“How I Killed a Saint” presents a slice of Macedonian life in 2001, the year the former Yugoslav republic skirted civil war with its ethnic Albanian citizens. Though weak in the drama department, the story of a brother and sister who love each other but have different political ideas and personal agendas effectively captures the tension of the time. Festivals should be interested in the pic, which marks Teona Strugar Mitevska as a new filmmaker to watch from the region.
Viola (Labina Mitevska, who played the young Albanian girl in “Before the Rain”) returns from college in the U.S. moody and withdrawn. Guns are being fired and bombs exploding in Skopje, the city where her family lives.
Other things have changed, too: Her room has been converted into a home office, and her brother Kokan (Milan Tocinovski-Sako) has gone off the deep end with nationalist politics. He and his friend Nadir (Dzevdet Jasari), who run errands for a bunch of political thugs, strike out at NATO peacekeeping forces because they associate foreign soldiers with imperialism and colonialism — but the film is clearly not on their side.
Kokan engages Viola as a cover in one of his pick-ups. Their trip to the Albanian border to get a bag full of money from some bruisers turns into a harrowing homeward journey through police inspections and land mines.
About the same time, Viola tells Kokan her secret: She has a baby daughter she left behind with a diplomat’s family when she left for America. Her attempt to get the girl back takes the rather disjointed story into its final laps. Script leaves a lot of questions unanswered, and the lack of attention to detail undermines believability.
Labina Mitevska, who produced and starred in the film for her sister-director Teona, is a strong screen presence, but her outbursts of anger and crying could have used some reining in. Handsome, brooding Tocinovski-Sako would have inspired more pity as the rebellious brother had it not been clear he was dramatically doomed from the start. Lea Lipsa, as his girlfriend, limns a nationalistic singing star with vulgar humor.
Most amusing tech credit is Kiril Spaseski’s production design, which includes imaginative wall-size graffiti. Music is a curious mix of new Balkan sounds by Olivier Samouillan.