Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Vec vidjeno (1987)

...aka: Deja vu
...aka: Reflections

Directed by:
Goran Markovic

Along with ANGST (1983) and HENRY: PORTRAIT OF A SERIAL KILLER (1986), this is one of the 80's most effective attempts at looking at a psychopathic killer through more insightful eyes. You won't find loads of on-screen gore here, nor will you find reactionary scares or visual shocks in the expected slasher-killer frequency. This is a deliberately-paced portrait of a deranged mind that builds slowly as a character-driven drama before suddenly erupting into violence when it nears its disturbing conclusion. Another point of interest, aside from revelatory performances from several actors I'd never even heard of before, is a plot that manages to give viewers glimpses inside the political and social climate of Belgrade in both the pre and post WWII-era and the impoverished, though more liberated, early '70s era. The period-set scenes are then effectively sandwiched between a relevant and eerie revenge-themed story that returns us to contemporary times.
In the opening sequence, a man watches as an elderly pianist gets ready to take the stage. The film then jumps to 1971 at a performing arts college, which includes courses on everything from martial arts to Esperanto. Awkward, repressed, middle-aged piano teacher Mihailo (Mustafa Nadarevic) is just one of many men enamored by attractive, outgoing, flirtaceous modeling teacher Olgica (Anica Dobra). To Mihailo's surprise, the sexy young woman aggressively starts a sexual relationship with him with absolutely no provocation. Unfortunately, Mihailo soon learns that there's little attractive about Olgica beyond the surface. She's cold, cruel, materialistic and seems to use whatever man comes her way that can be easily manipulated. Also embittered by the fact she has to share living space with an alcoholic father and a brother with an eye condition no one can afford to have treated, Olgica seems to view men as disposable tools used to improve upon her own life. But she's chosen the wrong guy to mess with this time.
Aside from being in a thoroughly unhealthy relationship, Mihailo's slipping sanity isn't helped any by dire living conditions (he shares a filthy and cluttered home with a family headed over by a taunting jerk, played by Petar Bozovic) and frequent recollections from the past that seem to directly parallel what's currently going on in his life; the Deja vu the alternate title alludes to. Flashbacks reveal a very traumatic childhood at the hands of a pushy, abusive father who attempted to force his young son to become a piano prodigy. After an affair, his parents split up and both die soon after; the father executed as a communist and the miserable mother from tuberculosis, leaving behind a rather confused teenager who gave up on the piano aspirations for life as an instructor. Things come to a head when the school Mihailo and Olgica both work for is offered the opportunity to put on a televised talent show. When Mihailo finds himself unable to perform, he's casually cast aside by his new girlfriend and then erupts into violence.
Thematically, the traumatized-child-turns-psycho plotting certainly isn't anything new or novel, but the film itself seems fresh thanks to the specific social climate (how many Serbian horror flicks can you think of?), outstanding acting (particularly the two leads), the attention paid to character and a story framework smoothly covering a 60 year time span. Production values are also very good, with spot-on period detail and costumes to reflect the changing times, an eerily moving classical score, smotheringly oppressive art direction and some arresting cinematography (there are several unbroken POV tracking shots that fans of elaborate camerawork will certainly enjoy). The violence quotient is pretty low overall, but the film does get graphically violent toward the end.
The film won five major awards in its home country, but never even made a ripple here in the States. There's no video or DVD for this one folks, though an English-fansubbed copy is floating out there in cyberland if you know where to look.


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