Set in 2004 and unfolding through the eyes of a lonely lad who lives in the isolated Serbian Orthodox quarter of a majority Albanian Muslim village in Kosovo, “Enclave” starts as a poignant and intense coming-of-ager from Serbian helmer-writer Goran Radovanovic that questions whether coexistence is possible between the two communities. The pic’s first two-thirds provide an atmospheric and compelling watch, but a major stylistic and narrative shift in the final act damages the goodwill and credibility accumulated until that point. Kudos, such as the Moscow Film Festival audience award, will entice further fest play for Serbia’s foreign-language Oscar submission.
The only child left in his neighborhood, wistful 10-year-old Nenad (the appealing Filip Subaric), rides to school every day in a dark, claustrophobic Kosovo Force (KFOR) armored vehicle driven by cynical Italian soldiers. As it bumps along the mountain roads, he stares out the small window slits. He can see two Muslim boys racing over the hills, and a slightly older youth, Bashkim (Denis Muric, so good as the feral boy in last year’s “No One’s Child”), tending a flock of sheep. The area seems idyllically peaceful … until the boys start stoning the vehicle.
Nenad is the sole student in his class held at the United Nations building in the nearest city. Helmer Radovanovic cleverly uses the boy’s homework assignment — to describe his best friend — as a means of providing exposition. Nenad’s best friend turns out to be his ailing 86-year-old grandfather, Milutin (Metodi Jovanovski), who was born in the village and is determined to die there. Nenad’s depressed, widower father, Voja (Nebojsa Glogovac), is a nasty drunk. The lad’s dearest wish is to have someone to play with, but he must make do with the occasional board game with his grandpa or entertainments devised by Father Draza (Miodrag Krivokapic), the last Orthodox priest in the area, who sometimes joins him in the KFOR personnel carrier.
When Nenad finally meets the two Albanian lads (Nenad Stanojkovic, Milan Sekulic), he is able to establish the grounds for friendship by arranging for them to ride in the KFOR with him. But as Bashkim’s kin prepare for a wedding and Nenad’s family makes arrangements for a funeral, another encounter with the boys proves dangerous, especially when Bashkim, who bears a grudge against Serbs for killing his father, joins them.
For the most part, Radovanovic and talented German lenser Axel Schneppat (who both hail from documentary backgrounds) create an air of tense realism, with chilling scenes showing an attack on the bus bringing Nenad’s Belgrade aunt (Anica Dobra) to her dying father’s bedside, and the attitude of the local police. Unfortunately, however, after building the narrative to a crucial point, the helmer seems as trapped as Nenad. He resorts to some schizophrenic editing and jumps in time, before closing with a coda that brings the boy’s unfortunate educational experience full circle.
The fine playing of the ensemble cast and the careful accumulation of visual details combine to create great empathy for the sensitive young protagonist, who maintains his humanity and likability despite his grim, deprived childhood. The good-looking craft package is led by Schneppat’s lensing, which continually frames shots through windows and doors, to reinforce the constricted environment that Nenad and his family experience in contrast to the wide-open spaces enjoyed by the Albanians. The music by Eleni Karaindrou (Theo Angelopoulos’ “The Weeping Meadow”) and Irena Popovic is appropriately melancholy.