Dir/Scr: Milcho Manchevski. Macedonia 2007. 120mins.
A ghost story that draws on the irrational to explore the historical and cultural redress of displaced Macedonians, Milcho Manchevski's third feature Shadows is ambitious and capably mounted. However it is too fastidious for its own good, and is damaged by dramatically contradictory parts that constantly throw the movie's balance and tone off kilter.
This is only Manchevski's second film in the 13 years since his very promising 1994 debut Before the Rain won the Golden Lion at Venice. He retains a very fine eye for composition, aided by the sensuous, beautiful work of Italian cinematographer Fabio Cianchetti.
The movie's standout quality is the sexy, revealing work of the vibrant, highly alluring young actress Vesna Stanojevska, a professional musician making her film debut. She injects thefilm with an erotic intensity that is too often cancelled out by the director's solemnity and pretentiousness.
The sexual material is likely the movie's only hope to gain any entry into other international markets. Otherwise, the movie is likely to parallel the virtually nonexistent commercial output of the director's second feature, Dust (2001).
The story's violent prologue opens with a terrifying car crash that leaves the tense, handsome young doctor Lazar Perkov (Nacev) clinging to life. A year later, Perkov has fully recovered, having awoken from his coma four days later. Not surprisingly, his preferred name is Lucky. His personal life remains severely damaged, his wife distant and cold. The young professional has clearly been left ill at ease by the professional standing and accomplishment of his imperious mother, a prominent doctor (Ajrula-Tozija).
With his wife and child on holiday on the coast, Perkov lives by himself, his isolation only heightening his fractured consciousness. Perkov is suddenly besieged by strange and inexplicable visions, an old woman speaking in an untranslatable dialect and a strange man carrying a child.
He is sexually attracted to an intoxicating young woman named Menka (Stanojevska), whose own sudden and often unexplainable behavior opens up questions about her own identity. After a linguist translates the old woman's message as, 'Return what is not yours,' evidence turning again to something that occurred in his mother's village, Perkov attempts to untangle his own family history and discover whether they are guilty of hiding something from their past.
Mediating on death and sex, Manchevski ambitiously tries to intertwine culture, history, politics and sex.
Unfortunately the unintended consequence is a film that is too undisciplined and unwieldy to allow for dramatic revelation or emotional resolution.
The director introduces some fascinating dramatic tension, such as Perkov's growing voyeurism and erotic fixation on a beautiful young woman in his apartment building, but in most cases inexplicably abandons the ideas.
Shadows creates an overlay of incident and behaviour that feels increasingly too mannered and hysterical for the movie's darker, more uncomfortable material to gain the necessary tension.
Despite the director's obvious connection to the material, too much of Shadows feels imitative, particularly of Roman Polanski. The concluding revelations carry a charge, though it is too little, too late to save the film.
Nacev finds the right balance of the strange and unaccountable. With her rapturous eyes, Stanojevska elicits the greatest praise, her engaging style brightening every scene she appears.
Senka DOOEL Film Production (Mac)
Classic SRL (It)
blue eyes Fiction (Ger)
Tornasol Films SA (Sp)
Milkman Productions (US)
Bavaria Films International (Ger)