LITTLE CRIMINALS : Mitja Okorn’s Here and There [6/10]

Published on: April 2nd, 2005

An unashamedly derivative, amiably raucous, intriguingly parochial tale of small-town, small-time would-be criminals, Here and There is the feature debut of 25-year-old Okorn* – one of Slovenia's most active and in-demand directors of pop-promos and skate-videos (including Not Sponsored and Not Sponsored II). The film is set in and around Okorn's native Kranj (pop. 37,000) which, according to the Lonely Planet guidebook to the country, "is Slovenia's fourth largest and most industrialised city, with its share of unemployment and graffiti. But the casual traveller needn't know anything about all that. The attractive Old Town, sitting on an escarpment above the confluence of the Sava and Kokra Rivers that barely measures 1km by 250m, contains everything of interest in Kranj."

Okorn would seemingly beg to differ with the guidebook's authors Neil Wilson and Steve Fallon (neither of whom seem ever to have actually lived in Slovenia), as he includes about ten seconds of footage shot in the Old Town. The bulk of the narrative instead plays out in the more modern environs of the concrete-abundant new town, and the relatively leafy suburbs and surrounding villages. These aren't exactly the meanest streets in the former Yugoslavia – Here and There doesn't linger on squalor – but it's nevertheless clear that the economic affluence which propelled Slovenia into the EU in May 2004 has largely passed our four twentyish 'heroes' by.

They are: hot-headed, sharp-dressing unemployed chef 'Turk' (charismatic Adnan Omerovich**, who also co-wrote the script with Okorn and Marko Podgorshek); laid-back, laconic skater-stoner 'Buddha' (Klemen Buchan projects a young-Tom-Cruise physicality), smooth-talking Red Star Belgrade fan 'Ortho' ('Ortich' in Slovene) (Miki Bubulj) and hapless, frizz-haired, fuss-budget 'Cone' ('Storzh') (Toni Cahunek). We never find out their real names, never see any sign of parents or other family – although Cone has a girlfriend (who proves pivotal to the plot) this is essentially a tight-knit, closed-circuit quartet, always dreaming and scheming of the easy life which lies just around the next corner. Not averse to a little low-level criminality in the form of drug-dealing, the lads soon get themselves in big trouble when they aim for a more lucrative 'score', their clumsy shenanigans bringing them into contact with local 'mafia' gangsters.

We've been over this kind of turf many times before, of course – Okorn's basic template seems to be Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels, and Guy Ritchie is even (cheekily) mentioned in the subtitles at one point. Whether he's mentioned in the dialogue itself is another matter entirely. It's one of the oddities of Here and There that the Slovenian references and slang are consistently 'westernised' in the subtitles (which, with grinding inevitablility, mis-spell "losers" as "loosers.")

Thus a spoken reference to fusballeri (soccer-players) is translated as "ballers" (i.e. basketballers). The local currency of Tolars becomes "bucks". Slovenian pin-up movie-star Katarina Chas becomes "Uma Thurman." Even the place-names are translated – Shkofja Loka becomes 'Bishop's Town', and the village of Trstenik, whose Slovene nomenclature is clearly visible on a sign, becomes the Anglicised 'Reeding.' We even hear talk of a folk troupe which the subtitles present as the twee-sounding 'The Merry Men of Woodington.' In similar vein, though it's great to see that marvellously Balkan delicacy burek on screen, admirers of the dish may be somewhat disconcerted to see the subtitles referring to 'burrito' – adding insult to injury, said burek ends up inedible after being splatted with a huge splodge of tomato sauce. Yeuch!

But while such westernisations can be annoying, they're of a piece with a film whose subtext is way Slovenian culture has been colonised/enriched/sapped by external influences – something with which Okorn, with his background in pop- and skate-videos, will be all too familiar. It's therefore quite fitting that his "no-budget" film topped the Slovene national box-office charts on its theatrical release, holding off the challenge of (relatively) megabucks product like Ray and House of Flying Daggers. The film has clearly struck a chord with its target audience, the nation's teenagers – perhaps because, as the Screen It! website might put it, 'drug use' is decidedly 'heavy' throughout.

The film isn't likely to "sell" very far beyond the Slovenian borders, however: Here and There, like its protagonists' schemes, isn't the smoothest of operations – the title is unforgivably drab, the basic premise is over-familiar, performances are wildly variable, the conclusion is pat and predictable, and there's a cutesy, overlong, self-referential speech ("who'd be dumb enough to go see this movie, anyway?") at the end which should at the very least be radically trimmed. But Okorn, like Turk and company, does eventually manage to somehow beat the odds and come up trumps. Perhaps unsurprisingly, his slick use of (ecletic) music is a major plus; editing and cinematography are briskly no-nonsense; and while the nervy, abrasive 'Cone' seems to have wandered in from a different, more depressing movie, the other three lads (crucially) make for pretty good, engaging, irrespressibly exuberant company over what is a sensibly brief running-time.

Neil Young
2nd April, 2005

HERE AND THERE : [6/10] : Tu pa tam : Slovenia 2004 : Mitja OKORN : 88 mins
seen on DVD at home in Sunderland (UK), 25th March 2005 – with thanks to Mitja Okorn

* Declararation Of Interest : I gave Mitja some small bits of advice at various stages in the production of Here and There, and am thanked in the end-credits. Fame at last!

** a note on the transcription of Slovene words in this review : italicised ch and sh are used in words where in Slovene the letter c or s is surmounted by the 'streshica' symbol.