Dir. Stefan Arsenijevic, Ger/Serb/Aust/Slovenia 2008, 105mins
In Love and Other Crimes, Anica (Dobra) is a woman approaching middle age who decides to leave her dreary high-rise Belgrade suburb with the money that she plans to steal from a solarium run by an older mobster (Stojanovic) who is her boss and lover. The film takes place in the course of a single day, during which the mass of faceless housing blocks reveals its ugliness and quirks, as well as its humanity.
Love and Other Crimes blends violent shakedowns and magic realism, gang rivalries and confessions of love. It should travel well on the festival circuit and can count on some European theatrical openings. English-speaking territories will be a hard sell, especially the US, where Grbavica, the last wintry ex-Yugoslav film to play in US theaters after a Berlin premiere, earned less than $44,000 at the American box office. Home video interest will likely depend on the rise of director Stefan Arsenijevic's promising career.
In New Belgrade, Anica works for Milutin (Stojanovic), who controls protection payments in part of the vast housing estate, but can't control his mute 14 year old daughter (Hanna Schwarnborn), who threatens to jump from the roof, singing the Latin ballad Besame Mucho, as the action begins. After Milutin's gentle enforcer Stanislav (Kostic) talks her out of it, Milutin's dog is found poisoned to death by his rival crime boss, Radovan. In revenge, Milutin's men release Radovan's pet parrot from its cage. These are not your everyday mobsters.
As Anica plots her crime, we meet strange souls like Stanislav's mother (Dravic), an ageing songstress who performs Besame Mucho at night. (If you don't like this song, this is not the movie for you.) The much-younger Stanislav tells Anica of the love he's had for her since his teenage years, and she reveals her plan to him. Naturally, the oddness of the characters ensures that nothing unfolds exactly as expected.
Arsenijevic, best-known for his much-praised and much-awarded 2003 short (A)Torsion, directs with assurance.
He gets solid, sometimes poignant performances out of his cast, especially Dobra, with a deft hand for blending the pain and humor of life in concrete blocks that extend as far as the eye can see. DP Simon Tansek gets the palette just right.
Yet Arsenijevic is weighed down by his own script, as multiple plots and personal stories pile up - enough for a Serbian Sopranos. Although her flight from the tower blocks of Belgrade begins to feel like a long march, Dobra finds the right balance of sentimentality and opportunism as a woman determined to find her way out of a solarium where the tanning machine doesn't work. Vostic hits the right tone for a wise guy who is also a nice guy.
And Stojanovic as a mobster facing death and irrelevance makes you pity the crook. All reflect well on Arsenijevic, from whom much will be expected.
Art & Popcorn
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