Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Hard political nitty-gritty is a secondary consideration here. Nevertheless, the social situation at the heart of Mirage/Iluzija is so fraught with political implication that the film hits on both levels. While scrutiny has by degrees drifted from the Balkans on to the Middle East, fanaticism and terrorism, the former Yugoslavia remains another war waiting to happen again, widen, and engulf all.
A Macedonian now based in Vancouver, director-producer Svetozar Ristovski cowrote this his first fiction feature with Grace Lea Troje, a Canadian currently living in Skopje. Symbolically employing actors and crew from all over the disintegrated federal republic, and completed over the objections of a new government, the film is aimed at increasing awareness of a nasty state of things, without which awareness change is unlikely and the future even bleaker than the present. That, even with help from the Republic’s Ministry of Culture, the work has gone on the festival circuit and is being released here, is objective testament to the director’s injunction that only effort and action produce results, as opposed to the mere hope which a printed epigraph from Nietzsche reviles as “the worst of evils, for it prolongs the torments of men.”
Shot without tricks and set in Ristovski’s birthplace of Veles, Mirage reflects the dreary hopelessness of the former Eastern Bloc, and by implication the reality of have-nots in much wealthier countries: bullying government corruption and inefficiency, cronyism, decaying grey Socialist architecture, dilapidated transport, pollution, high un- or underemployment, alcoholism, promiscuity, the collapse of the family unit and educational system, a proliferation of firearms, and pervasive criminality.
In not only his first screen appearance, but his first acting rôle period, seventh-grader Marko Kovacevic is dirty-blond, almost pretty Marko. He is studious in a school environment controlled by belligerent adolescent punks sporting spiked hairdos, black outfits and chains. The unrealized distraction, and attraction, of similarly angelic and serious Jasmine is perhaps unnecessary, for the boy is still highly sensitive despite the cramped household of his bovine cowering mother (Elena Mosevska, as Angja), a bingo-gambling father Lazo (Vlado Jovnovski) who leads political demonstrations but drowns despair in constant drunkenness, and foul-mouthed man-hungry older sister Fanny (Slavica Manaskova), with whom he shares an unhappy bedroom.
Lamenting his own Bosnian exile and scholarly failure in the dead-end town of 60,000, a teacher (Mustafa Nadarevic) recognizes promise in the boy’s stories and proposes that he write a poem for a competition the first prize of which is a trip to Paris, “city of artists.” Driven from home by bickering, unable to find peace even in the bathroom there, and taunted and beaten by a gang of classmates led by fatty Levi (Martin Jovchevski), son of sadistic pig-faced policeman Blashko (Dejan Acimovic), Marko finds some calm in the professor’s book-lined apartment and even more in an abandoned railway coach that he furnishes up as his house of refuge and dreams.
In the latter home away from home, he is joined by an uninvited young man who happens to call himself “Paris” (Nikola Djuricko), carries a gun and knife, seems cynically sophisticated but probably running from civil rather than political crimes, and, preaching action over wishing, initiates the boy into theft that encompasses an Orthodox church. Smoking and drinking now, Marko believes equally in this partner’s half-promise to take him away and in the power of the nationalistic poem he writes to whisk him to France.
But the story’s take is Naturalistic, for destiny is ironic and irrevocable. Partly in the genetic sense of his father’s helplessness and alcoholism, but most certainly in that of environment, hopes are doomed as a web of circumstances and disappointment leads less than convincingly to a shocking about-face.
Dreams are quashed in the violence shown to be endemic to despairing poverty, and in this Mirage serves warning not only to this NATO-patrolled country in “transition” but once home to conqueror and culture-maven Alexander the Great, but to an outside world, as well, warily on the watch for the next powder keg.
(Released by Picture This! Entertainment; not rated by MPAA.)