When on April 17th 1941, Kingdom of Yugoslavia fell under the Nazi Germany and its allies, the nearby Kingdom of Bulgaria and the lives of those living in the country were severely disrupted. Dušan Jovanović (Born 1939), a theatre director, essayist and playwright, used the aforementioned events as an interesting subject in his 1977 play The Liberation of Skopje, which depicts a harsh reminiscence of the “social and psychological dislocations” suffered by the people of one of the Macedonian provinces. Jovanović’s work was adapted into a TV show in 1981 by William Fitzwater (Australia), and for the big screen in 2016 by Rade and Danilo Šerbedžija (Croatia), which was screened at the 25th Raindance Film Festival.
Skopje, 1943-1944. A young boy Zoran (David Todosovski) lives with his mother Lica (Lucija Šerbedžija), an aunt and an uncle, Gjorgjija (Rade Šerbedžija) – who is the leader of a local partisan movement – in a rusty-looking dwelling. While Zoran’s father (Nebojša Glogovac) is away fighting against Germans and Lica is in an unusual liaison with Hans, the Nazi captain (Mikko Nousiainen), the boy tries to – against all odds – carry on with his existence. Through his eyes, the audience witness the suffering, the poverty and the struggles of the local people – Zoran himself experiences things that no child ever should. The reality of war affects him even more when his best friend, Renata Rossman (Marija Lapadatovic), is led away, alongside a large group of Jewish people, to a train, presumably to be transported to one of the concentration camps; unaware that he will never see her again, the protagonist holds on to the belief that one day, he might. Even though Zoran is at the core of the narrative, in parallel, the viewers observe the complex issues experienced by his mother – mainly her struggle to provide for the family while being an ‘unwilling’ lover to Hans. Can one even attempt to understand the meaning of life in that sort of circumstances?
The Liberation of Skopje is a directorial debut for Rade Šerbedžija, the well-established Croatian actor known for Angelina Jolie’s In the Land of Blood and Honey (2011). Rade joined forces with his son Danilo, a film director whose 2010 film 72 Days was selected as the Croatian entry for the Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards. Together, they directed a heart-rending feature about a Macedonian community, which – in the face of war – managed to keep its own identity. The film is stripped off of all sentiment and clichés; there is some space for jocularity as Zoran fools around with a group of kids, steals from a priest during a funeral and drives around in a stolen car; but all of that is interlaced with moments of grim reality as the viewers witness murders and abuse. There are no pompadour explosions that are so often associated with war films, nor are there battle-fields – Skopje serves only as the background against the story of Zoran and his family. The performances by David Todosovski, Lucija Šerbedžija, Rade Šerbedžija and Mikko Nousiainen were satisfactory throughout – David has a great future ahead of him! Dejan Dimeski’s cinematography cannot go unnoticed; the details offered by the camerawork are sublime, and the use of light gives off a natural feel throughout the film; overall, the images come off as clean and beautiful. In order to achieve a good final product, a good script writer and a director are obviously needed; that said, a cinematographer is at the very heart of film production, enhancing the story and finding the way to make each moment or emotion more striking, profound and convincing; any film needs a fine person working their magic with the lens – and that is who Dejan is for The Liberation of Skopje, he is the magician behind the camera. The Liberation of Skopje makes for a sound directorial debut from Rade, especially so since there are not that many films out there that would depict World War II events from the less centralized parts of the world.
Written by Maggie Gogler
Edited by Sanja Struna
All photos © MP Film Production