Dalibor Matanic’s film “Zvizdan” [Eng. Title: The High Sun] gives a unique perspective on a topic rarely discussed with frankness by people in what was once Yugoslavia; their hitherto simmering discontent leading to and following the rebirth of their respective nations. Using two neighbouring villages as a backdrop, the composite film narrates three separate tales set ten years apart from each other. Apart from the main cast who appear in different roles in each of the segment, the common theme running through each story is love, and war.
1991. In the first segment, we see teenagers-in-love Jelena (Tihana Lazovic) and Ivan (Goran Markovic) preparing to elope to Zagreb. They belong to neighbouring villages, one predominantly Croat and one Serb, and will become unwitting protagonists in the looming ethnic conflict at their doorstep. After Jelena’s brother forcibly drives her back to their village, Ivan runs after the car but is prevented from entering by rookie militias positioned at a make-shift check post. By the time Jelena could free herself from her brother’s clutches and run towards her beloved Ivan, shots are fired…
2001. Natasa (Tihana Lazovic) and her mother return to their war-scarred village. Years of conflict had left their home uninhabitable and the village, depopulated. They hire Ante (Goran Markovic), the only available handyman, to fix their property, and he sets to work immediately. Natasa’s sullen attitude despite her obvious physical attraction to Ante had a reason; people from his village had killed her brother during the war. Upon finding an occasion, Natasa mentions her misgivings about her brother’s murder to Ante, and learns that Ante’s dad was also killed by people from her village. Against this run of play, Natasa surprises Ante and initiates sex with him. Just as we begin to make sense of what was happening, Natasa’s reaction following the sex underscores that age-old prejudices don’t fade away easily…
2011. In the final segment, university student Luka (Goran Markovic) and friend are on their way to a seaside resort to help organise a rave party. But they need to pass through Luka’s village to get there, one he left a few years earlier with a cloud hanging over him. Luka visits his parents but couldn’t bear to stay until supper and leaves, wandering instead towards former girlfriend Marija’s (Tihana Lazovic) house in the neighbouring village. Marija lets him in reluctantly, but is unwilling to forgive him for abandoning her after she became pregnant. Luka was only following his mother’s orders back then when he stopped getting involved with people from ‘the other side’, but has deeply regretted it ever since.
After being asked to leave, Luka drowns his sorrows in drugs and alcohol at a local party his friends were attending, but when the next day dawns, invariably follows the path leading back to Marija’s house. Upon not hearing a response to his knock, he sits by the front steps and waits. Marija takes her time to open the door, come outside and sit beside him. Both stare into the distance without talking, and after a while, she goes back in, leaving the door ajar…
While the first segment deals with heroic love for its own sake, the second is about love prevented by prejudice, and the third is about reconciliation following past misgivings. The individual segments work on their own as distinct short films and give them an universal appeal. But as foreigners untrained to tiny details that the locals might discern, we couldn’t help wondering why Croats and Serbs, who don’t just share a geography, but also culture and religion, could distrust each other through centuries. Surely there ought to be more that connects than separates them which, were it not for partisan politicking, might even go unnoticed. The film’s production, a joint Croatian-Serbian-Slovenian initiative, captures in exquisite detail the pain and hopes of ordinary people of the period through these love stories. It has plenty of heart, conveying an important message not just for local consumption, but also the world. Highy Recommended Viewing..!
Note: My justification for this rambling review, replete with major spoilers, is not as much to ‘help out’ site visitors who’ll never get to see the film, but highlight an important, universal message contained within it as another year dawns – clumsily if need be. Whichever part of the world we come from, our individual universes all contain their own little Balkan cracks; some we may have caused or directly blame others for causing, and some that were inherited from our peers. With every new crack regardless of who caused it, mobility within our own universe shrinks. What’s amazing is that it doesn’t take much to smooth over most of these cracks, and discover that your individual universe is infinitely bigger than you even imagined.
Happy 2019, guys!
The Nudity: Tihana Lazovic, Lukrecija Tudor, and others
Two scenes from the film feature nudity. The first is from the second segment when Natasa and Ante have sex. The other scene, from the third segment, involves Luka and Dinka (Lukrecija Tudor), a hitchhiking reveller – they later join others to go skinny-dipping.