"The High Sun" by Dalibor Matanić (Croatia/Serbia /Slovenia)
Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival - Panorama Section
Name: Vassilis Economou
It has been almost 25 years since the beginning of the Yugoslav civil war and this is clearly a subject that still troubles art and cinema coming from the republics once belonged to the coalition. Croatian director Dalibor Matanić represents a generation that actually lived and survived through the war. Despite the fact that he never tried to deal with this issue before, with his seventh feature film The High Sun, Matanić tries to take another approach on that matter.
Everything is divided in three romantic stories set in three consecutive decades in two villages at the Serbia-Croatian border, and the main characters are portrayed by the same actors, Goran Marković and Tihana Lazović. First, 1991, young trumpeter Ivan decides to flee his village with his Serbian girlfriend Jelena. They decide that Zagreb is more tolerant to their relationship as the war is about to start. Then, 2001, Natasa, alongside her mother, return from Serbia to their abandoned home (during wartime) which needs to be repaired. A Croat carpenter, Ante, is responsible for the task but his presence creates conflicts with Natasa. Lastly, 2011, university student Luka returns from Zagreb to his native village for a party. His relationship with his parents is extremely strained because they forced him to abandon his Serbian girlfriend, Marija, a couple years before. Luka will try to see her again.
The High Sun is not another typical post-traumatic film as Matanić – who also wrote the screenplay – decides to focus exclusively on the people’s stories and less on actual historical events. His protagonists, who are depicted impressively by both leading actors, are evolving characters, who are typical representatives of their generation. Young unconventional people in their early 20s that are forced to adapt their lives, beliefs and emotions according to external factors and by deciding on which side they should stand for. Their romantic stories always hide a tragedy and suddenly they need to face problems that they have never created.
The struggles of a forbidden inter-ethnic love certainly seem so archetypical that could be easily regarded as – another – modern adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, where Montagues are being substituted by Croats and Capulets by Serbians. This extraordinarily simple depiction of a deep conflict, which still torments the region, may appear quite schematic if we take into consideration that the basis of the hatred is unchanged through the decades and nowadays it could be regarded unreasonable. This is exactly the fact that Matanić wants to criticize. By emphasizing the paranoia behind the roots of separation and by exposing whoever tries to overcome this troubled situation.
The referential lineage that Matanić creates in The High Sun isn’t limited to the storylines. As it is already mentioned, every story also has similar scenery as it takes place during summertime at a lakeside landscape close to the borders. Each of them has a different dynamic as the first story follows a rather romantic approach, the second seems a lot more imposing and the final one follows a rhythm according to our current trends. Furthermore, the emotional fragility of each story is transmitted to the audience thanks to the engaging performances by two rising stars, Goran Marković and Tihana Lazović.
Another factor that connects everything are the natural elements and especially the lake which filtrates everything while the high sun eliminates all the prejudices. The heroes should symbolically return to their natural pure roots in order to become free again and allow themselves to feel the passion instead of thinking about politics. The dominance of the countryside is being superbly depicted through Marko Brdar’s lens who can capture both the sensitive essence of the couples and the landscape by visually adapting the natural light in every frame.
Matanić never tries to transform The High Sun into a moral tale that has to take a side. Like the couples, he prefers to stand in the center of the conflict and accept any negative critique. He doesn’t try to find any actual solution either, he is not patronizing the facts and inevitably his co-patriots for their beliefs. Although, he probably makes a pessimistic assumption, that his generation can’t still overcome the traumas, at least not yet. So a quest for a prosperous coexistence should continue, exactly as the Yugoslav new wave band Idoli is repeatedly searching to find Amerika in every transitional moment of the film.