Even more than most of us, and on a much larger scale, a refugee from a war-torn country is at the mercy of blind chance. The biggest life-changing issues – where he ends up, what he becomes, whom he leaves behind – can all be determined by the smallest random events. A wrong turn, a missed train, a bureaucrat cranky or kind, these little details are charged with a vast resonance.
So it is with Miro, and with Krivina too – a tiny gem of a film that resonates far beyond its 70 minutes.
In the first frame, and repeatedly thereafter, Miro strides into the distance with his back to the camera. He seems to be walking away from us, but, in fact, he is fleeing himself – the self that now lives in a spartan Toronto apartment, and works in construction for meagre wages. The CN Tower can be glimpsed through the apartment window, as can a woman in a back room. Her identity, like so much else in this disturbing yet compelling tale, remains unclear. We don’t know exactly who she is. We do know, as the door closes behind her, that she just left him for good. He doesn’t appear to care.
As written and directed by Igor Drljaca, what follows alternates between two countries, two states of mind, and two radically different styles. In Toronto, the shots are static within a fixed frame; in Bosnia, the camera tends to wander along with Miro. That’s his homeland and that’s where he returns, or perhaps just imagines he returns. So the contrasting styles perfectly convey his interior tensions, his sense of entrapment within a seething brain, shackled in the present to a tempestuous past.
In the former Yugoslavia, Miro is searching for his friend Dado, missing for years now but still wanted by Interpol and The Hague – yes, for war crimes. In the city and villages, various people offer shadowy accounts of Dado: “He was strange and a bit shy”; “Right at the beginning of the war, his parents were killed”; “The war changed him. He wasn’t a bad fellow before the war”. Some say he still lives there, others that he fled to America, still others insist that “no one knows.”
The mystery around Dado grows, yet this isn’t the only mystery here. Slowly and subtly, Drljaca (who, like his protagonist, immigrated to Canada from Sarajevo) hints that Miro’s search for another isn’t necessarily what it seems. Maybe Dado is real, or maybe he’s a totem of Miro’s inner demons, of the real horrors that some refugees can never escape, the heavy baggage that can’t be set down. To that end, the electronic score emits an ominous throb, like a constant buzz in a damaged ear.
In the Toronto sequences, the stocky and usually silent Miro (Goran Slavkovic) sometimes opens up to a fellow countryman, who drives the van to their construction job. Before that fixed lens, they occupy the front seat and swap stories. The driver describes the refugee centre that his family reached, 40 people to a room sharing two toilets and a common destiny: “cheap labour.” He remembers the peacemakers in the war zones, selling chocolate bars at inflated prices, and he does not bless them. For his part, Miro made a wrong turn in Venice, then again in Hamburg – his then-wife went one way, he another.
Their dialogue is detailed and concrete, with the ring of remembered truth. Of course, that contrasts sharply with the near-hallucinatory quality of the Bosnia scenes, and the hybrid makes for a strange communion of the real and the surreal. The effect is quietly but tautly menacing, like the early Polanski of Knife in the Water, or even Bergman in The Virgin Spring. No, Drljaca isn’t in that league yet – the walking-away-from-the-camera trope is overdone, and some of the symbolism (a butterfly caressed in a sun-dappled field) seems pseudo-poetic. Still, he and his talent are undeniable – the big league definitely beckons.
And the reason is this: Krivina manages the impressive feat of forcing us to feel for 70 minutes what Miro has felt for decades – an uneasy sense of displacement. It’s not pleasant, but that’s precisely the point, and to grasp that point is to have for Miro, and all those like him, a profound empathy. We can leave their mindset; they cannot.