'The Voice' ('Glas'): Film Review | Busan 2019

Busan International Film Festival
A pointed, efficient warning against all forms of evangelism.

Forced conformity to religious dogma and organized social persecution are at the heart of Croatian filmmaker Ognjen Svilicic’s disturbing and timely drama.

When a troubled teen is sent to an ultra-Catholic boarding school, it affords him his first taste of pressure to conform in The Voice, Ognjen Svilicic’s current and creepy portrait of the uneasy truce between faith and reason and the battle for hearts and minds through religious and political indoctrination. The timely story about a teen’s attempts to resist being forced to submit to religious teachings he doesn’t subscribe to has the potential to spin out of control into a polemic, but tyro director Svilicic keeps the story in check, instead producing a dispassionate look at unchecked groupthink and systematic harassment.

Following a bow at the Busan International Film Festival, the pic should travel well in Europe, both in festivals and in niche cinema distribution, and it’s bound for extended festival rounds in other parts of the world.

The Voice begins as Goran (Franko Jakovcevic), 16-ish and a bit of a troublemaker, is driven from his home in Split to a Catholic boarding school in order to “straighten him out” while his mother goes off to work on a cruise ship. He initially fits in with the other kids and his roommates, until a trip to the mess hall makes it clear he’s expected to join in with the Lord’s Prayer at every meal. He refuses, and thinks nothing of it until the school’s devout headmistress Danijela (Belma Kosutic) makes Goran her mission, especially after he loses a role as Joseph in the school play for arguing the illogic of Mary’s pregnancy if she and Joseph never had sex.

Not much else happens in The Voice. Goran goes to class, goes to lunch, refuses to pray and gets harassed for it; rinse and repeat. But the repetition is so steady and the harassment so sustained that eventually Goran calls his mother and then an uncle (Fargo gangster Goran Bogdan in a single, vivid scene) looking for a way out. He has few allies, and only vice principal Sonja (Karla Brbic) takes the time to suggest he just fall in line and make his life easier. Like it does in the real world, Goran’s disinterest in Catholic indoctrination begins with scoffing assumptions, moves on to rhetoric often heard in echo chambers, followed by accusations of disrespect, and finally ends in active shaming and shunning.

It’s a pattern that’s become all too familiar almost everywhere in the world, and Svilicic and co-writer Marijana Verhoef deftly paint in broad brushstrokes that make Goran’s situation instantly recognizable in multiple contexts. They get help from Marinko Marinkic’s flat, steady images that hint at simmering turbulence, and Kosutic’s placidity as the driven principal makes her almost sinister in her convictions.

Jakovcevic is a little too passive at times, but on balance he turns in an effective performance as a teen trying to understand his sense of unfocused rebellion. Goran knows he should be fighting, but he’s not quite sure how. Svilicic demonstrates a good eye for the nuances of manipulation, and though The Voice’s final act generously suggests there’s room for both faith and skepticism in one person, it's the film's warning bells that speak loudest.

Production company: MaXima Film, Skopje Film Studio, Biberche Productions
Cast:
Franko Jakovcevic, Belma Kosutic, Goran Bogdan, Igor Kovac, Petra Krolo, Petar Cakic, Filip Tomicic, Karla Brbic, Josip Lukic, Stipe Radoja, Lovre Trogrlic, Marija Karoglan, Lucija Matic
Director:
Ognjen Svilicic
Screenwriters:
Ognjen Svilicic, Marijana Verhoef
Producer:
Damir Teresak
Director of photography: Marinko Marinkic
Production designer: Ivana Skrabalo
Costume designer: Emilija Ivanovska Atanasovsak
Editor: Natasha Pantic
Venue: Busan International Film Festival
World sales: Wide Management

In Croatian
80 minutes