Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu May 18, 2023 7:57 am 
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Sheltering in darkness

Davide Abbatesciani in Variety: "The documentary is set in Belgrade, where, in 1961, there were plans to build a grand museum as a tribute to Socialist Yugoslavia. Meant to 'safeguard the truth' about the Yugoslav people, the plan never got beyond the construction of the basement. The derelict building now tells a very different story from the one envisioned by its initiators 60 years ago. In the damp, pitch-dark space live the outcasts of a society reshaped by capitalism."

In detail, Museum of the Revolution follows a woman (Vera Novakov) who earns cash by cleaning car windows. Meanwhile, her small, chubby, feisty daughter, Milica, who has lice and cannot attend school, develops a close friendship with an old woman (Marija Savic, "Mara"), a de facto granny, who also lives in the same basement and who teaches the little girl to crochet. Against the larger context of a transforming city, the three women find refuge in each other.

The film is observational. It does not overtly seek to provide background, though we see Vera take MIlica on a bus to a large intersection where she cleans windshields for pittances, and we learn the woman's husband Nenad is in prison: (she calls him and sends him gifts and money. He says they don't come and thinks she's lying: her phone calls are sad documents of frustration and longing. Milica is not looking forward to Nenad's release; perhaps he was abusive, as was a male relative in "granny" Mara's remembered past who has now barred her from contact with her daughter. Mara views Vera's militant protection of Milica for surrender to social services as a dubious heroism. Had she given the child up tosthem as she did hers, she says, at least she could attend school as hers did.

Museum drifts in and out of a reportage approach, alternating with a more dreamlike, passive state mode that likes to linger in semi-darkness with small bursts of light. Where image and sound get disconnected, and where shallow focus, slowly drifting takes, intimate close-ups, moody soundscapes and the absence of any voice-over help us to let go of any documentary concerns as spectators and instead engage emotionally with mother and daughter and aesthetically with the "slow cinema" beauties of the formally striking images, which evoke a fantasy world only to wake up to the ugly light of day where these three people are dirty and homeless. And we remember the heavy irony of the title pointing to the failed idealism of a socialist past now buried in cruel and rampant capitalism.

The ruined cellar of what was to be the museum is later cleared for construction, and the film follows Mliica and the two women to a new location and a slightly later time on the outskirts of the city when Milica looks a bit older and has dyed hair. There is a new gathering of homeless people now with makeshift shelters.

For me this film is a tough nut to crack, but it pays off. Its slow movement and dark images made me think of the austere Hungarian auteur Béla Tarr. But in time it gathers warmth, and one understands why it has been much admired and awarded. In Universal Cinema Amy DesBrisay notes that it is "a character-driven documentary," and that Milica is at the center of a "found family of women" for which she is a "steadfast anchor." "Milica also gleefully holds onto her childhood while she can," DesBrisay says, "playing with Mara and snuggling with Vera, providing all three of them with comfort and joy." Be that as it may, the access Srđan Keča gains to these three and the way his camera is able to follow them is remarkable. The film never loses its distinctive visual style, its sense of the truthfulness of sunlight and the protective magic of darkness. It's one of those documentaries you remember because it was made with patience and love.

Museum of the Revolution, 91 mins., debuted at IDFA: International Documentary Filmfestival Amsterdam. It opens theatrically in the US at DCTV's Firehouse Cinema in NYC: May 19-26, 2023 with opening weekend filmmaker Q&As.

©Chris Knipp. Blog:

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