Saturday, May 05, 2012

BHFF ’12: Jasmina

Stipe might be a misanthropic drunk, but he periodically seeks enlightenment through a New Agey handstand exercise.  It is not much to hang your hat on, but a baby Bosnian refugee is in no position to be picky.  A few heartstrings just might be tugged in Nedžad Begović’s Jasmina (trailer here), which screened last night as part of the 2012 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York.

Jasmina is not an orphan, at least not yet.  Her parents are doctors in Sarajevo, who care enough about their baby girl to secure a place for her and her grandmother Safa in a humanitarian convoy headed towards a picturesque town on Croatia’s Adriatic coast.  As the shelling begins in earnest, Sarajevo is cut off from the rest of the world, leaving Safa and Jasmina entirely on their own.  To make matters worse, Safa must also contend with the aggressively obnoxious behavior of their next door neighbor, Stipe.  The compounded stress takes a toll on her health.

At first, doing the right thing does not come easily to Stipe, but once he reluctantly starts looking after Jasmina and visiting the hospitalized Safa, he starts to care for them both quite deeply.  It would sound like quite a convenient transformation, but Begović deftly establishes a sad backstory for Stipe that makes it all quite believable.

While Jasmina is a cute kid, the film is not cloying, always remaining cognizant of the tragic event unfolding in Sarajevo.  The real life daughter of cinematographer Almir Djikoli, young Amila is an unusually expressive, camera-friendly baby, which helps a lot.  Bosnian theater actor and television star Zijah Sokolivić nicely conveys both Stipe’s drunken buffoonery and genuine pathos, without blatantly imitating the old Chaplin shtick.  His late blooming pseudo-chemistry with Nada Durevska’s Safa is particularly touching.

As is sometimes the case with independent filmmaking, the production of Jasmina was a real family affair, with Begović’s daughter Naida serving as co-production designer and also representing the film last night during the BHFF’s post-screening Q&A.  Despite the scant budget, the film looks great.  Evidently, their primary location is a Croatian village practically rendered a ghost town because of water-supply contamination, which is a terrible waste, considering its old world character and stunning seacoast scenery.

Jasmina is a very humane film in an appropriately messy way.  It might frustrate some viewers by leaving many questions for the future unresolved, but that is how things are during wartime.  A very strong representative of Bosnian-Herzegovinian cinema, Jasmina was one of the highlights of the 2012 Bosnian-Herzegovinian Film Festival in New York, which still has further screenings this afternoon (5/5), continuing well into the evening.