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A divorced dad struggles to navigate a soul-crushing bureaucratic system in All Alone, a lively Kafkaesque tragicomedy from Croatian writer-director Bobo Jelcic. Having premiered last month in the main competition at the Sarajevo Film Festival, Jelcic’s semi-autobiographical second feature shares some of its caustic humor and fractious energy with his excellent 2013 debut, A Stranger. While background allusions to regionally specific political and economic crises will resonate more deeply with local audiences, this pan-European co-production is primarily a universal human story grounded in compellingly flawed characters and finely etched performances. Further festival bookings are assured, even if theatrical potential beyond the Balkans is likely to be limited.
Jelcic plunges viewers headlong into the drama with a rapid-fire opening gallery of talking heads, all giving complex and contradictory advice about Croatia’s labyrinthine child custody laws. The restless hand-held camera eventually alights on Marko (Rakan Rushaidat), a hangdog man of around 40, who has filed a petition to try and secure more time with his 7-year-old daughter Lea (Lea Breyer). Marko insists he is on good terms with his ex-wife, who never appears in the film, but officials repeatedly sideline him with conflicting counsel and legalese bluster.
Meanwhile, Marko’s chaotic home life is not helping his fragile emotional state. Following his divorce, he is temporarily staying with his uncle and aunt (Miki Manojlovic and Snjezana Sinovcic Siskov), who have perfected a deadpan double act based on constant low-level bickering. The couple’s own grown-up daughter is also preparing to marry an unsuitable suitor, which only stokes family tensions further. Marko’s aunt is an especially strong creation, endlessly mumbling to herself in an anxious half-whisper punctuated by occasional eruptions of four-letter fury.
In an enjoyably absurd subplot with strong echoes of A Stranger, Marko’s uncle makes several fruitless bids to help his nephew’s legal woes by calling in favors from a politically well-connected friend. Marko’s own circle of friends are more extreme, advising him to essentially kidnap Lea and abscond to Bosnia, where laws are supposedly more lax and bribery more commonplace. Jelcic does not explore any of these dramatic tangents; he merely uses them to underscore the limited choices available to his desperate protagonist in a dysfunctional, rotten system.
Rushaidat is wholly plausible as a wounded, hope-starved man ground down by the implacable machinery of family law. He also shares an easy screen chemistry with Breyer that gives their scenes together a palpable, natural warmth. In one sweet shot, father and daughter simply stare at each other with a lovely, unforced tenderness. Meanwhile, cinematographer Erol Zubcevic, editor Vladimir Gojun and sound designer Ranko Paukovic turn every scene into a nervy kinetic patchwork of hand-held close-ups, jagged jump cuts and constant verbal chatter. All Alone is a small personal story, tightly focused and light on its feet, but it packs a hefty emotional punch.
Production companies: Spiritus Movens Production, De Productie, Dokument Sarajevo, Dart Film, Adriatic Western
Cast: Rakan Rushaidat, Miki Manojlovic, Snjezana Sinovcic Siskov, Lea Breyer, Vanesa Glodo, Kresimir Mikic, Dean Krivacic, Marko Makovicic, Jagoda Kralj Novak, Izudin Bajrovic
Director-screenwriter: Bobo Jelcic
Producers: Zdenka Gold, Annemiek van Gorp, Rene Goossens, Alem Babic, Natasa Damnjanovic, Vladimir Vidic, Ivan Marinovic
Cinematographer: Erol Zubcevic
Editor: Vladimir Gojun
Music: Fons Merkies
Venue: Sarajevo Film Festival (Competition)
Sales: Media Luna
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