Lincoln Center Throws its Spotlight on Slovenia

With its retrospective on Slovenian cinema, Lincoln Center sets out to prove that intelligent cinematic life exists in the post-Communist European landscape beyond Romania—and half-succeeds. Sampling over half the slate, I found three winners, a few interesting misfires, and only a couple of outright dogs.

Please avoid every manifestation of Slovenia's cinematic past: 1956's The Valley of Peace is one long, tedious bromide about the Horrors of War and the Innocence of Children, while 1953's Vesna is every bit as toothlessly dull as Soviet light entertainments, minus the propaganda. Bostjan Hladnik's 1961 Dance in the Rain is generally considered the greatest Slovenian film of all time—poor Slovenia. A New Wave–damaged love triangle, its commitment to spending as much time in its characters' dreams and interior worlds as in the real one is impressive (and one funereal dream sequence gives Wild Strawberries a run for its money). Unfortunately, both inside and out are equally morose and stifling.

An unintentional diptych about the '70s fares better. Saso Podgorsek's 2001 Sweet Dreams tackles 1973 through the eyes of 13-year-old Egon (Janko Mandic). Directed in a style that can only be dubbed Sundance-aggro-twee (flashy tracking shots and colors that have nothing to do with the subject matter) and undeniably a coming-of-age tale, Sweet Dreams benefits from popular Slovenian novelist Miha Mazzini's deft screenplay, which manages to capture every disparate strand of a society barely united under Tito: a castrating mother straight out of Roth, vicious anticommunists waiting for their chance to lead, stoned hippies preaching revolution via T. Rex. Music as liberation is even more important in Andrej Kosak's 1996 Outsider, which bookends the decade from 1979 to a little after Tito's death. Sead (Davor Janjic) is the new kid in Ljubljana, and—worse luck—half-Serbian, half-Bosnian. Adopted by local punk Borut (Uros Potocnik), Sead is rechristened Sid (as in "Vicious") and starts playing hilariously copycat punk (provided by the beloved, Jello Biafra–endorsed Pankrti), all the while trying to negotiate a society on the edge of collapse. Only an out-of-character, unnecessarily violent ending spoils the deft tone—comic tragedy with nary an overstatement.

Marco Nabersnik's 2007 Rooster's Breakfast picks up the pieces in 1998, as laid-off mechanic Djuro (Primoz Bezjak) heads to the country to fester under the kind but anachronistic Gajas (Vlado Novak), who does little more than drink with his friends while moaning about his glory days under Tito. The plot doesn't kick in till an hour in, and even then can't spoil the genial, hang-loose vibe: social disintegration as humanist party.

As for the rest: 1993's When I Close My Eyes is enjoyably sleazy B-movie fare that cops out in the last act, refusing to be as nasty as it should be, and 1980's Raft of the Medusa is strictly for those who can't get enough of Futurist bromides from the '20s. It's also the artiest of the bunch, with plenty of showy iris dissolves and a needlessly enigmatic first half-hour. Without exception, the best Slovenian movies in this sampling strive to eliminate the director and foreground novelistic detail. Can't quarrel with that.

 
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