Monday, May 18, 2009

BHFF: Nightguards

Those who work the graveyard shift live in a different world from their neighbors. Aside from family, most of the people they interact with are also nocturnal and many are a little strange. It can be somewhat alienating, but work is work. Mahir and Brizla just want to get through their nights without incident as the titular protagonists of Namik Kabil’s Nightguards (trailer here), which screened at the sixth annual Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival.

It will be a long night for Mahir. Something is ailing him, frequently sidelining him from his duties. Usually, his nights are uneventful, spent quietly watching over the model showrooms of a large furniture store. His Ralph Kramden-esque friend Brizla works next door in the bath department, where he reads dated self-help books throughout his shift. Concerned by his younger colleague’s malady, Brizla diagnoses it as a psycho-somatic reaction to dredged up memories of the 1990’s war, evidently a widespread phenomenon he heard about in recent news reports.

On one level, Nightguards asks how pervasive are the lingering effects of recent Bosnian history? Is Mahir’s intestinal suffering rooted in the 1990’s, or is he just sick? However, it is most successful conveying the strange twilight existence they live, dealing with fellow nights owls, like the all-night baker, the cop on the nightshift, and the crank who lives across the street. Yet, Mahir and Brizla’s late-night environment is even more surreal, consisting of artificial scenes of domestic luxury.

The perpetually dark showrooms are part of an excellent looking production designed by Sanja Dzeba that really takes viewers into their late-night world. Kabil is a sensitive director with obvious affection for his working-class characters. His leads are also quite likable, particularly the engaging Vahid Piralic as the queasy Mahir. Milan Pavlovic nicely counter-balances him physically, with his sloppier look and Gabe Kaplan hair. Together they have a nice on-screen rapport and should prove easy for international audiences to relate to.

Since it largely takes place during the Mahir and Brizla’s late shift, Nightguards is a very dark film in a literal sense, but it actually ends on an optimistic note. It is a quiet, evocative film that was an appropriate conclusion to this year’s BHFF.

After the Nightguards screening, BHFF bestowed its audience awards to Slobodan Maksimović’s AgapE for Best Short or Feature Film and to Enes Zlatar’s Diagnosis S.B.H. for Best Documentary. For more information on the award winners and all the films BHFF screened this year, visit their website here.