Dec 10, 2019

Holy Sand (Miroslav Antić, 1968)

☼☼☼☼☼☼☼☼(☼) out of 10☼

It is only recently I learned that the prominent Serbian poet Miroslav 'Mika' Antić (1932 – 1986) directed two features which had the misfortune of being brushed under the communist carpet just like many of the Yugoslav Black Wave offerings. His debut Holy Sand (originally, Sveti pesak) - for me, the most precious blast from the past of 2019 - was not officially banned, but it never received regular theatrical distribution.

Told in a lyrical tone, the story revolves around a former political brigade commissar, Aleksandar Vinski (Čedomir Mihajlović, as worn-out as his character requires of him), who returns from the Goli Otok labor camp, only to realize he has been ostracized not only by the society, but by his comrades as well. Neither alive nor dead, he roams the sullen demimonde in the state of pseudo-existence, pushed further into despair by meaningless encounters with other lost souls.

Without any 'warning', his sparse, fragmented narrative jumps back and forth in time, establishing a disorienting atmosphere which is deepened by deliberate discordance between the image and the sound. A perfect example thereof is a brilliant cross-cutting of Aleksandar and a mysterious, mentally challenged girl frolicking around some (WWII?) ruins, and his fellow prisoner having a sexual intercourse with a flirty woman whom the protagonist previously picked up at a bar. Occasionally, the dialogue is completely muted or replaced by the incongruent noises, adding another layer of confusion and simultaneously, putting the viewer in Aleksandar's shoes or rather, head.

What's most impressive about Holy Sand is its black and white cinematography by Petar Latinović. Initially almost expressionist / noirish in its use of shadows, it takes a sharp turn into naturalistic domain, with a few scenes near the end appearing as if they were influenced by the surrealist cinema. The film's formal 'trickery' is (oddly) complemented by unaffected performances from its mostly non-professional cast, and even by a few technical downsides...

The film is available on Delta Video's official YouTube channel, but if you're not fluent in Serbian, I'm afraid that you will have to embark on a bootleg hunt...

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