'Enclave' ('Enklava'): Film Review

Enclave Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Nama Films
Kosovo drama explores familiar terrain before script takes a wayward turn.

Serbia's entry for the foreign language Oscar is a German co-production starring young newcomer Filip Subaric.

Serbia is optimistically aiming that '23rd time's the charm' with their latest Foreign Language Oscar submission, writer-director Goran Radovanovic's slow-burning drama Enclave (Enklava). Set in Kosovo during the violent spring of 2004 — the last serious aftershock of Yugoslavia's war-torn collapse — it's a very middling example of the "conflict through children's innocent eyes" genre that often proves catnip to Academy voters.

But while the youthful cast is consistently engaging, they're ultimately ill-served by a screenplay that goes quickly and confusingly downhill in the crucial final act. Winner of the Audience Award at the Moscow in June, this handsome-looking, earnestly solemn Serbian-German co-production will nevertheless appeal to festivals favoring human-rights themes and could also pop up at events aimed at junior audiences.

Because although the grim nature of events in Kosovo around the turn of the 21st century is made quite clear, Radovanovic prefers to keep violence and bloodshed off-screen. The bulk of the action is presented as experienced by observant protagonist Nenad (Filip Subaric), an intelligent and slightly introverted lad of around 12. Ethnically a Serb, he lives with his hard-drinking father Voja (Nebojsa Glogovac) and ailing grandfather Milutin (Meto Jovanovski) in a village in northern Kosovo — to be precise, Metohija — their tiny enclave maintained and protected by United Nations 'KFOR' troops.

Nenad rides in an armored car to and from the school where he seems to be the only pupil, and he has little involvement with the scruffy, football-playing, Albanian-speaking Kosovar kids who live nearby. One of the latter, fiery teen Bashkim (Denis Muric), holds a particular grudge against the Serb population, whom he blames for the death of his father. Events conspire to bring Bashkim and Nenad together — on a day when a wedding in the village coincides with Milutin's funeral — with potentially tragic, even catastrophic consequences.

The closest Serbia has come to Oscar recognition in their 22 previous attempts was via Srdjan Golubovic's The Trap (2007), a noirish thriller which made the nine-strong preliminary shortlist. That picture's star Nebojsa Glogovac takes second-billing here behind young newcomer Subaric in what is the first Serbian Oscar-candidate for a decade to foreground juvenile characters. It was seen as something of a surprise choice when selected in September, the wise money having favored Vuk Rsumovic's similarly kiddie-centric No One's Child — already winner of more than a dozen notable awards on the festival circuit.

The face that links both productions is that of Muric, now 16, who — despite having much less to do than in No One's Child — emphatically confirms the arresting promise of that physically arduous debut. Muric is a precociously hard-eyed, commanding presence here, with a natural intensity reminiscent of Lucas Black and Will Poulter in their short-trouser days. And while Subaric is an appealing and sympathetic young hero, Muric's is the name to remember, so forcefully does he transcend the limitations of a skimpily-written role.

He's certainly the brightest prospect in Serbian — arguably even post-Yugoslavian — cinema right now, and next faces a different sort of challenge in Dejan Zecevic's mainly English-speaking sci-fi horror The Rift alongside genre die-hard Ken Foree and Katarina Cas (The Wolf of Wall Street). Enclave, of course, has much loftier aims, as a well-intentioned attempt to recreate the atmosphere of a volatile juncture in 21st century Kosovo history.

German cinematographer Axel Schneppat subtly emphasizes the restricted perspectives that afflict everyone here — adults and children alike often have to peer through small apertures, and many interiors are bathed in shadowy gloom. The sad and serious mood is somewhat heavy-handedly underlined by a soundtrack that includes four compositions written by Eleni Karaindrou for Greek master Theo Angelopolous' The Weeping Meadow (2004) and UIysses' Gaze (1995).

Local audiences will immediately grasp the significance of the April 2004 time-frame — just a couple of weeks after the 'pogroms' which racked Kosovo in mid-March of that year, with violent reprisals enacted against the region's remaining Serbian population. The likelihood of further flare-ups evidently remains considerable. But when events do start to dangerously escalate in the picture's second half, the trigger is an incident — involving Nenad, Bashkim, a gun and the local Orthodox church's gleaming new bell — that's so convoluted, symbolic, abrupt and unlikely as to be borderline comical. A charitable interpretation would be to describe these developments as "fable-like."

Coyly but frustratingly delaying the release of crucial information regarding the fate of a main character, Radovanovic — whose four previous full-length works include only one fictional feature, 2009's The Ambulance — then ill-advisedly adopts a cumbersome flash-forward/flash-back structure that concludes proceedings on a note of fizzly bathos. It's probably incorrect to lay much blame on editor Andrija Zafranovic, given his wealth of experience. His long filmography features three collaborations with Emir Kusturica including When Father Was Away On Business (1985), the film which provided Yugoslavia with her sixth (and, it turned out, final) Foreign Language Oscar nomination — from 23 submissions.

Production companies: Nama Filma, Sein + Hain, ZDF/Arte
Cast: Filip Subaric, Nebojsa Glogovac, Denis Muric, Miodrag Krivokapic, Anica Dobra, Meto Jovanovski
Director / Screenwriter: Goran Radovanovic
Producers: Nico Hain
Executive producers: Miroslav Mogorovic, Nico Hain
Cinematographer: Axel Schneppat
Production designer: Vladislav Lasic
Costume designer: Monika Gebauer
Editor: Andrija Zafranovic        
Composers: Eleni Karaindrou, Irena Popovic
Casting: Boban Dedeic
Sales: Sein + Hain, Stuttgart
No Rating, 92 minutes