Thursday, April 11, 2024

ND/NF ’24: Lost Country

People conveniently forget the genocidal Slobodan Milosevic was formerly a Communist Party official in the unified Yugoslavia and he was the leader of Serbia’s Socialist Party. Stefan’s single-mother Marklena Nikolic was certainly aware of that fact, because she serves as a high-profile Socialist Party spokesman in Vladimir Perisic’s Lost Country, which screens during this year’s New Directors/New Films.

Even in Serbia, the name “Marklena” is unusual, so she must often explain it is a contraction of Marx and Lenin. Not surprisingly, she is a Socialist—and she sternly informs her teenage son Stefan that he must always be one too. However, as the 1996 protests against Milosevic and his Socialists intensify, Stefan finds it is not such a fun time to be a Socialist at school, especially when his friends’ relatives start disappearing.

Stefan pretends his mother is another “Marklena Nikolic” and not the hated woman on the government broadcasts, but with a name like that, nobody believes him. With his peers freezing him out, Stefan increasingly lashes out their slights and insults. He must believe they are lying about her and her role in the Socialist Party, but the more he sees and overhears, the harder that gets.

Lost Country
illustrates how the crimes of socialist regimes compound in tragic and unexpected ways. This is ultimately a bracing and profoundly sad film, but Perisic’s severe aesthetic might put off some viewers. His pacing is slow, but the intimate focus has a hypnotic effect on those who are open to it.

Jasna Djuricic is also quite incredible Nikolic, the mother with feet of clay. Her hypocritical Jekyll-in-the-family, Hyde-in-the-Party divide is absolutely chilling to witness. Typically, this kind of character is a father, but the mother-son dynamic further raises the emotional stakes even further. Jovan Ginic is almost painfully reserved as Stefan, whose obvious sensitivity just bodes ill.

Lost Country
is still very much a film for festivals rather than neighborhood movie theaters, but it is smart cinema that packs an emotional punch. Unfortunately, Serbian is still suffering from the lingering poison of the Milosevic regime. Clearly, Perisic’s film is a thoughtful attempt to process that national trauma. Highly recommended, Lost Country screens today and tomorrow (4/11 & 4/12) as part of ND/NF 2024.