Take a hefty amount of Jim Jarmusch, mix in a few heaping tablespoons of David Lynch, leaven it all with Bosnian absurdism and you can more or less envision “Take Me Somewhere Nice,” the stylishly quirky debut feature from Ena Sendijarević that won Rotterdam’s Special Jury Prize for exceptional artistic achievement. The film certainly looks good, thanks to the director’s eye for unusual Academy-ratio compositions and cinematographer Emo Weemhoff’s playful way of executing it onscreen, yet Sendijarević’s screenplay defiantly resists going anywhere, turning this off-kilter story of a Dutch-raised Bosnian teen returning to the motherland to visit her hospitalized father into a one-trick pony. Festivals will understandably consider this an audience pleaser, but Sendijarević likely has better, more mature films in her future.
Bright, candy-toned digital colors and a deadpan view of the world capture the desired emotional climate, which opens nicely with Alma (Sara Luna Zorić) and her mother (Sanja Burić) in their hometown somewhere in the Netherlands. Alma’s on the cusp of womanhood, already sexually knowing and adept at working an ironical glare, yet she’s not quite an adult and enjoys a close relationship with her divorced mother. When they hear that Alma’s father is in a hospital in Bosnia, the young woman feels it necessary to journey there on her own, trusting she can rely on family to guide her through a country she doesn’t really know.
Though she has a goal — to see her father — she’s also aimless, embodying a teenager’s inner world of indecision and inertia, where things happen not because one takes control but through the impetus of someone else. She can’t open the lock on her suitcase, so it remains closed; her nasty cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac) is a dealer in the black market and has no interest in helping her get to her destination, so she remains in limbo, wearing the same clothes each day and washing them out at night. The one thing she knows how to use is her attractiveness, giving her a certain amount of agency and leading to a quick screw with Emir’s friend Denis (Lazar Dragojević).
Finally fed up with not doing anything, she takes a bus to her father, but inevitably lingers too long during a bathroom break — and the coach leaves without her, her unopened suitcase in the hold. Jovana (Jasna Đuričić), an older singer with lesbian overtones, probably a part-time prostitute, picks her up hitchhiking, which leads to a Lynchian moment in a Soviet-era hotel as Jovana performs before a motley audience. By the time Emir’s car conks out after he and Denis kidnap Alma to finally bring her where she wants to go, the narrative becomes even more predictable in hitting the usual buttons of “wacky” East European indie, culminating in a finale as unsure of itself as the protagonist herself.
Wearing its “Stranger Than Paradise” influence in the same unchanging manner Alma wears her one light-blue tennis dress, “Take Me Somewhere Nice” has fun with the ride yet feels too derivative to leave much of an impression beyond a few vibrantly colored images. The humorous, semi-surrealist take on Balkan society is a well-worn, overly familiar path, even when spruced up with idiosyncratic camera angles, and it wears thin. Sendijarević’s most notable achievement is the way she captures Alma’s stage of being halfway between teenage negligence and adulthood, nailing the mixture of childish neediness with a pseudo-sophisticated carapace of studied cool, all with a calculated air of detachment.