Dir. Goran Paskaljevic.Serbia-Montenegro. 2004. 95mins.

More introspective andless explosive than his remarkable feature Powder Keg (1998), GoranPaskaljevic's A Midwinter Night's Dream may, in many respects, be ametaphor for Serbia today, but it is still a powerful and moving personaltragedy that functions well, regardless of its political subtext.

The finely tunedrelationship between a released convict, a middle-aged waitress and herautistic teenage daughter is deeply touching, and should be generally welcome,both on the festival and on the art house scene.

Lazar (Ristovski) returnshome after serving a 10-year sentence for killing his best friend in a drunkenbrawl. There he finds two new occupants, Jasna (Zalica), a strange woman, andher autistic daughter, Jovana (Mitic).

His first impulse is to kickthem out - but once he realises they have nowhere to go, he changes his mindand decides to let them stay.

Lazar, who makes a livingthrough taxi driving is sullen, silent and wakes in middle of the nightscreaming at the nightmarish memories of serving in the Serb army. Gradually heis drawn to the lovely but completely detached countenance of Jovana, who livesin her own intensely private universe, at which he can only guess.

Soon his fascination withJasna - abandoned by her husband after he refused to accept Jovana's condition- draws him closer to her.

For her part Jasna isfiercely devoted to Jovana and will not permit anyone, not even Lazar, to tryand tamper with the girl's mind, whatever their good intent.

But just as this trio ofmisfits is about to seemingly find common ground in their relationship, so adeus ex machina intervention intrudes on the plot to give it a final tragictwist.

Paskaljevic uses as hisstarting point the fact that the Serbs, in order to survive some of the worstaspects of political life, entered a kind of autistic state which made themimmune to much of what was going on around them.

Working from a scriptco-written with Filip David, Paskaljevic keeps proceedings under tight control,demanding low-key performances from the likes of the flamboyant Ristovski (alsoa co-producer) who can often grandstand (see his breakthrough performance inUnderground).

Dialogue is kept to aminimum, silence proving far more eloquent than words for both Lazar and Jasna,who keep their counsel lest exposing themselves will only lead to further hurt.

Jovana Mitic, who is cast asJovana, is autistic in real life, and brings a natural intensity to her role.

Shot digitally andtransferred to film, the picture perfectly captures the murky, melancholy lightof the Balkan winter, and allows for a pace largely dictated by the need tonever rush the relationship between the three protagonists.

Prod cos: Zepter International, Nova Film, Zilion Film, WandaVision
Int'l sales:
Bavaria FilmInternational
Goran Paskaljevic, LazarRistovski
Filip David, GoranPaskaljevic
Milan Spasic
Peter Putnikovic
Prod des.
Tijana Maric
Zoran Simjanovic
Main cast:
Lazar Ristovski, JasnaZelica, Jovana Mitic, Danika Ristoski