Belgrade was a surprising extra stop in the cinematic caravan organized by prof. Nevena Dakovic and prof. Alexandra Milovanovic from the Belgrade University. And it actually came just in time to update me on the current state of Serbian cinema and local cultural issues which I was following more closely while still living in Bulgaria.
The masterclass with Milutin Petrovic at the Film Faculty of the Belgrade University provoked a fundamental discussion on the place of small national cinemas within the competitive context of big film industries such as Hollywood. I discovered a very interesting, radical and non-compromising artist whose work is hard to be found elsewhere. It was followed by a round table with trained, active and diverse in their approach Serbian film critics who provided a brief overview on recent Serbian arthouse cinema by sharing critical thoughts and profound interpretations but also on the problem that cultural institutions encounter. Part of the critics´ presentation was dedicated to the more than a year-long occupation of old Zvezda cinema which was the last arthouse cinema in Belgrade that closed due to corrupted privatization schemes made back in 2000. Combined with the fact that most of the Belgrade museums and art galleries are closed for years with the excuse of never ending reconstruction and that the hipster district of street art and alternative bars Savamala will be completely demolished soon, their exposé has drawn a bigger picture of the local cultural scene that seemed suffocated by inappropriate political decisions. Thus I managed to situate my fragmented knowledge on the current situation in a more complete context.
The next day we had a private screening of Nikola Ljuca´s Humidity at the Serbian film archive (Jugoslovenska kinoteka), followed by Q&A with the director which added a further insight towards the current state of local society. A drama about the disappearance of a wealthy businessman´s wife, the film leads us on a tour through the world of the rich Serbian class, a universe of excess, sex, drugs and brainwashing techno music.
The film is structured in chapters, counting the days of absence of the wife, while her husband, the protagonist Peter continues his life in the usual pace: divided between work duties and hedonic nights among businessmen and politicians who jointly sharing the available women and a free cocaine bar.
Witnessing the passing days, we are gradually observing how the false world of Peter is slightly sinking, while the director uses the stuck drain system in his house as a cinematic metaphor. Suffocating moisture soaks throughout the footage bringing more symbolic than literal meaning. Under the surface of a coldblooded executive in a construction company slowly reveals a desperate and unconfident man that sweats uncontrollably in the summer heat amidst urban concrete.
In the following discussion Nikola Ljuca admitted that the film turned out to be a lot more political than he thought it would be as it eventually portrays the winners of today´s Serbia who are trying to impose consumerist values as universal. So the film came as a logical and symbolic conclusion of our journey revealing a suffocated cultural atmosphere which however is being shaken by constant struggles initiated by young generation.