Feb 23, 2022

Boswellia Sacra (Stefan M. Mladenović, 2022)

After the impressive demonstration of fluency in Spanish, as well as of thespian talent in Quiero decirte (2017) and Lui Lack, tú no tienes la culpa (2020), young actor/filmmaker Stefan M. Mladenović speaks his native language in his third, most accomplished and provocative directorial offering. Drawing a parallel between environmental issues and protection/violation of human rights, Boswellia Sacra revolves around the tribulation of a 30-yo man, Vukašin Drakulić, who comes in terms with his own true nature thanks to the ‘guidance’ of a couple of ‘angels’ – one hypocritical (sinful igumen Pitij) and the other sardonically sincere (homeless, but not spiritless philosopher Spomenka ‘Spoan’ Anđelić).

Set at a small landfill turned sanctuary or rather, asylum of freedom, and in a monastery where ‘God’ seems to be but an empty word wiggling in mud, the film makes the most of its limited setting, with the liberating openness of the former and the soul-draining claustrophobia of the latter emphasized by lighting choices and the level of ‘artifice’ involved in the neatly stylized production design. Speaking of which, one can’t help but notice the props made of recycled material corresponding with the ecological theme, and a flamboyant floral jacket (fashioned by Jelena Dimitrijević) that wonderfully complements the queer sentiment of the director’s unfaltering vision. A defiant milestone in Serbian cinema, Boswellia Sacra feels like a passion project, one that is small in scale, but big at heart, as the leading trio of Mladenović himself, Dragana Jovanović (also credited as a co-writer) and Dejan Gocić prove in their devoted, pitch-perfect performances.

Not a minute of the half-hour running time is wasted, with the fourth wall-breaking prologue and epilogue operating as a sedative for potentially inexperienced (and not to mention bigoted viewers), especially from around these parts, who may find a certain scene not only subversive or transgressive, but downright offensive. The others will applaud the audacity at display, enjoying quirky, borderline-surreal art that imitates real life events with a hint of controlled theatricality, all meticulously framed by DoP Miroslav Mitić, and accompanied by some witty music tracks that come across as piquant spices to the well thought-out script.

(The pre-premiere review is based on the screener provided by the author.)

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