Sunday, November 28, 2010

Landscape No. 2 (Pokrajina St. 2)

Landscape No. 2 (Pokrajina St. 2) (Director: Vinko Moderndorfer): It must be tempting for Balkan film­makers to take any story, no matter how familiar, and sub­merge it in the region’s troubled his­tory. Surely it will add depth and make the film seem more “important” in the eyes of inter­na­tional critics? In the case of Vinko Moderndorfer’s Slovenian heist thriller, the his­tor­ical sub­plot feels clum­sily bolted on and doesn’t really add much.

Sergej and Polde are burg­lars who spe­cialize in stealing works of art from offi­cials of the old Yugoslav Communist regime, which they hold for ransom. The elder Polde main­tains that their crimes are jus­ti­fied since the Communists looted these art­works from the national gal­lery at the end of World War 2 and they really belong to the Slovenian people. During their latest heist, Sergej impuls­ively takes some cash and doc­u­ments from a safe hidden behind their chosen painting and neg­lects to tell Polde. It turns out that these doc­u­ments have enormous value to the eld­erly General whose house they’ve robbed. They implicate him in the postwar exe­cu­tion of col­lab­or­ators and “traitors” and he’s des­perate to get the doc­u­ments back at any cost. He calls in “The Instructor,” a henchman with whom he’s worked before, to retrieve the doc­u­ments at any cost. The Instructor, once unleashed, is a force very like Javier Bardem’s char­acter in No Country for Old Men, con­tinuing his grim mis­sion even after the General dies of old age. For him, pur­suing the trail means killing everyone from whom he can extract inform­a­tion. He’s not par­tic­u­larly effi­cient or careful as a killer, though, leaving messy crime scenes every­where. He’s helped tre­mend­ously by the fact that the cops think that Sergej is behind the killings.

For his part, Sergej is ignorant of the import­ance of the doc­u­ments. In fact, he’s ignorant about pretty much everything except chasing women. He shuttles between his frumpy but loyal fiancée Magda and the rich and glam­orous Jasna, lying to both of them about the exist­ence of the other. He’s a bit of a louse, and stupid, too. But his beha­viour leads to ter­rible con­sequences for everyone around him, and finally for Sergej him­self, who comes lit­er­ally face-to-face with the crimes of the past.

As men­tioned earlier, the his­tor­ical aspect, though poten­tially inter­esting, is rather clum­sily executed. The recent dis­covery of postwar mass grave sites seems to be on every tele­vi­sion in the film, and Sergej’s gay friend Damjan (played as an out­rageously offensive ste­reo­type) just hap­pens to be researching the sub­ject. It’s never explained why the General would have held onto such incrim­in­ating doc­u­ments in the first place. And the cli­mactic scene con­veni­ently plays out at the site of one of these mass graves.

Nevertheless, Landscape No. 2 is a well-made thriller, and even if it does borrow a little from other films, have an unsym­path­etic lead char­acter, and trade in the worst ste­reo­types about gay people, it’s still com­puls­ively watch­able with some nice styl­istic flour­ishes. Based on the age of “The Instructor,” I’m assuming that the dir­ector was also trying to make some con­nec­tion between atro­cities car­ried out after World War 2 and ones from the more recent Balkan wars, but it’s another dropped thread. If the his­tor­ical sec­tion had been filled out more, maybe with some flash­backs and more of a real mys­tery, it could have been so much more than a main­stream thriller.



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