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Three young men chasing their dreams in Belgrade '92
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The Box is the tragicomic urban tale of three young men chasing their dreams while trapped under the yoke of UN sanctions in early nineties Belgrade. With the onset of isolation, the film shows Belgrade in a moment of transition between everyday normality and the abnormal conditions about to be imposed on it.
It is 1992 and governments are recalling their embassies in the face of the coming storm, leaving the packing to our three protagonists, who work for a removals business that specializes in moving diplomats. This should be good for them as they box the lives of the diplomatic corps, but they live in a country that is being cut off.
Rather than be crushed by this, these young men carry on their own lives until they are moved to find new outlets for their dreams, showing comical resourcefulness to break out of their isolation.
Directed by Andrijana Stojković and shot mostly in high contrast black and white, The Box is an engaging film version of the book by Belgrade author Slavoljub Stanković, which itself originated from a screenplay co-authored by Stojković and Stanković.
Using our natural habit of putting our lives into compartments as a metaphor, The Box conjures up memories of a time when trade sanctions were looming, UEFA champions Red Star Belgrade could not host games at their hallowed home ground, and foreign ambassadors seemed to be changing guard at an alarming pace.
Most people still have boxes in their attic or garage that remain unopened since their last move. Memories and experiences packed away, out of sight, out of mind. This film poses the question of which boxes Serbia is still storing in the attic, hidden but not entirely forgotten. Equally, that are not yet ready to unpack and confront their memories.
Set against the backdrop of a country on the verge of being cut off from the outside world, this story presents genuine insights into how people deal with the many aspects of normal life, even when the humdrum hides harsh realities and their future is nothing but uncertain.
Budget for The Box did not stretch to filming in the plush ambassadorial residences described in the book, but necessity is the mother of invention and Stojković chose to film pieces to camera, documentary and confessional in tone, with the diplomats. This fluke has turned the film from what might have been a pleasant take into an absorbing record of a rime of such great uncertainty.
The film is shot in an almost fly-on-the-wall style, with floor level framing and long distance shots book-ending monologues from embassy staff. Thankfully, the sparse writing style and tight interaction that was so successful in the book is still intact in the film's stunningly crisp imagery and restrained dialogue.
At a time when travel was not an option and Yugoslavia was a pariah state to many, Cvrle, Vladan and Billy, are literally entering onto foreign soil, touching different cultures and meeting foreign people as they pack up the possessions of the embassy staff.
As work increases due to the diplomatic exodus, the three see the world boxing them in. Each has their own simple dream in life, but all that seems to be slipping away from their grasp. Enough is finally enough and the three plot to escape from their individual problems by coming up with quite extraordinary means to break out of the box and achieve their goals.
The musical device works especially well in Cvrle's close-framed closing number, where the emotional struggle and determination to survive at all costs can be seen in his eyes. Indeed, the music adds to the effect of creating a Serbian film that should attract a cult following beyond its natural shelf life.
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