After a composer commits suicide in his Belgrade apartment, the neighbors enter to wait for police and paramedics in “Death of a Man in the Balkans.” Plausible but absurd, this stylized black comedy is a scorching expose of the national character and human frailty. Shooting from the fixed perspective of a computer webcam, Serbian helmer Miroslav Momcilovic crafts a witty, brilliantly choreographed exercise in mise-en-scene that takes place in real time and has more entrances and exits than a French farce. Expect further fest action for this high-concept, smartly thesped pic, which nabbed Karlovy Vary’s Forum of Independents prize.
After the fatal gunshot rings out and the body of the dead man (Nikola Kojo) falls slightly outside the frame, the first on the scene is concerned, controlling handyman Aca (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic). Soon, Aca is joined by the literally full-of-beans Vesko (Radoslav Milenkovic), from the apartment below. While their wives (Natasa Ninkovic and Anita Mancic, respectively) wander in and out, the men appreciate the deceased’s decor, taste in raki (more than slightly overdoing the traditional drink to the dead), and German tool set, and struggle to remember his first name.
The appearance of an opportunistic undertaker (Bojan Zirovic), who has been tipped off by the ambulance crew, shocks Aca and Vesko, who close ranks against him. But more shocking still is the cavalier behavior of the paramedics (Milica Mihajlovic, Bojan Lazarov) and police (Ljubomir Bandovic, Branislav Trifunovic) when they finally arrive, and display more concern for their personal mobile phone conversations than for the dead man. The entrances of a glib real-estate agent (Nikola Djuricko) with a reluctant client (Mirjana Karanovic) in tow, and finally a pizza deliveryman, add to the humor.
But it takes the arrival of the forensic investigator (Aleksandar Djurica) to alert the room to the presence of the webcam, which has been filming all along. Now aware of the unblinking eye of the camera, the members of the randomly assembled group suddenly feel the need to justify their previous statements and actions.
Helmer Momcilovic, who is also a playwright, fashions terrifically snappy dialogue. Ever alert to comic timing, he’s also an inventive director who keeps the one-shot proceedings from feeling stage-bound through intelligent blocking that also uses the space outside the frame.
The topnotch cast, most of whom perform in the theater as well as film and television, are perfectly in tune with the helmer’s intent, and hit their marks with precision.
Particularly worthy of note within the impressive craft package are Diana Lazarov’s functional production design and Jelena Petrovic’s spot-on costumes, which go a long way to informing character.