J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Monday, March 14, 2016

SXSW ’16: Papagajka

The apartment complex where Damir lives and works probably looked great as a scale model, but the hulking brutalist building does not exactly have a homey feel. There hardly seems to be any people living there, but it is probably just as well. He isn’t much of a night watchman. His life is about as modest as it gets, yet a mystery woman will try to take control of it anyway in Emma Rozanski’s Papagajka (trailer here), which screens at the 2016 SXSW.

The building definitely stands out, but Damir prefers to go through life unnoticed. He only interacts with a handful of residents, including the party girl, Kamala, whose interest confuses him. One day, Tasya starts wandering through the complex’s once grand external staircases, lugging a suitcase behind her. Approaching Damir, she claims to be a tourist, whose purse and passport were stolen. Somehow, Damir agrees to let her stay in his flat until she can sort herself out. Clearly self-assertion is a problem for him, but saying no to Tasya will be particularly difficult.

Soon Tasya drops all pretenses of leaving. She shrugs off questions about her friend and starts clearing out Damir’s possessions. She even starts to have an ominous effect on his dreams. With both his mental and physical health suffering, Damir loses the strength to fight Tasya’s dominating control games.

Rozanski studied under Bela Tarr at his Sarajevo based film.factory and it is not hard to discern his influence on the debut filmmaker—so viewers should consider themselves warned. Indeed, this is exactly the sort of story that works better with more genre trappings. The locale is wildly sinister, but the pace is art house extreme, all the way.

Still, for those willing to cowboy-up for some slow cinema, Rozanski’s control of mood and atmosphere are quite impressive. Adnan Omerovic (resembling Iggy Pop’s malnourished grandson) is deceptively quiet and reserved, expressing volumes with hardly any words. Susanna Cappellaro is also keeps the audience consistently off-balance. There is something hard to describe but eerily disconcerting about her presence.

Aside from the recognizable building itself, there is little about the film that readily identifiably Bosnian per se. It is tempting to read into the Bartleby’s character’s existential annihilation some sort of analogy for the atrocities of the Balkan Wars. However, it is healthier to see the film as a sign Bosnian artists are ready to process other topics and sources of inspiration. Recommended for a narrow strata of cineastes, the aesthetically demanding Papagajka screens again tonight (3/14) and this Thursday (3/17), as part of this year’s SXSW.

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