Here & There (2009), the first narrative film from Serbian filmmaker Darko Lugulov, opens as Robert, a down-on-his-luck New York musician, is being forced to move out of his apartment. He has no prospects and seems to have become totally withdrawn and apathetic as evidenced by his wild, unruly hair; thick coating of stubble; and lethargic manner. He is played with an understated grace by David Thornton.
Robert tries working with Branko, the Serbian immigrant who helps him move, but after one back-breaking day of moving furniture for minimal pay decides that being a mover is not for him. Branko then offers Robert an opportunity to earn “some real money.” All he has to do is fly to Belgrade and marry his girlfriend Ivana so that she can come to the United States. After a bit of haggling, they settle on the sum of five thousand dollars, to be paid in Belgrade when the deed is done.
The change in scenery and the people he meets in Belgrade slowly begin to allow Robert to see past his own self-pity and apathy. He stays with Branko’s mother; Olga, played by Mirjana Karanovic; who knows nothing of the wedding deal and believes Robert to be a friend of Branko’s on a business trip to Belgrade. Olga does her best to be hospitable, but it’s clear she’s not quite sure to make of Robert.
Naturally, complications ensue. Branko’s ability to raise the money to pay Robert is put in peril when his moving van is stolen. Meanwhile, Robert is undergoing a bit of a spiritual reawakening. Being removed from everything he finds familiar enables Robert to see himself from a fresh perspective. When Olga sends Robert’s clothes out to the cleaners, the mismatched track suit of Branko’s that Olga gives him to wear serves as a sort of chrysalis for him. When his clothes are returned to him, cleaned and pressed, he begins to reengage. He cleans up, shaves, and for the first time in the movie does something not for selfish reasons when he simply asks Olga, “Can I help with something?” When she says yes, a relationship begins to develop between the two.
Here & There plays like a love letter not so much to Belgrade, but to its people. On display too is the romantic notion of America, and New York in particular, as a place of endless possibility even through the hard times. Everyone in the movie seems to have seen better times but there is a charm in the characters which doesn’t feel forced. Particularly strong is the performance by Mirjana Karanovic. She plays Olga with tremendous depth, subtlety, expressiveness and naturalism. The entire cast is good and the chemistry between Thornton and Karanovic is effective. Cyndi Lauper pops up in a cameo and provides a song . Karanovic, for me, was the real bright light in the cast. If she was meant to personify the spirit of the people of Belgrade, they could ask for no finer representative.
The cinematography by Mathias Schöningh deserves a mention here as well. Hand-held camera work and compositions which feel like they are fit into the environment rather than arranging the environment to suit the camera lend the film a bystanders perspective, a sense of intimacy, and a feeling that these events are playing out naturally and connected to the locations.
Nothing in Here and There feels forced. It uplifts without being overly sentimental and perhaps we, like Robert, could benefit from a cinematic change of scenery and seeing ourselves through another’s eyes. Here & There won the Best New York Narrative Award at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival and is beginning its theatrical run. It opens in Los Angeles for a one week engagement at Laemmle’s Music Hall 3 in Beverly Hills on Friday, May 21st. It is distributed by Cinema Pugatorio.
For further information and showtimes visit http://www.hereandtherethemovie.com/
Photos by: Vanja Bjelobaba