Slovenia 2002 : Igor Sterk : 70mins

The Slovenian capital may be located in Eastern Europe, but it’s territories even further East that spring to mind when watching Ljubljana the movie. A collection of elliptical glimpses into the lives of five youngish city-dwellers in the mid-to-late-90s, with an emphasis on the locality’s blossoming rave scene, Sterk looks at Ljubljana in a way more often associated with metropolises of the orient like Andrew Cheng’s Shanghai Panic.

But there’s also a vibe of Magnolia sadness running through many of the scenes – having left Yugoslavian socialism far behind, the Slovenes find themselves catapulted through a social upheaval, with European Union the gateway to an exciting but scary future as part of the global village/market. Many individuals will inevitably struggle to adapt, cut adrift as the responsibilities of adulthood loom. Among these is Mare (Grega Zorc), a pudgy twentysomething still living at home and unsatisfied with his career path as a medical student. Romantically frustrated, he finds solace in the E-fuelled nightclub scene developing in the city – but is this an answer to his problems, or merely a temporary escape?

As we follow Mare and the other main characters around the city, it becomes rapidly apparent that Sterk’s main interest is emphatically not in the development of a conventional narrative. This is very much a mood piece, a compendium of scenes that are often brief, often poetic and often (intriguingly) wordless, and which may or may not add up to a coherent whole. The directorial style is observational cool and detached, allotting equal weight and importance to events, from the birth that ends the movie to the enigmatic suicide that begins it.

Sterk’s approach runs the constant risk of aimlessness, but the visuals are sufficiently striking to maintain interest on their own – a pair of copulating ostriches in the zoo; Mare’s pet turtles, swimming past the camera in their aquarium; a Kylie Minogue video that seems to mock his desensitised, alienated, couch-potato state. Sterk’s eye for the composition of images is strong, aided by the contributions of cinematographer Ven Jemersic – whose sister Dafne brings Ljubljana in at a remarkably brisk seventy minutes of absorbing, tantalising, persuasive fragments.

7th January, 2003
(seen on video, 5th January)

by Neil Young
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