2006, Movie, NR, 103 mins


School bullying and a shocking explosion of violence turns the already miserable life of a 12-year-old boy into microcosm of contemporary Macedonia. Shy, sensitive Marko (Marko Kovacevic) lives with his parents and sister in the beleaguered Macedonian capital of Skopje in a dilapidated house that mirrors the country as it faces ethnic Albanian uprisings, ethnic strife and the threat of dissolution. Marko's father, Lazo (Vlado Jovnovski), is an alcoholic who spends most of his time and money at the local bingo parlor, arguing with his equally drunk buddies over failures of the Soviet Union and waiting for his number to be up. Marko's mother, Angja (Elena Mosevska), padding around the house in a stupor, barely acknowledging Markos and tuning out her teenage daughter, Fanny (Slavica Manaskova), as she screams at her little brother and makes arrangements to meet her boyfriend. The only bright spot in Marko's day is the Macedonian class he takes with a Bosnian professor (Mustafa Nadarevic). The teache has taken notice of Marko's talents as a writer, and suggests he try writing a poem for recitation at the Macedonian Independence Day celebration. He also hints that Marko may even travel to Paris to represent Macedonia in the French Center competition. The prospect of using his writing talents to escape the corrupt, brutal "sewer" of Skopje enables Marko to endure the increasingly brutal beatings handed out by his classmate Levi (Martin Jovchevski), the son of the district's corrupt police chief, Blashko (Dejan Acimovic), and Levi's gang of prepubescent punks. The professor can do nothing to remove Blashko from the school — his one attempt was immediately countermanded by Blashko — and he's too cowardly to intervene when he sees Markos about to get trounced. Markus's only safe haven is in an abandoned railway car in which he sits as if he were waiting for it to miraculously take him far away from this nightmare. One afternoon he returns to the train car to find it inhabited by Paris (Nikola Djuricko), a scarred, potentially violent mercenary to whom Markos feels immediately attracted. As Levi's beatings grow more savage, Markos begs Paris to teach how to shoot a handgun, and embarks on a dark journey into booze, petty thievery and worse that will soon transform Markos from Macedonia's hope for the future to just another brutalized punk on the take. You just know that any film that opens with Nietzsche's aphorism about hope being an evil that only prolongs the torments of man isn't going to a comedy. But this starkly beautiful film — the first from Macedonian director Svetozar Ristovki and his Canada-born co-writer Grace Lea Troje — is a tense, gripping drama that urges Macedonians to reject the empty platitudes and conflicts of the past for a bold new future vision, and succeeds showing how false hope can indeed be the opiate that keeps people from taking direct action. leave a comment --Ken Fox

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