ThePingOfPong

Pieces on Film, Prose and Music by a Nigerian

Tag: Serbia

DAY 13: FOOTBALL AND OTHER ROMANCES

 

 

The second and final Serbian film at the European Film Festival, Montevideo: I Love You, chronicles the formation of the Serbian team sent to the 1930 World Cup.

Told from the point of view of a young disabled shoe shiner, the film’s central relationship is that between the the poor Tirnanic and the already famous Mosha. After some initial squabbles, they become friends when they both are selected to play for the national team. It is a friendship that is troubled by two women: new arrival Rosa and the enchantress Valeria. Nevertheless, the country is the lead character in this highly patriotic tale.

The actors are admirable football players, one can easily see the Hollywood version of this film featuring body doubles and computer generated images for the on-field scenes. Thankfully, we are spared brutish visual effects and given an often grey but beautiful picture in which the period details appear accurate.

There is just the little problem of the manner of recollections: how is it possible that the kid narrator will be privy to the bedroom encounters of the central characters?

Agreed, it is a technical problem that will not matter a jot when a lump of patriotism is caught in your like I assume will be the case of Serbians. Nigerians will enjoy the football, football politics and amusing dialogue. The patriotism? Not so much.

The film ends before the actual tournament, which might be a torment for some. But there is hope in sight: a sequel is in the works.

DAY 8: OATHS AND OTHER DIFFICULTIES

Anyone who has schooled in Nigeria will be familiar with the debate format pitting professions against one another: doctors or teachers? Lawyers or Engineers?  Serbia’s first film at the European Film Festival, Besa (which translated loosely, means Pledge), adds one more: students or soldiers— when the latter invades a school demanding rations.

When Filip, a Serbian headmaster, is summoned to serve his country during the Astro-Hungarian war on Serbia which will eventually become the First World War, he has to leave the attractive Lea, his wife in the care of Azem, an elderly Albanian who works as school custodian. While Filip is away, Lea and Azem go from mutual suspicion, to tolerance, to friendship and finally to the semblance of a romance.

The pledge or promise referred to in the title is an oath taken by Albanians to protect someone even if carrying it out means death. This Besa leads to Azem’s imprisonment and torture when he confronts an Astro-Hungarian officer who has designs on Lea. It also leads the characters through a path trod in Lost In Translation, another film where a promising romance is abandoned. But where that film allowed for a kiss, the closest Lea and Azem get to intimacy is a passionate moment where bodies are caressed and kisses exchanged without touching. It is a romance thwarted by society’s demands.

Beyond the intimacies, outside a war rages and soon the school is occupied by soldiers who demand access to the school’s stock despite inadequate rations for the students. Lea is suspected of been a spy since she is Slovenian- which at the time was under the Astro-Hungarian Empire. She also has to endure house arrest since some Serbians view her as the enemy.

By putting Lea and Azem in one room, director Srdjan Karanovic, contrasts several opposites: Serbian-Albanian; Slovenian-Albanian; Educated woman-Illiterate Man; Muslim-Orthodox Christianity. The friendship and romance that forms, though nipped in the bud, affirm that stripped of labels; a man is a man and a woman, a woman.

Yet the most compelling contrast is that between love and duty. Or perhaps between temptation and duty. In Besa duty wins. Ha. If only it were so in life!

As for the student-soldier question, a character says, “It’s war. Who could study?” A reminder that during war, priorities are altered. In times of peace, that debate will be won by the former.

In times of war? I am not so sure.

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