By Mónica Delgado
Serbian filmmaker Srdan Dragojevic returns to Nebesa to talk about another side of the Balkan conflict, from satire and comedy, and sometimes from the grotesque. From three parts, one in 1993, another in 2001, and a third in 2016, he composes a fresco through time on the crisis of Christian religion, as well as a great narrative axis to achieve a political critique on the ecclesiastical institutionality.
The protagonist is Stojan (Goran Navojec), an impoverished refugee who lives with his wife and his twelve-year-old daughter in a suburb after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, in the middle of the war with Bosnia. In the neighborhood they call him a saint, since he is a collaborator, a friend of all and perhaps only lives under the control of an arrogant wife, who lives fixated with a television program of an esoteric charlatan. Suddenly, after being electrocuted while trying to place a light, Stojan acquires a bright halo over his head, an aureole of holiness that will transform his life in every way. Thus, the humorous key that Srdan Dragojevic applies to his character and environment serves to exaggerate the situations, to the point that the plot outputs, a creative way to take his protagonist to the limit. From saint to villain. Stojan’s wife Nada (Ksenija Marinkovic) believes that the only way to remove that nimbus is to debase it. According to the recommendations of the charlatan, whom she visits, she must make Stojan become a great sinner, a terrible human being. And it is also the vision of the unrepentant according to some capital sins: Stojan given over to lust, gluttony or anger.
Already in his first cult film, the pop We Are Not Angels (1992), a box office success in Yugoslavia, Dragojevic put in tension the relationship between an angel and a devil who fought over the fate of a seductive young man, using the style of American low-budget youth comedies of the eighties. Although far from this commercial intention, in his current work, Heavens above (Nebesa), the Serbian filmmaker proposes a more refined and sophisticated exploration of good and evil, from the alienation of religion and its close relationship with political powers and factual, and from some codes of black comedy, which contains, on the one hand nonsense, some scenes of impious humor, and on the other, some metapolitical references in relation to the context of his country. Something he wanted to try with The parade (2011), a comedy about censorship or limited views on the gay parade in Belgrade. However, despite the narrative twists or the use of the plot twist, it is difficult to enter into the logic of this humor, especially due to too cartoonish secondary characters, or the use of close-ups that precisely seek to exacerbate physical features as a support for the grotesque.
On the other hand, Dragojevic achieves a large production with contributions from a commonwealth, gathering funds from seven countries, especially Balkan countries, incentives that somehow allow knowing other less solemn creative approaches and perspectives, through this family epic of passions and sins. With this film, which is scheduled within the international competition of the 74th edition of Locarno, the Serbian filmmaker seems entrenched in his new commitment to black comedy: a powerful and aggressive way of political denunciation, and in this case, about the foundations of the church and its faith.
Direction and script: Srdan Dragojevic
Photography: Dusan Joksimovic
Editing: Petar Markovic
Sound: Darko Glisic
Sound design: Ognjen Popic, Julij Zornik, Zoran Maksimovic
Music: Igor Perovic
Producers: Biljana Prvanovic, Sr? An Dragojevic
Production Design: Jelena Sopic, Jovana Cvetkovic
Cast: Goran Navojec, Ksenija Marinkovic, Bojan Navojec, Milos Samolov, Nataša Markovic, Sana Kostic, Radoslav Milenkovic
Serbia, Germany, North Macedonia, Slovenia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, 2021, 122 min