Dir: Ivo Trajkov.Macedonia 2004. 90mins

Set in Yugoslavia duringthe immediate aftermath of World War II, when Stalin was extending his reachover Eastern Europe, The Great Water concerns an all too real subject:orphans who were rounded up and sent to labour camps to be indoctrinated withCommunist ideology.

Containing elements of bothdrama and surrealism, this beautifully acted, directed and photographed filmproves alternately brutal and beautiful, bleak and almost absurdly humorous.

Well-received at the recentAFI Film Festival, where it had its international premiere, Macedonia's entryfor the Best Foreign Language Oscar, should enjoy a modest art-house success incities where strong reviews propel attendance.

Based on a 1971award-winning novel by Macedonian writer Zivko Cingo, The Great Water isa story of emotional dislocation and childhood resilience, of friendship andbetrayal, of the state versus the individual. Like many great works, it playson both a metaphoric and literal level; stunning cinematography and a hauntingmusical score help interweave the two.

The film is told in flashback. A well-dressed,white-haired man - an important politician, we will later learn - is rushed tothe hospital. Hovering near death, he vividly recalls the defining episode ofhis life: at the age of 12, orphaned by war, he was thrown into a labour campwhere children of "the enemies of the Revolution" (politicalprisoners, the wealthy) were beaten, ridiculed and indoctrinated with Sovietpropaganda.

A small, scrawny child, terrified by the brutalityaround him, Lem Nikodinoski (Kekenovski, in an impressive acting debut) triesto maintain his sense of identity, but in a repressive system that toleratesonly political orthodoxy it proves a tall order.

Shortly after his arrival, another young boy isbrought to the camp. There is something mysterious, almost beatific, aboutIsaac (Stankovska) who, the elder Nikodinoski recalls in voice-over,"radiated with some strange light." The young Lem immediately sees Isaacas his own key to survival.

While it's unclear whether Isaac is intended as aChrist figure (certainly the implication is there), there is no question thatCingo and film-maker Trajkov see The Great Water as a condemnation ofauthoritarianism and Communist ideology. That religion and spirituality areassociated with goodness is suggested not just by Isaac but also by an angelicfigure who wanders the prison grounds at night.

What the viewer first assumes to be an apparition -an allegorical symbol - turns out to be the flesh and blood wife of WardenAriton (Mitko Apostolovski), a troubled man who is caught between the systemand his own decent instincts.

The Great Water is a film of few words but much feeling. It's there in composer KirilDzajkovski's haunting score, which at times suggests the mournful singing of amermaid, alone and stranded in some vast ocean. It's there in cinematographerSuki Medencevic's stunning use of lighting and silhouettes, his magical shotsof the sky, and the monochromatic smokiness that clings to scenes and makes usfeel that we are viewing the story through the haze of history.

Nowhere does the feeling come out more forcefullythan in the performances of the two young actors who portray Lem and Isaac.With almost no dialogue, they must carry the emotional weight of the story.

With his sad eyes and penetrating expression and histiny body bent as if constantly anticipating the next blow, Kekenovski offers aheartbreaking portrait of innocence, hope and fear.

For Isaac, a boy whose quiet, even countenance mustconvey assurance but also mystery, Trajkov ended up casting a girl. Viewerswill be none the wiser unless they read about it before seeing the film.

To view the trailer, click here

Prod cos: Artis 3, The World Circle Foundation, Kaval Film
Int'l sales:
Media Luna
Mile Arsovski, VladimirChrenovsky, Robert Jazadziski, Suki
Medencevic, Ivo Trajkov

Vladimir Blazevski, IvoTrajkov, from the book by Zivko Cingo
Suki Medencevic
Pro des:
Kemal Hrustanovic
Atanas Georgiev
Kiril Dzajkovski
Main cast:
Saso Kekenovski, MajaStankovska, Mitko Apostolovski, VericaNedeska