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Death, as it is - Review of the film Death of a Man in the Balkans
© Ionela-Zamfira Nastasache
First Publication: 29/04/2013
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An artist kills himself – a human being less, a death more.

Smrt coveka na Balkanu / Death of a Man in the Balkans is a 2012 Serbian satire about people who live at the same floor of the same building, who are neighbors, but know nothing about each other. 

The film opens with a weeping man adjusting his web-cam before shooting himself. After he commits suicide, the spectators become witnesses of an absurd, black comedy played by the neighbors who enter his apartment to wait for the police and the paramedics. The film is shot entirely from the point of view of a web-cam and becomes a mise-en-scene that takes place in real time, just like a theatre show in which the characters have no idea that they have an audience. 

After the shot, first comes Aca, the next door neighbor, who heard the noise while having lunch with his wife. Then comes Vesko, who was awakened by his wife especially to become part of “the tragedy”. While Aca and Vesko discuss about the dead man on the carpet, revealing the fact that their neighbor was a great composer and trying to remember his name, their wives are busy fixing their hair for the TV reporters that they hope to come. While waiting for the police and the paramedics to come, the two men have a great time in their dead neighbor’s apartment: first they drink his brandy, invoking a Balkan tradition which implies drinking for the dead man’s soul, then they start playing with some musical instruments the composer brought from Africa, then they start playing chess. The next to come in the apartment is an enterprising undertaker ready to offer his most expensive services which will be paid by the Government, then a real estate agent trying to sell the apartment, a bunch of distracted paramedics, a pizza delivery boy and some prickly policemen. The humor comes from the reaction of all these characters to the situation and their interaction in front of the dead body. All these strange and silly people that gathered in the apartment are trying to do the right thing, to respect the composer’s memory, to stage a nice funeral, but they are compromised by their own problems: Aca remembers that his neighbor promised him a German tool set that now he will not have, Vesko is furious that a suicide in the building will drop the price of their apartments, the undertaker and the real estate agent are trying to survive the competition, the paramedics have personal problems or gambling problems, the delivery boy wants to be paid for the pizza that the composer ordered for the people gathered at his place and the policeman is more preoccupied by a telephone quarrel with his wife.

It only takes the arrival of the investigator to alert all of them to the presence of the web-cam, which has been filming all along. Now aware of the unblinking eye of the camera, the members of the randomly assembled group suddenly feel the need to justify their previous statements and actions and to properly pay their respects while still waiting probably for the TV reporters.

Miroslav Momcilovic, the writer and the director of Smrt coveka na Balkanu / Death of a Man in the Balkans offers a very good image of the contemporary Serbian society. The carousel of symbolic characters proves that death is more complicated than an ordinary existence that we are all used with. In the directing concept, the individual generates the complicated resorts of the general, which underlines a petty reality (the neighbors), a mercantile one (the undertaker and the real estate agent), an indolent and blazed one (the paramedics), an unprofessional one (the police men). The investigator is the one to change everything: everyone changes his attitude because the idea of being watched, the possibility of becoming a real character for the TV or for the press modifies entirely the behavior of the witnesses, who become hypocrites once again. In the end, life is the most deadly desease.

  Death Of A Man In Balkans
  Miroslav Momcilovic
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