Heading to the Sarajevo Film Festival to celebrate the world premiere of “The Elegy of Laurel,” Dušan Kasalica is already lining up his next projects. As a director, but also as a producer, developing the upcoming film by Ivan Salatić, “Melting of the Ruler,” set to shoot in 2022. The two have established production company Meander Film, also behind Kasalica’s feature debut.
“Our relationship is full of understanding; we are open to criticism and to new ideas,” the Montenegrin filmmaker tells Variety, describing the company as “a kind of a collective.” “We like to work in small teams as that gives us freedom to be creative and to experiment. We want to keep our stories small and simple.”
In “The Elegy of Laurel,” he focuses on Filip (Frano Lasić), a university professor in his sixties who heads to a spa on the coast with his wife (Savina Geršak). It’s hard to relax, however, and after a few days she leaves, declaring their marriage is over.
“This relationship is done; everything has already been said. She is just observing him, making sure she is making the right decision. It was important not to show her as fragile, to show her strong. She knows exactly what she is doing,” he says.
Filip, on the other hand, hides behind lengthy monologues and a sense of self-righteousness. But once he travels to an old mountain house, things get a bit murky and even his deceased mother decides to return.
“Filip avoids talking about serious subjects. Instead, he just voices all these opinions, convinced he is the center of the universe. His monologues end when we enter this fantasy world,” says Kasalica, admitting he was looking for an “organic connection” when creating the second part of the film. He found it in “Stribor’s Forest”: a Croatian fairy tale that’s well known in the region.
“It’s a bit unusual because there is no strong, powerful male character. Instead, you have a fragile, naïve boy trapped between his love and lust for The Serpent Girl, and his mother, who just wants to protect him,” he says. “I read some short stories by Nikolai Gogol, and in his work, all these strange creatures just appear out of nowhere and are treated as real characters. I wanted to do the same.”
At the same time, he shows the past generation’s sins and passivity, which are still influencing younger people’s lives in his country. “I was thinking about my parents’ generation, this Yugoslavian middle-class that has built the society everybody was so proud of, and then just watched its destruction. They have this romantic sense of self-sufficiency,” he says.
“For me, Filip isn’t strong – he just makes you believe it. I see people like that everywhere, just take our political elite. Yugoslavia used to be this big, progressive country. Now, we have countries that are completely lost, and have been for 30 years – it’s a long time. I am a part of “the lost generation,” and we have been listening to the same promises: “It’s going to get better; you are going to have a normal life.” These statements inspired me to show a man who seems like he knows what he is doing, so well-educated and good-looking, but he doesn’t have a clue.”
This is the case both in Filip’s personal life and at work, as proven by a confrontation with his student, which originally wasn’t even in the script. “That scene just came up on set. We didn’t plan it. When this student says, “I cannot learn anything from you,” I wanted him to feel naked. These young people, they know what the problem is. And, unlike their predecessors, they are not afraid to say it.”
Produced by Jelena Angelovski of Montenegro’s Meander Film and co-produced by Ognjen Glavonić, Stefan Ivancić and Dragana Jovović of Serbia’s Non-Aligned Films, “The Elegy of Laurel” was supported by the Film Center of Montenegro and Film Center Serbia.