An impoverished laborer returns home one day to find that social services have taken his children, after the family’s increasingly dire circumstances push his wife to commit a desperate act. With a corrupt local administrator blocking the way to a fair hearing to get them back, the man decides to cross the country on foot in order to plead his case to the government in Belgrade.
Inspired by real-life events, Srdan Golubović’s “Otac” (Father) is the story of a man who refuses to give up on justice and the right to raise his children. From the acclaimed director of Serbia’s foreign-language Oscar-shortlisted drama “Klopka” (The Trap) and the Sundance prizewinner “Krugovi” (Circles), pic premieres Feb. 22 in the Panorama section of the Berlin Film Festival. The Match Factory is handling world sales.
Golubović first encountered the story that inspired “Father” on social media, which led him to the Belgrade ministry where the unlikely hero was staging his protest. The director returned often, lending his ear to the man’s grievances and offering his support. “For me, the most interesting thing was that his decision to walk to Belgrade was not rationale,” he said. “It was something very instinctive, and something that he felt very deeply in his soul.”
The seeds were planted for what Golubović describes as a “Balkans-style ‘Paris, Texas,’” with the mythic topography of the American Southwest replaced by a Serbian landscape of great natural beauty, but whose shuttered factories and derelict plants point to years of economic decline.
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“I wanted to make a film which was very specific to Serbia,” said Golubović. “Father” finds a fitting symbol of the country’s backward slide in the local functionary Vasiljević (Boris Isaković), a bureaucrat and petty tyrant who thwarts Nikola’s efforts to win back custody of his children, and whose iron-fisted control of his provincial fiefdom is emblematic of Serbia’s broader dysfunction.
With few options to fight against a corrupt and remorseless system, the Everyman Nikola (Goran Bogdan) decides on a course of action over which he has complete control.
“That act of walking was very inspiring for me,” said Golubović. He noted how French philosophers considered walking “the biggest act of freedom,” and how protest movements around the world march in displays of solidarity and defiance. “What is the product of [Nikola’s] journey is his fight against the system, and his fight for his dignity.”
Golubović was inspired by the Yugoslav cinema of the 1960s and ‘70s, and directors like Aleksandar Petrović, Dušan Makavejev, and Živojin Pavlović. “For this film, I decided to be more focused on that influence,” he said, “and to think about the tradition of the Yugoslav Black Wave, which was a tradition of making very social subjects with no borders…no comprise.” He likened the impact of such films to “a punch in the face.”
For Golubović, the story of “Father” is specific to Serbia but hardly unique. “It’s universal. This story can happen anywhere,” he said. “I think that the position of ordinary men is the same everywhere in the world.”
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