Review: Sava – Cineuropa

– The first feature-length documentary by young British director Matthew Somerville tells the story of the river that runs from Slovenia to Croatia and from Bosnia to Serbia

The young British filmmaker’s first feature-length documentary Matthieu somerville, Sava, deals with the titular river, 990 km long, which goes from Slovenia, through Croatia and Bosnia, to Belgrade, where it joins the Danube. Once the longest river in Yugoslavia, it still connects the now separated countries.

Film the river and the people around it over a six-year period with the co-director of photography Dan McCrum, Somerville makes the most of his status as an outsider: he is far enough away to take into account the political issues that still plague the region, and close enough to understand them and respect his protagonists. In this sense, it is significant – and poignant – that the legendary Yugoslav actress Mira Furlan, deceased this year, delivers a voice over in which she plays the role of the river. She speaks in first person in a lyrical monologue over the alternately breathtaking and dreamlike images of the river, shot both on the ground and by a drone. These intersect with the narrative parts where we meet inhabitants in several towns and villages along the course of the river.

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Subtitling with narrative titles each of the 12 points on the river from Zelenci, Slovenia to Belgrade, Serbia, Somerville and Macedonian editor Gorjan Atanasov moving us from one intriguing person to another, a group of friends or a family. What the filmmakers focus on is each person’s personal bond with the river, with their inevitable visions of its social and cultural dimension, but also an acute awareness of its environmental importance and its history. Once poisoned by numerous factories along its flow, the Sava “recovered” when Yugoslavia and its industry collapsed, as one Slovenian steelmaker explains. Today, a new wave of industrialization and pollution, driven by foreign investment and the lack of environmental policies, is once again putting it in danger.

Most of the people interviewed in the film are endearing and strong characters. Starting with two boatmen in Slovenia who share right-wing views on refugees and going through two drag queens in Zagreb who do the exact opposite, to a group of Bosnians in their thirties who say they are ‘they have little money but would not trade their life on the river for Western promises (even if we saw it again six years later, after moving to Germany), to an imam from the Brčko district who equates the rhythm of the river to the nature of the people around it; an old romantic couple in a town of Vojvodina; and finally to an anti-gentrification activist in Belgrade – the filmmakers create a complete social kaleidoscope.

Score at 70 minutes, Sava makes it a pleasant watch, even if this reduced operating time sometimes works against it. The Belgrade segment looks rushed, almost like a dream scene barely remembered, not least because it was filmed at night and uses double exposure in Dubai-style skyscraper footage of the frontline’s corrupt development. of Belgrade Sea. While this works in its own right, it feels more like the start of another movie, with the activist’s brief thoughts on gentrification.

Despite some flaws, Sava unfolds smoothly, often plunging into a sort of magical fantasy and nostalgia with Furlan’s partly written and partly improvised voiceover. Although Robin schlotermeierThe score of s uses a variety of genres ranging from ambient to jazz to disco, sometimes with a subtle local folk tinge, it enriches the atmosphere of the documentary without being overbearing.

Sava is a production of Sava Films, based in London.

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About Eleanor Blackburn

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