Into the Blue/U Plavetnilo (2017) makes a welcome return splash to Berlin,
appearing at that city's 33rd edition of the International Short Film Festival.
Festival synopsis: "Julija returns to her old island home for the summer, but her best friend Ana only has eyes for her new boyfriend. Tension rises when they head to the cliffs to go diving."
The fesitval synopsis for U Plavetnilo/Into the Blue does little justice to this brilliant short from New York-based Croatian Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovi. Scripted with Christina Lazaridi, the 19.55 min film satisfies all that one usually expects from a worthy short film - a tight focus on human relationships that develop within a common time and place and which has some thematic resonance to the zeitgeist beyond. If the same film can then pull together its entangled plot strands into a cohesive resolution, then rewards are usually to be expected from the mainstream audience.
So it is with this story about the thirteen year old Julija (Gracija Filipovic) who returns to her idyllic childhood home with her mother (Natasa Dangubic). But the catalyst for the summer visit is actually a flight from an off-screen abusive home.
The film tracks Julija's troubled attempts to reconnect with Ana (Vanesa Vidakovic Natrlin), but her overtures are gradually rejected. Instead, she - and the audience - can only witness Ana's growing affection for her boyfriend Pjero (Dominick Dudevik).
One of the director's strengths at this point is in marking the subtle shifts in dark awareness that slowly engulf her main character. The framing, point-of-view shots, and editing all contribute to the subtle peformances by the small ensemble as they 'relax' together on the rocks under the summer sun. For theorists, the sequence also knowingly adds to revisionist accounts of the male gaze.
What deepens audience attention, then, is the gradual reveal of Julija's inner character as she makes friendly but devious attempts to engineer Ana and Pjero towards the cliffs - her abusive home background is never far from the plot surface. In fact, passing mentions of her absent father - he too knew how to swim - touched on a common theme as shared with other films from post- Yugoslavia.
The magnificent location provides for rich cinematic scope (the project was supported by the Croatian Audiovisual Centre and the City of Dubrovnik); but, more importantly, the underwater explorations with Julija serve as visual metaphors for the pull of her own wounded psyche.
So while the film draws upon the easy pull of the standard teenage holiday romance, it doesn't stay there. Instead it follows its troubled main character towards the fateful cliff-edge denouement.
The final Act 3 shift to tragic drama brought audible gasps from audience members.
Given its subtle exploration of motive and superb powers of observation it came as no surprise to this author that the film underwent extensive script nurturing – it was developed through NISI MASA(Vilnius and Luxemburg) and it is no newcomer to Berlin – it was a participant in the short film section of the Berlinale Film Festival script development programme and later surfaced at the 2017 Berlinale where it won the special international jury mention.
In summary? In terms of storytelling and technique, Into the Blue (2017) is a celebration of all that the short film at its best can achieve.
Dir & Screenwriter. Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovi (MA, Film and Theater production at the Academy of Fine arts in Zagreb.) / Co - screenwriter: Christina Lazaridi / Croatia, Slovenia, 2017, 19:55 min
Category: Live Action / Producer by Barbara Vekari of Motion (www.motion.hr)
Co-producers: Slovenian Blade Production and Kontrast Film, Germany
The official trailer is here: htpps://vimeo.com/user924087
Into the Blue was shown in the Young Calamities section at the 33rd edition of Berlin's International Short Film Festival, running from November 20th – 26th, 2017.