A baby helps a rambunctious alcoholic regain his humanity in “Jasmina,” a sentimental but ultimately affecting fable about loss, loneliness, responsibility and human goodness from Bosnian director-writer Nedzad Begovic (“Totally Personal”). Unfolding in a broadly played, deliberately naive style, this bittersweet dramedy won’t be to all tastes, but could find some niche opportunities after making the international fest rounds.
In 1993, during the siege of Sarajevo, a physician (Mediha Musliovic) sends her ailing mother, Safa (Nada Durevska), and adorable infant daughter, Jasmina (Amila Dikoli), to a Croatian village on the Adriatic coast. All is peaceful for the refugee pair except for a nightly ruckus created by their boozy neighbor Stipe (Zijah Sokolovic), a disheveled bum who hangs around the harbor with his drunken pals (Zlatan Zuric, Ilija Zovko, Mirvad Kuric) in the daytime, menacing passersby for money.
When Safa’s health takes a turn for the worse, she is forced to entrust her granddaughter’s fate to Stipe, prompting cliched but humorous scenes of him gingerly holding the child, trying to change her diapers and playing housekeeper to the best of his limited abilities. It’s no surprise that the baby eventually brings out the best in this broken man, but what proves unexpected — and unexpectedly moving — are the revelations about Stipe’s past.
As in “Totally Personal,” Begovic tenderly imbues his work with a comic whimsy that accumulates power through repetition. Stipe’s continued attempts to do a headstand (something he was once told would harmonize mind, body and soul) pay off with something magical in the pic’s last shot.
Those with a low tolerance for the way some people babble on at babies, as if the infants might comprehend the conversation, should be forewarned that there’s a lot of that here. Luckily, the cuteness factor is tempered by the drunks’ comically antisocial behavior.
Seasoned Sarajevo-born thesp Sokolovic puts considerable heart into his performance and honestly earns the audience tears that begin flowing during the final moments. As for the serene screen presence of the photogenic title character, apparently the secret is the presence of her father, d.p. Almir Dikoli, behind the camera.
Craft credits are nicely sized for the smallscreen. Beginning in darkness, the lighting scheme grows brighter throughout, matching Stipe’s progress toward redemption, while the production design relies heavily on the natural beauty of the Croatian location. A grating orchestral score is overused during the opening moments; elsewhere, a plaintive, sparingly deployed accordion neatly matches the action.