Behind the Glass

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Venue: Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in Competition.

KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic -- Like so many of the Eastern European films screening at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, "Behind the Glass" contains little that is new or genuinely surprising, yet pleases nonetheless for its solid if unflashy script, convincing acting and complete honesty in looking at the ugly side of life head on. Commercial possibilities are unlikely in North Americaa, though festival programrs looking for an unsparing, non-melodramatic exploration of the less romantic side of love and marriage should consider this well-crafted drama. The most likely venue will be upscale European television, where the production originated in its home territory, Croatia.

Nikola, a 35-year-old architect, seems bent on burning the candle at both ends. His business affairs are riddled with corruption and in his domestic life, he's been cheating on his wife Maja with colleague Ana for the last six years, managing to make both women deeply unhappy. Suffering the most is his 8-year-old daughter, who is subjected regularly to her parents' shouting matches and watches wistfully through her bedroom window as Daddy takes off for yet another late-evening rendezvous with Ana.

As written and directed by Zrinko Ogresta and acted by Leon Lucev, Nikola looks and feels like a real person with whom the viewer can identify, despite his penchant for indecisive and self-destructive behavior. We share his road rage at the beginning of the film, during which, throughout the credits, all we see are his eyes, and his utter emptiness at the end, when he's back in his car, looking like a zombie shell-shocked by modern life.

Along the way, the director also manages to limn a convincing portrait of Maja's bourgeois family, and the pressures she has always felt to live up the expectations of her parents and her more successful siblings. Happily, for the most part Ogresta eschews the easy emotions of a musical score.

Not everyone will applaud, or perhaps even believe, the film's deus-ex-machina ending that tragically but definitively solves all of Nikola's problems. Yet it feels surprisingly organic in the context of the rest of this utterly believable film.

Production Companies: Interfilm Produkcija, Croatian Television.
Cast: Leon Lucev, Jadranka Djokic, Daria Lorenci. Director: Zrinko Ogresta. Screenwriter: Zrinko Ogresta. Producers: Ivan Maloca. Director of photography: Davorin Geci. Production designer: Tanja Lacko. Editor: Josip Podvorac, Vladimir Gojun. Sales: Interfilm Produkcija
No rating, 80 minutes.

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