'Happily Ever After': Sarajevo Review

Courtesy of JvdW Film
Love is a battlefield

Documentary maker Tatjana Bozic performs painful post-mortems on her past relationships

Feeling at times like the cinematic equivalent of posting a series of selfies on social media, Happily Ever After finds director Tatjana Bozic probing the prickly theme of love by revisiting her own long history of failed relationships. Born in Croatia when it was part of Communist-era Yugoslavia, but now resident in the Netherlands, Bozic also ends up highlighting some amusing discrepancies in cultural attitudes to romance, from hot-blooded Balkan passion to vodka-soaked Russian fatalism to lukewarm North European pragmatism.

An orange-haired drama queen with a mildly pathological fixation on finding romantic perfection, Bozic’s self-absorbed documentary will test the patience of many — indeed, some reviewers have excoriated Happily Ever After for its navel-gazing narcissism. Even so, Bozic finds plenty of universal resonance in her highly personal stories, framing them in a freewheeling collage of archive and contemporary footage. Earning a special mention from the Sarajevo Film Festival jury last week, this engaging experiment in public therapy feels primed for further festival play, followed by possible niche distribution and TV interest based on its unusually intimate treatment of an evergreen theme.

Bozic’s first onscreen reunion is with Pavel, whom she met in Moscow just as the old Soviet Union collapsed. They spend their first night together in 18 years getting savagely drunk as Pavel moves from warm nostalgia to regret to anger. “You screwed it up between us,” he concludes. “You were acting like a fascist.” Another Russian, actor Aleksey, came next — but he was married at the time and apparently prone to violence. He brings his second wife to the meeting with Bozic and challenges her account of their stormy affair: “Maybe you imagined it all.”

Further old flames who agree to be filmed include a chauvinistic Croatian musician, a guarded British civil servant and a German filmmaker, who ditched the director following an Ecstasy-fueled epiphany. All three share memories of Bozic’s impossible mood swings and passive-aggressive victim complex, which she keeps in the film, to her credit. Between fraught reunions she also seeks advice on love from friends and family. “Be silent and suffer if you want to save your marriage,” shrugs a world-weary Croatian matriarch. But a Russian female friend is more defiant, advising Bozic to use sex as a weapon: “This pussy is worth fighting for.”

Bozic initially did not intend her latest long-term partner, Dutch filmmaker Rogier Kappers, to play a major role in Happily Ever After. But the couple hit a rocky patch during the shoot, soon after she fell pregnant. Naturally, both being documentary makers, they record every poisonous fight on camera, plus every attempt to save the relationship with gardening, sailing, choral singing and other very Dutch forms of therapy.

Featuring a cameo by Bozic’s father, and a brief digression for her mother’s untimely funeral, Happily Ever After is enlivened by colorful travelogue shots and a gallery of silently imploring female faces filmed on the streets of London and Moscow. The Romanian-born, Dutch-based musician Alex Simu also provides a bittersweet musical backdrop of Balkan-tinted jazz.  For all its shameless self-indulgence, Bozic’s docu-diary confessional is still a handsome piece of work and an appealingly candid cry from the heart.

Production company: JvdW film

Starring: Tatjana Bozic, Rogier Kappers, Pavel Kraminov, Frank Mueller

Director: Tatjana Bozic

Writers: Tatjana Bozic, Alexander Goekjian

Producers: Boudewijn Koole, Iris Lammertsma

Cinematographer: Ton Peters

Editor: Boudewijn Koole

Music: Alex Simu

Sales company: JvdW film

No rating, 83 minutes

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