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Rocky roads to romance, self-realization and adulthood are quirkily mapped in Take Me Somewhere Nice, a distinctive and ultimately quite promising debut by Bosnian-born Dutch writer-director Ena Sendijarevic. Among the first of eight Tiger Award competitors to hit the screen at this year’s Rotterdam Film Festival, it’s a plausible prize contender. Even if overlooked by the jury here, this low-key, deadpan charmer should have little difficulty attracting further berths around the globe for the rest of the year.
Previously known for 2016 short Import, which bowed in the Directors’ Fortnight at Cannes and went on to a successful festival career, Sendijarevic now examines cultural and social differences between northern and southeastern Europe by combining two very well-worn genres: the coming-of-age picture and the road movie. A strong lead is crucial to the former, and engaging locations to the latter, and on both fronts Take Me Somewhere Nice — which makes striking use of Bosnian locations both exhilaratingly natural and tackily man-made — scores.
Serious-faced Sara Luna Zoric is appealingly unappealing as Alma, a teenager of unspecified years who travels from her Netherlands home to her family’s Balkan homeland. The ostensible purpose of her visit is to spend time with her gravely ill father in hospital, but it’s clear that, subconsciously at least, Alma needs a dramatic change of environment and circumstance to help her navigate from adolescence into maturity.
In an episodic, picaresque screenplay sprinkled with delicate magic-realist and/or dreamlike touches, she achieves this by a gradual process of rebirth (symbolized by a new hair color and changes of clothes) that involves such drastic developments as being stranded in the middle of nowhere, without luggage, after a coach-journey toilet break. Further complications are provided by her shady Bosnian cousin Emir (Lazar Dragojevic) and his slacker pal Denis (Ernad Prnjavorac). Alma and Denis experience a haphazardly budding attraction which gives the film’s second half a much-needed emotional dimension.
Otherwise, Sendijarevic’s preferred mode is one of detached, quizzical observation. She wears her Jim Jarmusch influences very much on her sleeve — including the presence of angular-faced Prnjavorac, a dead ringer for Stranger Than Paradise‘s John Lurie. Like Zoric and Dragojevic, Prnjavorac is essentially a newcomer to the big screen (more seasoned thespians pop up in brief cameos) and all three main performers bring authenticity and freshness; it’s no coincidence that the most experienced names involved here are casting directors Timka Grin and Rebecca van Unen.Mild but evident stylization is the prevailing approach in pretty much every department here. Cinematographer Emo Weemhoff (who, like most of the crew, worked on Sendijarevic’s shorts) uses the restricted Academy ratio to frame images of inevitably careful and precise composition — to an occasionally self-conscious and even distracting degree. But this does have the effect of making the characters seem like prisoners of their environments, emphasizing the limited number of options faced by undereducated young people in 21st century Europe.
Alma also represents those thousands of individuals from complicated and mixed cultural backgrounds, those who feel naggingly cut adrift from their roots and simultaneously unsecured in their new soil. Reserved of demeanor and very much a product of her adoptive home (“cold country, cold people”), Alma awkwardly blossoms under the blazing sunshine and less restrictive social codes of Bosnia. In the most rousing sequence of Take Me Somewhere Nice — presumably named for the 2001 track by Scottish rockers Mogwai — she and her two pals cut loose in Emir’s car, blasting Sonic Youth’s “Kool Thing” as they burn rubber in a some deserted backwater. Sendijarevic and company might profit from a little more such abandon next time out.
Venue: International Film Festival Rotterdam (Competition)
Production company: Pupkin Film
Cast: Sara Luna Zoric, Lazar Dragojevic, Ernad Prnjavorac, Sanja Buric
Director-screenwriter: Ena Sendijarevic
Producer: Iris Otten
Cinematographer: Emo Weemhoff
Production designer: Myrte Beltman
Costume designer: Nedda Nagel
Editor: Lot Rossmark
Composer: Ella van der Woude
Casting directors: Timka Grin, Rebecca van Unen
Sales: Heretic, Athens
In Bosnian and Dutch
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