Dominic Ambrose Blogblot

of words: narrative, film and non-fiction

No One’s Son: the full impact of Post Traumatic Stress in Ostojic and Matisic’s film, Niciji sin

No one’s Son, (Niciji sin, in Croatian) is a powerful film that breaks new ground telling an old story. It is about the memory of war, and the bitter reality of post-war society. It was directed by Arsen Ostojic, with a screenplay by Mase Matisic, based on his play.

The director uses a dynamic, ticking clock style for his narrative that was perfected by masters like Hitchcock and Tarantino. Lately it has become a trademark of some very high quality films that have come out of Serbia: films like Klopka, directed by Srdan Golubovic and The Fourth Man, directed by Dejan Zecevic. Now perhaps it has become something of a regional style, with this Croatian film achieving the same level of excellence. It is a great change from the usual Croatian fare of nostalgic escapism to the land of Tito or to some Dalmatian village, on the one hand, or the nihilistic, gratuitous violence of films about skinheads and mafiosi on the other. Though at first it may look like the latter, the story quickly moves far deeper into the psychology of the characters, as the enigmatic and twisted story unravels.

It begins with a home video clip of a headbanger rock band rehearsing in the year preceding war. This is cut off abruptly by images of a soldier running away from exploding bombs. This soldier is the singer from that rock group, Ivan, played by Alen Liveric. He is next seen in the post-war present, a drunk veteran with manic eyes, singing a particularly hated Chetnik (Serbian warrior) song in a Croatian bar – an extremely provocative act. He refuses to stop, and the police are called in to take the cursing, abusive drunk to jail to sober up. Little by little the action reveals that he is in a wheelchair, that his father is a politician, that there is a dead body on the floor in his parent’s home, and that his parents drag the body out into the rain and bury it in the forest.

Then for the next hour, the story unfolds, shedding layer after layer of deception, revealing more and more of the animosity and greed that have poisoned even the best of intentions. The tension builds immediately, pushed on by the incessant droning soundtrack that has been used before so effectively in those Serbian films. It is compounded by the multiple lies that keep the story elements constantly out of sync: even the prostitutes are frauds. The tension doesn’t let up until the very last scene, when Ivan’s son opens a mysterious door, and the viewer wonders whether he will be spared the horror of war or be confronted by it in the most traumatic way.

One of the things that make this film special is the ingenious screenplay. The setting incorporates the cynicism of modern nationalistic politics with the insidious chronic infections of wartime hatreds and pre-war communist era corruption. There’s room for all kinds of villains here, Serbian and Croatian, who spread their evil with malicious vigor. Post Traumatic Stress is not only for war veterans, it is for the society as a whole, but the PSTD of the story’s protagonist, who has returned from a Serbian POW camp without legs, is especially gripping. Mate Matisic is one of the most successful playwrights in Croatia, and the depth of his writing is very evident in this work.

Arsen Ostojic

It took me over a year to see this film, so now I look forward to going even further back in time to 2004 to see Ostojic’s other film, Ta divna Splitska noc, A Wonderful Night in Split, which was written by the director. It seems that Arsen Ostojic enjoys upending the clichés of Croatian cinema, so if the title of this film makes one expect the usual bucolic escapism, this should not be taken for granted. People who have seen it have spoken of its innovative style and ironic, engaging storyline focusing on the dark side of the city’s nightlife. Unfortunately, it hasn’t been seen much outside of festivals. Hopefully, No one’s son will spark interest in this director’s work and give him the opportunity to display his talents for a wider audience.

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January 10, 2010 - Posted by | cinema | , , , , ,

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