Srdan Vuletic’s second feature — following the prize-winning “Summer in the Golden Valley” — is an engaging, urban fairy tale that marks a move by the writer-director toward more commercial filmmaking. Sarajevo-set yarn about a man who wants to change his life and take charge of his destiny, “It’s Hard to Be Nice” could also be a parable for the course Bosnia itself should travel. Sparkily written tale comes full circle in a satisfying way, with the sights of the capital city offering a historical counterpoint to the action. “Nice” should play nice at fests, with arthouse exposure a possibility.
Fortyish taxi driver Fudo (Sasa Petrovic, winner of Sarajevo fest’s actor gong) supplements his meager earnings by giving tips to a criminal gang and turning a blind eye to other illegal activities. After he’s beaten in retaliation for a bad suggestion, his fed-up wife, Azra (Daria Lorenci), leaves home, taking their baby son, whom Fudo adores.
Determined to win Azra back, Fudo decides to toe the straight and narrow. He borrows money from cantankerous colleague Sejo (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic), who’s got a thriving business in black market goods and buys a fancy Renault minivan. But his first customer, a heavily pregnant woman, ultimately leads to some unexpected revelations.
When Fudo refuses to be tempted by Sejo and his other criminal cohorts, his new attitude doesn’t go down well with anyone but his wife. As his former colleagues attempt to force his hand, Fudo finds it’s really hard to be nice.
Commenting on a postwar society where values have been damaged as much as buildings, and where being good means contradicting a the status quo that accepts buying stolen items and paying bribes instead of taxes, the pic argues that good intentions are not enough; individuals need to take concrete action and make sacrifices to put society back on the right track.
Macho atmosphere is very much of a piece with the best-known Balkan cinema, mixing sex, violence and humor into a rollicking whole. Its serious ideas play out in a comic key, reflecting Fudo’s comment that during the war, the only aid that helped was jokes.
Perfs are energetic across the board. The look of the film — mostly boxy medium close-ups — gets a bit boring on the bigscreen but should look fine in broadcast. Other technical credits are fine, with a notable score by Sasa Losic and Srdan Krupjel.