(In Serbian; English subtitles)
Though set in 1963, the Yugoslav political drama “The Little One” is so timely it can be viewed as an allegory about the all-destructive power of a state completely controlled by The Party. Ploddingly directed, film’s emotional impact is totally based on its harrowing story, focusing on the disruptive intrusions of Communist politics into personal lives. But engaging plot and stirring ideas barely overcome artistic flaws, relegating film to fest circuit and retrospectives of Eastern European cinema.
Like the award-winning “When Father Was Away on Business,””The Little One” tells of a family that broke up when the father was sent to a labor camp for alleged crimes against the state.
Another link between the two movies is Mirjana Karanovic, who played the long-suffering mother in the 1985 pic and appears here as Bozidarka, a woman who has chosen to testify against her husband rather than lose her young child Militza (the little one).
Story begins when husband Kosta is released from prison and begins searching for his child. It’s been 14 years since Kosta’s arrest and his aging father in-law doesn’t recognize him. Bozidarka persistently tells Miliza that her father died; she won’t even allow his name mentioned in the house.
Best feature of “The Little One” is its thick melodramatic plot, detailing the devastating effects of a police state on half a dozen characters. The pic highlights the different ways in which politics in socialist-communist countries impinges on and interferes with the day-to-day existence of ordinary people.
Film forcefully documents the pervasive fear and paranoia felt in a state-controlled country, and shows how average people lose their humanity, dignity and self-respect as a direct result of the Party’s abusive power and excessive control.
However, the film lacks a consistent point of view and has no visual style. Lenser Radoslav Pavolivic, who also scripted, seems to be more concerned with straightforward story-telling than in shaping the material or creating a visually satisfying film.
Predrag Antonijevic’s undistinguished direction wastes the efforts of his talented cast. As a result, even potentially powerful scenes lack the acute poignancy they could have had.
In pic’s last half-hour, the melodramatics come fast and furious: daughter is raped by her mother’s playboy lover, who is stabbed by daughter’s thief friend, mother attempts suicide, father shoots lover–and more. The director goes from one harrowing episode to another, rushing toward the desired reunion of father and daughter, which appropriately ends his nightmarish tale.
Still, in the context of Yugoslavia’s current upheaval, helmer’s sense of urgency in unraveling the story, while neglecting production values, may be justified.