J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SFFILM ’18: The Other Side of Everything

Alas, revolutions often fail and one fallen regime usually just begets another that is equally corrupt, or worse. Those are the archly fatalistic observations of Prof. Srbijanka Turajlić—and she ought to know. She was a prominent leader in the Otpor resistance that overthrew Slobodan Milosevic. Before that, her family was branded suspicious bourgeoisie class elements by Tito’s Communists. In fact, her subdivided family townhouse still bears the witness to the Communist era of appropriation and plunder in Mila Turajlić’s highly personal documentary, The Other Side of Everything (trailer here), which screens during the 2018 San Francisco International Film Festival.

For Turajlić the personal is inescapably political, due to her mother’s activism. She stood shoulder to shoulder with her students, because she refused to be as passive as her parents had been when confronting injustice during the Communist era. It started when a jackbooted internal security agent arrived unannounced, consigning the large family to two rooms in their fashionable building. For decades, their own neighbors spied on them through peep holes within their [formerly] own home. As late as the mid 2010’s, Rada the nonagenarian is still holding on, in the two grubby rooms right behind Srbijanka Turajlić’s walls.

Although Other Side is ostensibly about family history, it is a remarkably helpful document for making sense of the current Serbian political climate. Partly, it is because Turajlić and her family have had such a unique vantage point to observe Serbian and Yugoslav history. In fact, her grandfather was a signatory to the original document creating Yugoslavia as a unified political entity, decades before Tito’s rise to power. Nearly a century later, he will play a small part in a tellingly ironic and symbolic development when a grand oil painting of the ceremony is discovered, walled up in the national legislature.

Most of the time, Other Side should not even be described as a two-hander, because Turajlić the filmmaker does her best to keep herself behind the scenes. However, Prof. Turajlić is an undeniably forceful personality, who easily commands the screen. Despite her disappointments, she is still razor-sharp and actively engaged socially and politically (despite her claims to the contrary).

Almost perversely, Prof. Turajlić will absolutely charm viewers, yet leave them deeply pessimistic regarding the prospects for free, democratic civil society in Serbia. She will never bore you, that’s for sure. Given its personal focus, Other Side represents a radical departure from Mila Turajlić’s previous documentary, Cinema Komunisto, but together they provide remarkably compelling, fully contextualized understanding of the Serb and Yugoslav national experience over the past eighty-some years. Very highly recommended, The Other Side of Everything screens today (4/0), tomorrow (4/11), and Thursday (4/12), as part of this year’s SFFILM.

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