If The Seed Doesn't Die--Film Review

Hateful pseudo-philosophical drivel gussied up to look important.

Lingering ethnic tensions and the scars of decades of war and oppression inform director Sinisa Dragin's complex and intensely unlikable If the Seed Doesn't Die. Weaving together three stories and upwards of a dozen miserable characters in a tale of fatherly devotion, Seed is precisely the kind of high-minded nonsense that calls itself "art" and appeals to film festivals. That will be If the Seed Doesn't Die's premier exhibition outlet if the more prominent showcases can get past exclusivity. Beyond that, limited art house release is most likely to be found in Europe, after which the film should fade into oblivion where it belongs. 

Two fathers -- one in Romania and one in Serbia -- cross each other's borders with the intention of bringing their children home as it were. Jorgovan (Mustafa Nadarevic) is trying to claim his dead son's body in Bucharest, and Nicu (Dan Condurache) is trying to rescue his daughter Ina (Ioana Barbu) from (surprise!) forced prostitution in Kosovo. As they both traverse the Danube, they meet up with ferryman Hans (Franz Buchrieser), a sweet-natured whore (surprise again!) called Nora (Simona Stoicescu) and her protective father. Somewhere in there, Hans relays the legend of the Ghost Church, which sank in the winter river hundreds of years earlier as it was being moved to another village by sheer force of will. 

Before the "miraculous" finale, we're treated to a laughably sadistic-yet-smitten American G.I., an even more laughably sadistic pimp and various other reprehensible characters all ready to exploit the next guy. 

Seed is aggressively depressing and bleak, it offers not a shred of hope or redemption, and not even any ugly truths beneath its admittedly beautifully photographed and designed images. By the time the narrative tangle finally sorts itself out (this takes upwards of an hour), Seed has devolved into a muddled parable about faith, sacrifice, and the greater good (the title derives from a quote from John about death bearing fruit).

At times, the film flirts with black comedy, but those moments are so fleeting it quickly becomes apparent that there's absolutely nothing funny going on in Seed. The analogy between the determination of the old church's priest and the modern fathers is lost amid a sea of misery and outright grossness. 

The icing on the cake comes when the aforementioned pimp (vaguely oily, poorly dressed -- the whole nine yards) promises to release Ina to her father under one last, grotesque condition that proves his love for her. If you're wondering

if Dragin actually went there... well, yes. He did. There is no law -- explicit or tacit -- that declares film characters be lovely human beings, but they should say something about the human condition or make a larger point about the world we live in. Seed does neither; it lacks the calculated shock value to make a statement. It may not come as news that producer Veit Heiduschka foisted the overrated The White Ribbon upon us all. 

Yes, the aftermath of nationalist and/or idealistic conflict is hideous. Yes, human nature can be hideous. But knowing that and seeing it dressed up in pretentious and pointless pictures and passed off as artistry are two different things. Interminable and wholly unpleasant.

Section: Tokyo International Film Festival, In Competition

Production: Wega, Mrakonia Film.

Producer: Veit Heiduschka, Sinisa Dragin.

Director: Sinisa Dragin.

Executive producer: Tudor Reu.

Director of Photography: Dusan Joksimovic.

Production Designer: Dan Toader.

Music: Dragos Alexandru.

Costume designer: Costin Voicu.

Editor: Petar Markovic, Sinisa Dragin.

Cast: Mustafa Nadarevic, Dan Condurache, Milos Tanaskovic, Franz Buchrieser, Simona Stoicescu, Alexandru Bindea, Ioana Barbu, Relu Poalelungi.

No rating, 117 minutes