When a celebrated violinist dies suddenly, his grieving widow discovers some secrets he never shared, in smoothly directed dramatic ensembler “Estrellita” from Slovenian writer-director Metod Pevec. Unfortunately, as is often the case in international co-productions, the script over-eggs the pudding, so “Estrellita” never achieves the quirky charm of Pevec’s previous feature “Beneath Her Window.” Nevertheless, the pic has been in steady demand at smaller fests. After a moderately successful run on home turf this spring, it will open in Germany, Bosnia and Macedonia in the fall. Euro TV programmers should take a look.
The story is set in Ljubljana in the late 1990s — although it might plausibly unfold in any big city where there are immigrants — with events set in motion by piano instructor Dora (Silva Cusin), an attractive middle-aged blonde who put her own career on hold to support her violin virtuoso hubby. After learning he had been cheating on her before his sudden death, she gives his valuable instrument (an Estrellita model) to Amir (Marko Kovacevik), a poor but talented Bosnian teen living in a slum with his parents.
Subsequently, too much time is spent on the troubled marriage of Amir’s alcoholic gambler father, Izet (Senad Basic) and ultra-patient mother, Sabina (Mediha Musliovic). Sabina’s reply to Dora’s offer of lessons for Amir, “Perhaps it’s better for a Bosnian boy to play soccer,” underscores the financial plight of these war refugees.
Meanwhile, a sweetly observed relationship develops between Amir and Dora’s piano student Nina (Ana Temeljotov). However, simmering tensions surrounding Dora’s hiring of hubby’s mistress Ignacia (Karin Komljanec) to coach Amir never come to a boil, and the sudden development of an affair between Sabina and Dora’s son Julian (Tadej Troha) feels unnecessary.
A former thesp, filmer Pevec elicits mostly strong perfs from the ensemble cast (a mix of Slovenians, Bosnians and Macedonians), with always-watchable Cusin and newcomer Kovacevik the standouts.
Spot-on costuming and production design elaborate the characters’ separate worlds. Clean, sharp lensing from Teuton cameraman Axel Schneppat is everything it should be.
In addition to Nino de Gleria and Mario Schneider’s expressive score, the soundtrack incorporates stately classical pieces and lively Balkan folk tunes.