The Disobedient: Sundance Review

Painfully slow Serbian road movie offers few rewards for American viewers.

Beautifully-shot Serbian scenery and stunning cinematography can't save this dragging, directionless drama.

As Sundance has grown beyond its original mandate of championing American independent cinema, more movies from around the world have been showcased at the festival. 

Although it is invigorating to see a broader range of films, not all of the offerings add much to the movie marathon. The Disobedient, one of the movies competing in this year’s World Cinema section, has a couple of virtues.  But this Serbian coming-of-age road movie proves to be a pretty trying and tedious offering for moviegoers meaning that there is little future for this film in the U.S.

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The film begins by establishing the childhood friendship of Leni and Lazar, who seem to spend a lot of time playing in the local cemetery. Then the film jumps forward to the present day, when Lazar (Mladen Sovilj) returns to his home town for his father's funeral and re-connects with Leni (Hana Selimovic), who works in her parents' pharmacy.  Leni seems especially eager to re-establish their childhood bond, and the two of them set out on a bicycle trip, with no clear plan or destination in mind.  They encounter a few other people on their journey, but the film is mainly a two-hander with very little dialogue.

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There is also very little plot and very little character development.  We learn nothing that makes these two characters register as anything beyond generic, aimless post-adolescents.  If writer-director Mina Djukic hopes to offer up a commentary on Serbian society, that will be lost on American audiences.  As a matter of fact, there is no clear sense of when the film even takes place. Some of the objects on display  -- a typewriter and an old record player -- seem to suggest this is a period film, yet the heroine's cell phone is quite contemporary.

Nor does the film succeed as a love story.  While it is true that many people idealize intense youthful friendships, we don’t get any idea that these two are meant for each other.  For most of the film, their relationship seems platonic, and a late sexual encounter does not really provide any deeper connection.

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One strength of the film is the performance by Selimovic, a striking redhead who brings more intensity to her portrayal than the script contains.  Sovilj, a more stereotypical surly youth, doesn't make the same strong impression. Most of the supporting actors have little to do, and it’s not clear what to make of the local preacher who provides little asides to the audience in order to help fill in exposition.

Another strength of the film is the stunning cinematography of the Serbian countryside.  Director Djukic has an eye for arresting images, and cinematographer Dorde Arambasic helps to realize the director's vision. A tornado scene adds little to the plot but is vividly rendered. Djukic seems to be so in love with the landscapes that she lets these pastoral scenes run on and on. Sitting through this handsome but meandering film could be described as akin to watching paint dry, though that may do a slight injustice to paint.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival.

Cast: Hana Selimovic, Mladen Sovilj, Danijel Sike, Minja Subota, Ivan Djordjevic.

Director-screenwriter: Mina Djukic.

Producers:  Mina Djukic, Nikola Lezaic.

Director of photography: Dorde Arambasic.

Production designer: Nikola Bercek.

Costume designer: Suna Kazic.

Editor: Ivan Vasic.

No rating, 112 minutes.

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