Father - a realistic portrayal of the southeastern Europeans' sorrows?
Find out more about one of the Golubović's most complex works so far
A woman, on the brink of a nervous breakdown, drags her children — a girl of about nine and a boy of about twelve — after her to an old factory. Standing at the entrance, the woman begins to yell at the workers present and the plant's administration. She threatens that if they don't pay her husband's wage arrears, she will soak herself and her children with gasoline and set them on fire. The torment of ignorance and negligence echoes in the air for a moment, and then the woman starts pouring gasoline on the children, who are trying to dodge it. Then she pours the rest of the bottle on herself, at the peak of despair, and starts a fire. The shocking-gloomy opening scene of Father, the latest work by Serbian director Srđan Golubović, awakens nausea and anger with its realism and is a prelude to a black socio-political story based on true events in Serbia.
A glimpse into the real-life problems of an average southeastern European
After the incident at the factory, the film introduces us to Nikola, the protagonist of the film - played by Goran Bogdan in probably the most difficult role of his career. Nikola's wife was placed in the hospital and children were taken away by the social service. In order to get them back, the father must provide basic living conditions for his family before the arrival of the family assessment committee. However, after farce committee assessment, that says Nikola is unable to take care of the children with his daily wage job (because he lost his job at the factory two years prior the incident) and after a slimy corrupt local authorities do not allow him to see the children, he decides to walk 300 kilometres, from his village, to the Serbian capital Belgrade, where he intends to personally appeal the judgment to the minister in charge.
There is a lot that Golubović manages to express with this film. On the surface, it is, of course, another Ex-Yugoslavian drama about the lucid abyss of bureaucracy, the oppressed civil servants and at the very end the dysfunctional system in both the social and political spheres of life.
What distinguishes the Father from other works revolving around the same topic?
Still, Father does a lot more than many similar works. As much as the film focuses on bringing in the situation as realistically as possible, both dialogically and with facial expressions and emotions, to the uncanny corruptness of the bureaucrats, director Golubović gives a breath of hope by implementing absurdly sublime empathy of others towards his protagonist. Most of the characters around Nikola have grey/black moral set of values and jobs, which make Nikola's interactions with them seem intense but still highly interesting as they are unveiling. Probably the best example of these characters/situations is the moment when Nikola meets migrant carrier, who on the one hand takes big money from people in need that he misleads and cheats, while on the other hand for Nikola's fate he has mercy and offers help and free transportation. Similar scenes happen later on with governmental executives, both Belgrade warden from the ministry and a local social worker, who herself made a severe judgment against Nikola.
In the true case, as well as in the film, media image and visibility play a significant role, where the path from small local papers, via a single TV crew interested, matters soon become lustrous, calling for the independent action of the citizens, which the authorities are, naturally, afraid of. On the other hand, the ones who are in a position of power in the film have a great understanding of the role of the positive media image, so the film takes its time to showcase this form of interaction of oppressive statesmen who has a dose of empathy while he acts overwhelmingly with his best interest in mind, of course.
Mentality - the biggest obstacle to the prosperity of a community?
If one segment of the film was to be singled out as more impactful than the others, it would certainly be the ending in which after a difficult and painstaking journey, director Golubović does not give the protagonist the moment of bliss or a harmony but rather takes the one last shot, exposing Nikola to another shamefully rotten situation from the society that surrounds him.
All in all, Father is a powerful social drama that portrays a decaying Southeast European society that is starting to live the lives only out of dry empathy for others and hopes for a better tomorrow. The most complex Golubović' film to date could certainly be seen as a Europeanized version of Wenders' legendary work Paris, Texas with the gut breaking fact that it depicts the hyper-realistic situations of a region on the edge of Europe.