A warm romantic comedy with local Serbian flavor, “Loving Glances” marks the return of acclaimed Belgrade helmer Srdjan Karanovic to directing after a 12-year absence due to the war in former Yugoslavia and its aftermath. Film’s difficult production circumstances are invisible, however, in the mildly surreal inter-ethnic love story between two young refugees. Determinedly optimistic, with an old-fashioned look and cheery music track, it’s a far cry from the edgy black comedies released in Serbia this summer. Coupled with the usual difficulty of exporting national humor, festivals are likely to be its main venue.
In 1995 Belgrade, with the war still raging, people try to live normal lives, fall in love, get married. Among them are many refugees coming from all over the disintegrating country. Labud (Senad Alihodzic), a Serbian student from Sarajevo who is dodging the draft, is typical. Penniless and unemployed, separated from his mother, his dog and his girlfriend Vida (Jelena Dokic) — who has gone to Chicago — he turns to a marriage broker (Milena Dravic) to find love.
The computer pairs him with pretty Romana (Ivana Bolanca.) Though she poses as a sophisticated Belgrader, he follows her home one night and discovers she’s a poor refugee like him, and of mixed Serbian-Muslim parentage to boot.
With no one around to forbid the romance, script invents a disapproving host of characters springing from the couple’s imagination. His mother in Croatia, his old professor in Prague, her sister in Sydney, her dead father and macho ex from Slovenia, not to mention a parade of comical “Serbian ancestors,” infiltrate scenes and temporarily split them up. But his mother’s cynical idea that “love fades; only religion and nationality remain” is finally disproved. The ethnic purity these figments of imagination demand is a laugh in a country where just about everyone turns out to have mixed roots.
Food rationing, nighttime army recruiting, the struggle to get visas to leave the country and sleeping in makeshift shelters show what life in Belgrade was like during the war, but Karanovic’s comic treatment keeps the story light and fluffy.
According to the film, the power of love can conquer national prejudices. The message might have been stronger had there been more chemistry between Alihodzic, with his Beatle haircut and puppy dog eyes, and the soap-and-water Bolanca. Dokic, playing his missing hairdresser girlfriend, is even sketchier, leaving only veteran thesp Dravic to create a semblance of character as a businesswoman with a heart.
Lensing by Radan Popovic and Branka Ceperac’s leisurely editing give film a less-than-cutting-edge look. The dated impression is made even stronger by Zoran Simjanovic’s score based on ’60s pop sounds and an overused theme song sung in various languages.