Film provides occasional visual delights but fails to engage emotionally.

A self-consciously arty drama about three sisters stuck in a dying Macedonian town, “I Am From Titov Veles” provides occasional visual delights but fails to engage emotionally. Writer-helmer Teona Strugar Mitevska’s slender narrative, which tries to channel Chekhov, ultimately implodes under the weight of its color-coded production design and histrionic characters. Fests and femme-centered events will be pic’s most likely home.

Story unfolds through the eyes of dreamy, disturbed Afrodita (producer Labina Mitevska, the helmer’s sister), who lacks a firm grip on reality. It’s unclear whether her condition is due to pollution from the local steel factory or some childhood trauma (she has refused to speak since she was 5 and fears being abandoned).

Afrodita shares a ramshackle house with older sibs Slavica (Ana Kostovska) and Sapho (Nikolina Kujaca), where — taking sisterly devotion to an extreme — they sleep three to a bed. Seeing them repeatedly lying in each other’s arms makes for a pretty picture, but it isn’t motivated by the plot. Rather, it’s just one of many over-aesthetic choices that undermine audience involvement with the characters and storyline.

Hulking Slavica, a former junkie hooked on methadone, works at the factory and hopes to marry Viktor (Peter Musevski), a boorish entrepreneur. Sexy Sapho apparently sleeps with any man she thinks might help her get a visa.

Meanwhile, slender Afrodita runs all over town, climbing in and out of windows; at home, she’s given to lying naked on the kitchen table, pretending she’s pregnant. Still a virgin at 27, Afrodita decides to sleep with Aco (Kheudef Jashari), one of Sapho’s admirers. The experience is an unhappy contrast to her dreams of love.

Thesps do their best, but the characters are neither three-dimensional nor very likeable. Afrodita is obviously meant to be the most sympathetic, but her irritating feyness and the relentless depiction of her downward spiral make it difficult to identify with her.

Afrodita’s fantasies about childbirth provide some of the best visual moments. Surreal and fascinating, they depict babies popping out of a woman’s mouth and being carried away in green-swathed bundles by bald men in gold briefs.

In addition to the fantasy sequences, Virginie Saint Martin’s fine Super 35 widescreen lensing is at its most ravishing in exterior scenes, in which the characters are framed in disturbing industrial landscapes.

I Am From Titov Veles

Macedonia - France - Slovenia - Belgium

Production

A Sisters & Brother Mitevski (Macedonia)/Silkroad Prod. (France)/Entre Chien & Loup (Belgium)/Vertigo, Emotionfilm (Slovenia)/Climax Films (Belgium) production. Produced by Labina Mitevska. Co-producers, Setareh Farsi, Behrooz Hashemian, Diana Elbaum, Sebastien Delloye, Danijel Hochevar, Olivier Rausin. Directed, written by Teona Strugar Mitevska.

Crew

Camera (color, Super 35, widescreen), Virginie Saint Martin; editor, Jacques Witta; music, Olivier Samoullian; production designers, Olivier Meidinger, Vuk Mitevski; costume designer, Minikia Lorber; sound (Dolby Digital), Dana Farazanehpour. Reviewed at Sarajevo Film Festival (competing), Aug. 18, 2007. (Also in Toronto Film Festival -- Discovery.) Running time: 102 MIN.

With

Labina Mitevska, Ana Kostovska, Nikolina Kujaca, Kheudef Jashari, Peter Musevski. (Macedonian dialogue)

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