Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Cinequest ’22: Here Be Dragons

David Locke wanted to see justice done by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), but not so surprisingly, he finds the UN-chartered organization is stymied by politics (imagine that). It is personal for him, because a Serbian war criminal killed the woman he loved. When he gets a lead on her killer, the ICTY is too busy winding down its mission and patting itself on the back, so he goes it alone in director-screenwriter Alastair Newton Brown’s Here Be Dragons, which screens during this year’s Cinequest Film & VR Festival.

While stationed as a UN “Peace-keeper” during the Yugoslav Wars, Locke came face to face with Ivan Novak, just when he was dumping the bodies of his girlfriend’s village. Yet, he was ordered to stand down, because his unit was insufficiently armed and was only authorized to conduct a prisoner exchange. As the top investigator for the ICTY, he believed Novak had been killed. However, just as the ICTY announces its dissolution, Locke is approached by his girlfriend’s brother, Emir Ibrahimovic, the only survivor of the massacre.

Now a wealthy Swedish industrialist, Ibrahimovic has information regarding Novak’s whereabouts. It turns out, he is living openly under an assumed name in Belgrade. To add insult to injury, he currently runs PTSD and reconciliation workshops for survivors of the civil war.

is directly rooted in the events of the early 1990s and 2017, but in terms of tone, it is very much akin to some of the anti-hero thrillers of the 1970s. Brown seems to have a bit of a man-crush of the lead actor (and producer) Nathan Clark Sapsford stalking through the dark streets of Belgrade in his half-overcoat, but to be fair, he is pretty cool looking.

Sapsford doesn’t merely brood. He plays Locke so tightly-wound, he could snap at any moment. Yet, he is not an empty existential protag. Throughout it all, Brown makes it clear the man always holds to some notion of justice. In contrast, Slobodan Bestic’s Novak is a surprisingly subtle and challenging figure, who tries to literally embody the notion that healing comes through the passage of time, rather than cathartic retribution. That is literally what his counseling argues.

Igor Filipovic adds a lot of grizzled grit, as Locke’s relatively ethical contact in the Serbian intelligence service. Paul Murray also stands out in a brief but defining scene as the British Peace-Keeping captain. Frankly, that initial standoff is so intense, it almost wears viewers out for the rest of the film. Yet, in a way, that feeling brings us closer to Locke’s frame-of-mind.

The structure of Brown’s plot is relatively straightforward, but the history that drives it is anything but. It maybe falls apart a little at the end, but it is still a smart and distinctive thriller that really examines the lines not so clearly demarcating justice, retribution, closure, and simply getting on with life. Recommended for fans who appreciate sophisticated payback drama,
Here Be Dragons screens tomorrow (8/24) and Monday (8/29), as part of this year’s Cinequest.