A cut above most vidshot fiction features trying to pass as verite, ingenious Croat tech and thesping exercise “What Iva Recorded on October 21, 2003” captures one family’s agonizing implosion on tape via the title teen’s ever-watchful birthday present. Pic’s sweep of five major Pula fest awards, including best film and critics’ prize, points to further fest success, limited arthouse play with auds who appreciate inky-black humor, and as one of those off-the-wall vidstore surprises cinephiles like to brag of discovering.
“I’m just shooting what I find interesting,” says Iva (Masha Mati-Prodan), when mom Zeljka (Anja Sovagovic-Despot) complains that the birthday gift from step-dad Bozo (Ivo Gregurevic) is intruding on her privacy. “I call him dad because you want me to,” Iva points out darkly, hinting at the fun and games to come.
Bozo is a piece of work. When he’s not arguing with Zeljka over the shrimp for dinner, he’s scheming how to best take advantage of the family’s guest for the evening, German parquet magnate Hoffman (Karl Menrad). When Zeljka’s irreverent brother Darko shows up stag, she forces him to call a date — who turns out to be hooker Nina (Barbara Prpic).
Fueled by alcohol and recriminations, the dinner is a disaster. When Zeljka spills the shrimp all over Nina, the grimly merry bunch adjourn to a restaurant, where things continue to go downhill in front of Iva’s lens.
Talent attacks the script with relish, skillfully playing combustible familial confrontations to the point of shrillness, without resorting to histrionics.
Written in collaboration with Ognjen Svilicic, whose second feature as helmer, “Sorry for Kung Fu,” shares the same economical sense of satire — and is also handled Stateside by Lifesize Entertainment — director Tomislav Radic sustains the p.o.v., illusion seamlessly for pic’s full 96 minutes. This Balkan spin on “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf” is apparently only the sure-handed Radic’s sixth feature in a career spanning nearly 35 years.
Credit is due as well to lenser Vedran Samanovic — whose resume includes experimental films and “Sorry for Kung Fu” — for clever shortcuts that convincingly sell the concept: sprinkled throughout the film are shots of Iva placing the camera on tables in front of mirrors, then walking away as scenes unfold. Montreal fest catalogue lists the title simply as “What Iva Recorded,” though the longer moniker appears on the film’s title card.