‘Papagajka’: SXSW Review

PAPAGAJKA still 1 -H 2016
Courtesy of SXSW Film Festival
Impenetrably obscure.

Bela Tarr protege Emma Rozanski’s debut feature is a low-key, dreamlike drama.

Proponents of slow cinema will find another filmmaker to support in Australian writer-director Emma Rozanski, a graduate of the Sarajevo film school founded by Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr, one of the originators of a style that favors long stationary shots and minimal narrative development among its defining characteristics. Rozanski’s Papagajka (The Parrot) is described as a psychological thriller, but for that misnomer to stick, the assumption must be made that the genre’s signature suspense style can be so thoroughly internalized as to be practically invisible onscreen. Following its SXSW premiere, Papagajka is likely to make the requisite festival rounds before achieving its destiny as a VOD curiosity.

Somewhere in Sarajevo, thirty-ish Damir (Adnan Omerovic) provides security in a nearly deserted apartment building with few residents and even less activity. Whiling away his time in the guard kiosk on the ground floor, he seeks random distractions to get through the day before eventually returning to his small apartment several flights above. The arrival of an unfamiliar young woman upsets his routine, but being almost pathologically shy, Damir hesitates to approach her. Instead, she accosts him, introducing herself as Tasya (Susanna Cappellaro) and claiming that she’s been robbed and that she needs a place to stay for the night after losing the address of her friends in town.

Damir reluctantly offers her a makeshift mattress on his kitchen floor overnight, but the next day she’s still there, and the next, and the next. Tasya seems to have no job, no actual friends and no ambition whatsoever, spending her time hanging around Damir’s apartment or wandering about the building. Slowly she begins to reshape his life, first by redecorating his place, then by moving him out of his bedroom so that she can occupy it, as she manipulates the situation in an attempt to supplant his colorless existence by force of will. When Damir falls ill with a mysterious fever, he wonders if Tasya might be responsible and if she actually means to eliminate him by any means necessary, or maybe it’s just prescription drugs he’s been abusing that are heightening his paranoia.

Since Damir has no family other than his talkative, nosy sister Kamala (Tina Keserovic) and few friends besides the virtually silent neighbor (Don Guido) who joins him on the building rooftop for a regular evening smoke, it’s hard to see why Tasya, or anyone else, would be interested in taking over his life. Certainly Rozanski’s script provides few clues and there’s no hint of supernatural possession, despite Tasya’s tendency to behave like an emotional vampire, leading to an almost complete absence of suspense.

Rozanski is fond of trapping the two characters together within the frame of frequent fixed shots or lingering too long on their puzzled expressions, but neither technique does much to heighten the tension or illuminate the narrative. Disorienting dream sequences and repeated cutaways to stagnant pools of water and mysterious, dialogue-free supporting characters may signify Damir’s intensifying confusion, or could just as easily be a method of stretching the scant material out to a modest feature length.

Venue: South by Southwest Film Festival (SXGlobal)
Production company: KitBat Productions
Cast: Susanna Cappellaro, Adnan Omerovic, Tina Keserovic, Don Guido, Sabina Mrgan
Director-writer: Emma Rozanski
Producer: Louise McElhatton
Director of photography: Malte Rosenfeld
Production designer: Emma Rozanski
Editor: Kostas Makrinos?
Music: Guy Fixsen

Not rated, 82 minutes