Review: Museum of the Revolution
- Serbian director Srdjan Keča's first feature-length documentary deals with incompleteness through the story of a never-finished memorial and three marginalised people living in its basement
The title of Serbian director Srdjan Keča's first feature-length documentary, Museum of the Revolution [+see also:
interview: Srđan Keča
film profile], refers to an unfinished memorial from Yugoslav times. The film deals with incompleteness on several levels, as it focuses on the lives of three people on the margins of society, who are connected to the titular project from the 1960s. The film world-premiered at IDFA and screens this week at Zagreb's Human Rights Film Festival (5-12 December).
Museum of the Revolution opens with a narrative title that describes the idea behind the never-completed museum. This is followed by archive footage of the beginnings of the construction of New Belgrade, where it was supposed to be located. But the sepia-toned images of young people carrying Yugoslav flags, bulldozers and workers digging, and politicians giving speeches are accompanied only by the crackling of a newsreel going through a projector, creating another incomplete image.
Then we meet the strange but irresistible hero of the film: the little girl Milica, probably around eight years old, with conspicuously black hair and completely white skin. She is playing in the snow on the premises of the huge shopping mall located where New Belgrade starts, right across the bridge over the river Sava.
The next scene plunges us into the darkness of the basement of the Museum of the Revolution, the only part of it that has been completed. A community of marginalised people live there as squatters, including Mara, an old, deaf lady who is trying to teach Milica to knit, lit only by a small fire. The first segment of the film is dominated by these dream-like, quiet images, with light flickering on the faces of the little girl and the old woman.
When we leave the basement, we meet Milica's mother, Vera. We discover they are Roma, and Milica is an albino. It is now summer, Milica's white hair has grown out, replacing the black dye, and the two are making ends meet by washing the windscreens of cars waiting at the traffic lights on the wide boulevard across from the shopping mall. We are now on crowded, loud streets full of cars only metres away from the underground cavern we arrived from. But the thick atmosphere extends here as well, thanks to Jakov Munižaba's oneiric sound design and Hrvoje Nikšić's ambient drone score, coupled with Keča's intimate, low-angle shots of the girl.
Her father is in prison, and complains that Vera is not sending enough money or packages. But we are witnesses to the mother and daughter truly doing their best to make any kind of living at all. When Milica manages to get 500 dinars (about €4), she struts like a boxer who's just KO'd his opponent. The chubby, clever, energetic girl is the highlight of the film, but her mother and the old lady are also rich characters with an invincible spirit. When they discuss the daughter whom Mara had to give away to social services, or when Vera's conversation with her demanding, imprisoned husband ends in tears, what we see are two women beaten, bruised and broken by their lives – but still not giving up.
Near the end, Keča's camera is travelling on the river at night, filming the new development on the other bank of the Sava: the corrupt, indulgent Belgrade Waterfront project. This Dubai-style mirage (harking back to Keča's Ji.hlava 2012 winner Mirage) is yet another beginning that has so far managed only to deepen the ideological rift in this country of failed revolutions, incomplete reckoning with its past, and ordinary people living in subterranean circumstances, both psychologically and materially.
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.