Some Other Stories -- Film Review

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TAORMINA, Sicily -- The brainchild of Serbian film critic-producer Nenad Dukic, omnibus "Some Other Stories" journeys into five of the six republics (now countries) of the former Yugoslavia. The concept is simple: five shorts by five female directors about women facing motherhood. The result is lopsided, but a healthy festival run can drum up broader international interest for the filmmakers and the Balkans, where cinematic output is highly uneven, in both quantity and quality. The joint project ensures play in all participating territories.

Each episode simply bears the title of its country, and the first short is Ivona Juka's overwrought "Croatia." In it, mentally ill artist Sonja (Nera Stipcevic) is pregnant with twins, one of whom is diagnosed with Downs Syndrome.

While she and her bourgeois husband (Goran Bogdan) struggle with the decision to abort him, Sonja obsesses about her mother's death and runs through cemeteries in a film whose conversations sound like alternating monologues. Luckily, the other works are all stronger.

In Ana Marija Rossi's "Serbia," set on New Year's Eve, the pregnant Milena (Natasa Ninkovic) is taken to the emergency room after having attempted suicide, distraught over the accidental shooting of her husband. Beside her lies Djordje (Sergej Trifunovic), a wounded criminal full of humor and spunk.

Their intertwined destinies don't end in the hospital room, however. Ninkovic exudes soulful gravitas while Serbia's biggest star, Trifunovic, has perfected the endearing bastard like few other screen actors of his time.

In "Bosnia", after a year in Sarajevo, Dutch UN worker Hedder (Nina Violic) prepares for her next assignment when she discovers she's pregnant, something she unsuccessfully tries to hide from her younger lover, Haris (Fedja Stukan). She won't stay in Sarajevo, nor will Haris abandon his parents, who have been kicked out of the borrowed home in which they've lived since losing their own in the war.

In just a few strokes, director Ines Tanovic creates sharply defined characters and a smart metaphor for the well-intentioned but often deleterious aid the West parcels out to Bosnia. Aid that keeps the country on the razor's edge of survival but never truly allows for full independence or reconstruction.

With plot machinations lifted from the annals of "General Hospital," Marija Dzidzeva's "Macedonia" (the only episode not written by its director, or a woman for that matter) works thanks to actress Iva Zendelska. Her drug-addicted Irena is about to give birth in rehab though her doctors are set on putting her baby up for adoption, even without her consent.

There's a humane (albeit medically unethical) reason for this, though it really only turns what seems like an expose on one woman's lack of rights into a soapy mystery. Meanwhile, a dubious politician (Vladimir Endrovski) brings his wife to the same hospital, in a media ploy to prove his support of public care over private clinics.

The most artistically accomplished installment comes from Slovenia's Hanna Slak, the only one of the directors with a feature to her name. In the story, nun Magdalena (Croatian actress Lucija Serbedzija) artificially inseminates herself after taking a vow of silence. Tossed out of the convent, she returns to her sister and their family home and applies for a job at a Kafka-esque mega-corporation that hires only married secretaries.

Company-organized speed dating follows in this virtually silent and charmingly quirky tale in which Serbedzija's every gesture is full of purpose, wit and convincing naivete. The production design is equally playful, setting puppet-like nuns against religious austerity and communist-reminiscent fashion against hyper-modern design.

Venue: Taormina Film Festival
Production companies: SEE Film Pro, Studio Maj, 4Film, Dokument, Skopje Film Studio, Octagon Film DIG Productions
Sales: Soul Food Distribution
Producers: Dunja Klemenc, Anita Juka, Nenad Dukic, Tomi Salkovskic, Alem Babic, Ian Dawis
Music: Brian Crosby
No rating, 109 minutes

"Croatia"
Cast: Nera Stipcevic, Goran Bogdan
Director-screenwriter: Ivona Juka
Director of photography: Mario Olja
Production designer: Ivica Husnjak
Costume designer: Anita Juka
Editor: Ivor Ivezi

"Serbia"
Cast: Natasa Ninkovic, Sergej Trifunovic
Director-screenwriter: Ana Marija Rossi
Director of photography: Radoslav Vladi
Production designer: Aleksandar Deni
Costume designers: Ksenija Terzovic
Editors: Andrija Zafranovic, Mateja Rakov
Music: Vladimir Divljan

"Bosnia"
Cast: Nina Violic, Fedja Stukan
Director-screenwriter: Ines Tanovic
Director of photography: Erol Zubcevic
Production designer-costume designer: Sanja Dzeba
Editor: Nijaz Kozljak

"Macedonia"
Cast: Iva Zendelska, Vladimir Endrovski, Slavisha Kajevski
Director: Marija Dzidzeva
Screenwriter: Djorce Stavreski
Director of photography: Dejan Dimeski
Production designer: Igor Tosevski
Costume designer: Zaklina Krstevska
Editor: Igor Andeevski

"Slovenia"
Cast: Lucija Serbedzija ("Slovenia"), Marko Mandic
Director-screenwriter-editor: Hanna Slak
Director of photography: Svene Pepeonik
Production designer: Dusan Milavec
Costume designer: Bjanka Urslulov
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