Review: ‘Ruins’

Using a theater company's production of a play to reveal the intricacies of character and relationship may not be a cutting-edge idea, but "Ruins" does the job so well, it is a pleasure to watch. This carefully balanced work would make a worthy addition to theater and arts fests, and could be just the cup of tea for serious-minded broadcasters.

Using a theater company’s production of a play to reveal the intricacies of character and relationship may not be a cutting-edge idea, but “Ruins” does the job so well, it is a pleasure to watch. Slovenian helmer Janez Burger makes a worthy follow-up to his widely seen debut “Idle Running,” creating an en-grossing drama out of the good, old-fashioned tools of performance, camerawork and tone. This carefully balanced work would make a worthy addition to theater and arts fests, and could be just the cup of tea for serious-minded broadcasters.

The story is woven around Herman (Darko Rundek), a respected middle-aged stage director preparing a previously unknown work by an old Icelandic master, to be played in an open-air theater at dawn. As we soon learn, the real playwright is Herman and his discovery is a hoax. To make matters worse, the piece is opening an international theater festival where the impresario is planning a splashy reception.

In the cast are the director’s old friends, including close buddy Gregor (Matjaz Tribuson) and Her-man’s live-in companion Zana (Natasa Matjasec), a famous actress he’s never worked with. There is also Gregor’s sexy ex-mistress, much to the distress of his jealous wife Ema (Natasa Burger). Herman’s clever idea seems to be to explore real-life tensions between his actors. But the real tension begins when he thinks he sees Zana and Gregor having a quickie in the bathroom. So begin rehearsals from hell.

A drama of jealousy unfolds as the problematic premiere approaches. Herman’s suspicions are raised to Othello-like proportions, turning all his fine talk about love and relationship into farce. But the show must go on, and its strange, barbaric performance makes for strong dramatic closure in one of Burger’s many bold directing decisions.

Well written by Ana Lasic and Burger, and beautifully paced, the film drops viewers into the emotional world of stage performers, who live in musty old hotels and never stop thrashing out the difference be-tween “true emotion” and theatrical posing. In the main role of Herman, Croatian musician and composer Rundek is an ambiguous manipulator, just this side of a spoof on pretentious intellectuals. Matjasec’s intense, neurotic Zana wins sympathy despite a fit of artistic temper onstage. Tribuson delivers a multi-layered perf as the dynamically engaging Gregor, one of the few to add a welcome touch of humor.

Simon Tansek’s fluid, modern widescreen lensing keeps things moving and reveals an uncommon po-etry in the final scenes, where Ana Matijevic and Aleksandra Gregl’s costumes also shine. Drago Ivanusa’s score adds depth.

Ruins

Slovenia

Production

An Emotion Film production in association with TV Slovenia. (International sales: Emotion Film, Ljubljana.) Produced by Dan-jiel Hocevar. Directed by Janez Burger.

Crew

Screenplay, Ana Lasic, Burger. Camera (color, widescreen), Simon Tansek; editor, Milos Kalusek; music, Drago Ivanusa; production designer, Ursa Loboda; costume designers, Ana Matijevic, Aleksandra Gregl; sound (Dolby digital SR-D), Damijan Kunej, Bostjan Kacicnik. Reviewed at Rotterdam Film Festival (Cinema of the World), Feb. 1, 2005. Running time: 100 MIN.

With

Herman - Darko Rundek Zana - Natasa Matjasec Gregor - Matjaz Tribuson
With: Natasa Burger, Milan Stefe, Vesna Jevnikar, Visnja Ficor, Rafael Voncina, Gregor Cusin, Janja Majzelj, Janez Skof, Polde Bibic.
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