Nov 26, 2019

Listen Little Man (Marko Žunić, 2019)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼ out of 10☼

One of the most experimental Serbian films not only of our but of all time, Listen Little Man (originally, Čuj mali čoveče) marks a significant milestone - inscribed with 'feature debut' - for up-and-coming independent filmmaker Marko Žunić. A follow-up to his short and wordless dystopian romance, Bright Future My Love, which boasts superb aesthetics, this film breaks the shackles of an orthodox narrative in favor of interconnected series of surreal, angst-fueled vignettes. We follow a young man credited only as Nenormalni (lit. abnormal / aberrant; a bold, uninhibited, largely physical performance by Filip Galen) whose world is turned upside-down and inside-out, as he refuses to kneel before the God of Conformism.

A universal story of a struggle against the currents of widespread babbitry is seasoned with local flavors, especially during the sequences of a high middle class dinner (not unlike the Slava) which unapologetically mocks the small-talk banalities, gradually transforming into a perturbing homage to the orgiastic Vienna actionists séance of Dušan Makavejev's inimitable Sweet Movie. (A comparison with the funeral feast of Ilya Khrzhanovsky's 4 wouldn't be out of place either, but Žunić haven't seen it yet.) The naïveté of the non-professional cast provides these scenes with a sort of a low-key humor and brings the films of Želimir Žilnik to one's mind, whereas the subsequent dubbing adds the layer of Felliniesque strangeness to the dizzying proceedings.

Developing in (justified) discordance with the irreverent, if a bit overt parody of our reality are phantasmagorical reflections of the sapped and anguished protagonist's inner workings occasionally dipped in metafilmic interventions (shot at the cinema venue of Student's City Cultural Center in Belgrade). At one point, they are externalized in a volcanic burst of exasperation which joins guerilla performance and mockumentary in an unholy matrimony. Often dialogue-free, draped in deep shadows and imbued with Lynchian madness, these bizarre, nightmarish flourishes operate as 'enhancers' of the film's YU Black Wave-like nature, adding a spicy 'je ne sais qoi' ingredient to the wild and weird mix.

A white catsuit which Galen wears in his character's twisted world makes him almost naked in appearance - he is a tabula rasa on which the audience can project their own thoughts. The costume also makes him look fragile, soon to be crushed under the pressure of the oppressive surroundings, or rather, under the influence of archetypal characters such as Businessman (Strahinja Bičanin), Priest (Vukašin Kerkez) and Girlfriend (Jovana Kerkez). He desperately tries to escape the ugliness and hypocrisy of so-called normality which are captured in gloomily beautiful, hectically edited monochromatic imagery, with a few shots in color emphasizing the author's contempt for certain new age phenomena. Abrasive soundscapes of brooding drones and ear-piercing noise complement the visuals and establish a delirious atmosphere.

Taking all of the creative control in his hands, as writer, director, producer, cinematographer, editor, sound artist and even actor, Marko Žunić demonstrates an enviable level of artistry (and energy!), and despite the budgetary constraints, delivers a highly recommendable piece of work bound to provoke polarizing opinions.

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