Berlin, at the film festival. A small revolution, undetected as such by critics. Rie Rasmussen‘s Human Zoo opened the Panorama section of the festival. And for the first time (at least I am aware of) a Western director and in this case also writer is coming up with a story set in the Balkans, in which there is no moral moaning at the violence experienced, no Western or local do-gooder trying to save the world or any related subject of sorts. Kudos to Rie Rasmussen for that.
The film is the unlikely story of a Serb convict become soldier and then deserter during the Kosovo war and a half Albanian, half Serbian Kosovar girl, whom he saves from rape and certain death and takes her on his journey as a wanted man. He teaches her what is needed and she grows from being his aide into being his partner in crime and finally lover.
The other strand of the film’s story takes place in Marseilles, where Adria, the Kosovar woman, lives as an illegal immigrant. While trying to have a “normal” relationship with an American world traveller, she is forced by circumstances to apply the skills acquired in Belgrade – which leads to her failing in the end, just as her Balkan Clyde does in a post-Milosevic Serbia not suited for his type anymore.
So far, so good. Two intertwined stories, non-linear approach. Two very different dynamics – the Belgrade/Kosovo story is told in quick cuts, with the appropriate brutality, while the erotically livid, languishing light of Marseille inspires to a slow, sensual rhythm, only brutally broken when Adria’s past takes charge of her present. One can tell the aura of Luc Besson in all this and that Rasmussen obviously learned while working with him, albeit on the strangely uninspired Angel-A.
The excellent performance of Vojin Cetkovic playing the Balkan Clyde was impressive. This type of Balkan thug, who combines cynicism with philosophy and totally useless quotes, while actually provoking sympathy is bringing up lots of memories. Alas, Rie Rasmussen cannot live up to that standard as an actress. Oh, yes, I should mention it, she also plays Adria, the main female character. A girl’s journey from being close to death to being a liberated woman, in charge of her destiny and especially her sexuality. Until the final failure, of course. Not a single minute one believes her impersonation of a Kosovar. And it is not only the cute Danish accent in Serbian or in the two Albanian sentences she speaks in the film. It is the aura, the movements, the gestures, the mimic. And all this despite her looking terribly good in all this.
And then the script. Sentences taken from an encyclopedia or a book on philosophy, heavy, long, meaningful. This is the case especially in conversations with Adria’s intellectual Lebanese friends in Marseille, or when she tries to explain the Balkans to her American lover: “I am a product of imaginary lines around failed states”, she says, while pointing at the various borders on a map of the Balkans.
Human Zoo, itself a quote, of course, is a film that tries just a bit too hard. Maybe being director, script writer and main act was a little too much at once.
But hey, it’s a debut. And a well received one.
Vision! Come on…