Memories before Dying: Reflections on Friendship and Survival
Zhivko Chingo wrote a children's book in the 1970s, a Yugoslavian best seller, 'Golemata voda' ('The Great Water') about the way the children of Macedonia responded to the critical changes Communism created in the country in 1945. It is stunningly brought to the screen by Ivo Trajkov as a labor of love and dedication and as an attempt to pay homage to the philosophical sensibilities of the Macedonian people in a difficult time of transition.
The film begins in the present as old Lem (Meto Jovanovski) is experiencing a heart attack and while he is being wheeled into a hospital and examined and wired, he has memory flashbacks to his childhood in 1945 when the WW II was over, Stalin was in power, and orphans were placed in 'orphanages' (re-education facilities) to learn the Communist life. Young Lem (Saso Kekenovski) was brought to the 'orphanage' when his parents were imprisoned for their anti-Stalin stance, and since he is new to the system, he must quickly adjust to the Dickens-like poor house conditions. He is befriended by his 'instructors' Ariton (Mitko Aposolovski) and Olivera (Verica Nedeska), learning how to adjust to the role of obedient brainwashing. The most influential person in Lem's life arrives in the form of young Isak (Maja Stankovska) whose girlfriend has been in the camp prior to Isak's arrival. The manner in which Lem struggles to repay Isak's kindnesses is by acting as a liaison with camp commander to find Isak's love. It is this friendship's course that serves as the tender core of this film.
The struggles quietly underplaying all of the camp surface activity are many: the dichotomy of a Communist ideology removing the Church from existence with a people dependent upon the spiritual values of religion, the Stalin/Tito issue, the adjustments to the policies of Communist regime in a country where fierce national pride had ruled, and the depersonalization of children into political pawns despite the need for role models and the luxury of growing up with friends and confidants. But it is the powerful effect of retrospect as the old Lem relives this tragic time that fills this film with luminous meaning.
This is one of the few films that has been made in Macedonia (a former portion of Yugoslavia now the Republic of Macedonia) and it is a genuinely touching, finely tuned work of art, one that depends on a large cast of non-professional child actors gathered from the Macedonian schools by Ivo Trajkov. The DVD is accompanied by a statement by Trajkov not only about the film but also about the pride of Macedonians that is enlightening and tender. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp
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