Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

"Golubovic wants us to feel the weight of all this, and we certainly do, as cinematographer Aleksandar Ilic not only captures the countryside of Serbia but also a sense of dilapidation." | Photo: Maja Medic

The interplay between desperation and determination forms the backbone of this Serbian drama from Srdan Golubovic, which sees father-of-two Nikola (Goran Bogdan) pushed to the edge in a bid to get back his children. Although much more serious in tone, the backdrop recalls Bojan Vuletic's Requiem For Mrs J in its searing view of Serbian bureaucracy and it also shares a trigger with that film, the inability to acquire severance pay that is owed, which prompts Nikola's wife Biljana (Nada Sargin) to threaten to immolate herself and her children in the film's opening moments.

Nikola, who is doing day work in a forest, is unaware of what is occurring until he finds himself at the department of children's services being told by the chief (Boris Isakovic, making an impact as always) that his kids are in care until further notice and, most certainly, until after he has acquired electric and other amenities for his home. Golubovic is not out to suggest that the world is against Nikola - one of his neighbours offers some help and, as the story continues others will also prove to be sympathetic - but the system is most certainly stacked against those on the breadline, with a suggestion that the fostering of children is being used to line the pockets of civil servants' families.

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Realising that he is cutting no ice with the department, Nikola decides to walk to Belgrade, which is just shy of 200 miles away, a gruelling trip - a journey that makes up the bulk of the film and, as the miles gradually mount, along with episodic encounters, for good and ill, Golubovic relies heavily on Bogdan to convey the stoicism of Nikola with minimal dialogue. Golubovic wants us to feel the weight of all this, and we certainly do, as cinematographer Aleksandar Ilic not only captures the countryside of Serbia but also a sense of dilapidation, with Bogdan's trip marked by derelict buildings that once held businesses but are now rotting away. It's gruelling, perhaps to a fault, but there's no doubt we also feel the relief when Nikola reaches the city where Golubovic dolefully explores the way he has become something of a newspaper cause celebre, while also holding up a higher grade of political manipulation to the light - one that is as much interested in how something plays on social media than its effect on a single person.

Having lost some momentum along the way, Golubovic's film gathers pace again in its final act as something akin to hope is allowed to enter the equation but, as Nikola's depressing return home leads him to face another challenge, you can't help feeling he, like many of the everyday folk here, is little more than a candle sputtering in the wind of a regime that is careless about its community.

Reviewed on: 18 Feb 2021
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Nikola’s children are taken away from him after social services decide that he is too poor to provide them with a decent living environment. He sets off on foot to lodge a complaint in Belgrade.

Director: Srdan Golubovic

Writer: Srdan Golubovic, Ognjen Svilicic

Starring: Goran Bogdan, Ajla Santic, Muharem Hamzic, Boris Isakovic, Nada Sargin, Milica Janevski, Vahid Dzankovic, Jovo Maksic, Nikola Rakocevic, Milan Maric, Ljubomir Bandovic, Mirko Vlahovic, Goran Bogdan, Ajla Santic, Muharem Hamzic

Year: 2020

Runtime: 120 minutes

Country: Serbia, France, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina

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Requiem for Mrs J