shrouded in fog, her sense of color, design and composition proves beautiful and compelling. But it's her foray into family and politics that will most amaze you, I think.

Her mother (above and below), as Mila points out in not unkindly fashion toward the film's end, is a hypocrite. And despite her very progressive and near-lifelong activism, mom is bourgeois to the bone. Just note her attention to the caring for and cleaning of the apartment, as well as the unending delight she takes in her fine china and crystal. Conversely, it seems that her poor "tenant," a self-proclaimed and proud member of the proletariat, was also a huge fan of Milošević. (Well, consider the fan base of the current President of the USA.)

The ironies come thick and fast here. And for folk like me who are not that conversant with Serbian history, we'll probably realize that we're missing half the fun (and the sadness). The younger Turajlić has researched well the archives for some very interesting newsreel footage, and it may surprise audiences to learn that while most Serbs supported Milošević, many did not. The scenes of protests against this dictator should make you think twice.

You may wonder along the way how it is that the senior Turajlić survived until now. Was the regime afraid to turn her into a martyr? Or did she, as during the protest shown near the film's beginning, sometimes not join in due to the remonstrations from her filmmaker daughter? And how about the bizarre treatment of her long-term tenant, for whom she seems to have shown almost no interest? (Her husband, the filmmaker's father, at least according the daughter's account here, was actively verbally abusive to the older couple.)

Well, nobody's perfect, and Srbijanka Turajlić seems in many ways a model of progressive thinking and behavior. And her daughter's fine documentary -- remarkably rich, moving and so beautifully filmed -- should stand the test of time, as well as giving American audiences their first wider look at the recently "renovated" nation they know a lot less about than they might have imagined. And yes, those closed doors (below) do eventually get opened.

After a very limited theatrical release last year, the documentary arrives on home video this coming week via Icarus Films Home Video. Look for it to hit the street on DVD and VOD next Tuesday, August 13 -- for purchase and/or rental.

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