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Toronto Film Review: ‘The Other Side of Everything’

Director Mila Turajlić examines Serbia's political history through the eyes of her activist mother in this engrossing doc.

Cast:
Srbijanka Turajlić, Stevan Turajlić, Nina Turajlić, Nada Lazarević (Serbian dialogue)

After exploring, in festival favorite “Cinema Komunisto” (2010), how the leaders of Yugoslavia used movies to create a national identity, Belgrade-born documentary maker Mila Turajlić mixes the personal and the political to engrossing effect in “The Other Side of Everything,” a combination family memoir and subjective look at the history of Serbia in the late 20th and early 21st  centuries. Turajlić’s guide to the country’s governance after the death of Tito up to the present day is her mother, Srbijanka Turajlić, a renowned pro-democracy activist and former Belgrade University professor. After further fest action, “Everything” will find a natural home in broadcast, where its home-movie vibe will suit the small screen.

For the filmmaker, divided spaces provide a way to understand the country’s politics; she uses the apartment in which both she and her mother grew up to illustrate this conceit. During the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, her great-grandfather settled his family into a roughly 2,600-square-foot space on the second floor of a building in a Central Belgrade neighborhood that was also home to the Ministry of Defense, the Supreme Court and foreign embassies.

During Tito’s regime, when Srbijanka was still an infant, the communists divided their apartment into homes for several other families too. Srbijanka grew up in the newly reduced space, always conscious of locked-off rooms where one could hear the new tenants and smell their cooking. Hers was an anti-Communist, pro-Democratic, pro-Yugoslavia household, and her parents were under surveillance by Tito’s secret police. Friends that came to visit were told to ring three times since the police were known to ring only once. Small spy holes in each of the entrance doors made a clicking sound as they opened and closed, so Srbijanka and Mila always knew when they were being observed by the other tenants.

Srbijanka’s parents were lawyers, but they discouraged their forthright daughter (who traveled to Paris in 1968 to join the student protests) from pursuing their profession, since she would have to join the Communist Party. Instead, Srbijanka studied electrical engineering, married a professor of applied mathematics and became a professor at the University of Belgrade. This put her at the center of events in the 1990s, as the university was where the resistance against Slobodan Milošević, then president of Serbia and Montenegro, started. As Mila grew up, the family home was the gathering place for intellectual discussions, activist meetings and often just a refuge from the madness taking place outside.

Using archival photos and footage as well as commentary from Srbijanka, Mila shows her mother as forthrightly outspoken during the war, openly criticizing the nationalist frenzy that took over Serbia. Srbijanka was part of Otpor!, a peaceful civic protest group against Milošević that mutated into a political watchdog organization, monitoring the activities of the post-Milošević ruling parties. Otpor! eventually merged into the Democratic Party, and Srbijanka even served as a junior minister in the first democratic government.

In both archival footage and as she talks to friends and to her daughters (Mila’s older sister Nina, a professor in the University of Belgrade department of Information Systems, is seen compiling complicated statistics in advance of an upcoming election), it’s clear that Srbijanka is a powerful orator with a strong moral code and fervent personal convictions. When Mila asks why she never wanted to leave the country like so many other intellectuals, Srbijanka replies that she felt it was her duty to help make her country better. Certainly, she never ran scared. She proudly wore her Otpor! T-shirt to rallies even when the police were beating supporters of the group. And she refused to be intimidated when she was dubbed a treasonous Serb-hater by the new nationalists. Mila’s film honors Srbijanka’s legacy of activism and brings her spirit of honor and responsibility to a new generation and a wider audience.

Toronto Film Review: ‘The Other Side of Everything’

Reviewed at Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF Docs), Sept. 12, 2017. Running time: 100 MIN. (Original title: ‘Druga strana svega’)

Production: (Documentary — Serbia-France-Qatar) An HBO Europe presentation of a Dribbling Pictures production in co-production with Survivance in association with ARTE-WDR, with the support of the Serbian Film Center — Ministry of Culture Republic of Serbia, Aide Aux Cinemas Du Monde, Eurimages, Doha Film Institute. (International sales: HBO Europe, Prague.) Producers: Carine Chichkowsky, Mila Turajlić. Executive producer: Iva Plemić Divjak.

Crew: Director, writer: Mila Turajlić. Camera (color, HD): Turajlić. Editors: Sylvie Gadmer, Aleksandra Milovanović. Music: Jonathan Morali.

With: Srbijanka Turajlić, Stevan Turajlić, Nina Turajlić, Nada Lazarević (Serbian dialogue)

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