Ivan & Ivana: Perm Festival Review

Ivan & Ivana Poster - P 2012

Ivan & Ivana Poster - P 2012

Morality tale presents downside of living the American Dream

A young Serbian couple come to Southern California in this rags-to-riches-to-rags story of high life and the housing bubble.

"The Balkans is a sick place," Ivan declares near the outset of Jeff Daniel Silva's touching, melancholic rags-to-riches-to-rags story Ivan & Ivana. You can understand why. He and his wife Ivana have been bombed out of their home in Kosovo, then a province of Serbia, and taken refuge in the land of the brave and the free.

Now here they are, six years later, in 2006, living on easy street in sunny San Diego. What happens next forms the substance of Silva's morality tale, which has as much to say about the American Dream as about the titular young Serbian couple who took it for a reality. Confined to the festival circuit until now, the movie has plenty to offer U.S. audiences and properly promoted could do good business at select theatres.

Ivan and Ivana are bright, lively and funny, and the spectator's sympathies are rapidly engaged. Natural extroverts, they are happy to mug for the camera. Silva is an old friend, first met while he was making a film in the former Yugoslavia, and they open themselves to his questioning with  disarming candor. Shot over a period of several years in a variety of formats (mostly HD), the film has a rough-hewn, home-movie feel to it, which works in its favor, bringing its actors closer to us.

Ivana, it soon becomes clear, is the couple's dynamo. She works as a real-estate broker in the midst of a housing bubble, enabling them to adopt a get-rich-quick lifestyle, buying and selling houses for fun, driving sports cars and generally living the dream. Ivan, more of a philosophical bent, sees the trap. Prosperity, he says, is "a nice way of making people slaves," but he is happy enough to tag along for the ride. Until, as Ivana informs us, it turns out that the couple have run up $1.5 million in debt even before the bottom falls out of the market.

There are lengthy ellipses between sequences shot in 2006, 2009 and 2010, but Silva unerringly captures the detail - the telling phrase, the line of cocaine, the wistful or morose expression - that fills in the blanks and charts the collapse of a marriage intended to last "till we die."

Occasionally, the symbolism is a little heavy-handed: the once-blonde Ivana, now a brunette, is shown walking in front of a huge stars-and-stripes emblazoned "Proud to be an American" to inform us just how much she has bought into the American way of life. Resuming her maiden name, Ivana survives by effacing her former self.

Ivan, by the film's end, has returned to the Balkans. An amateur guitarist, he has become involved in the music business in Belgrade and is continuing to do drugs. In a final irony, his mother tells him she wishes he could get a job in Hollywood. There's a sadness to this movie, but one that reflects the harshness of life itself - the sense of a lesson learnt the hard way.

Venue: Perm, Russia, Flahertiana International Documentary Film Festival, October 13, 2012

Production company: Goodanu Films LLC

Director, producer, writer, photography, editor: Jeff Daniel Silva

Associate producer: Shannon Carroll

World sales: Jeff Silva (contact@ivanandivana.com)

No MPAA rating, 80 minutes