In “The Last Socialist Artefact,” businessmen Nikola and Oleg travel to a rusted-out town in the Balkans to convince its citizens to restart the factory which once employed so many of them. This sparks a journey both individual and collective, and over six episodes their character is revealed, tested, and changed.
Each episode is named after one of its characters and takes the time needed to explore their humanity. Nikola, for example, is quiet and forlorn at the outset, only to find his calling as a leader when left behind to direct the factory.
The limited series, adapted from Robert Perišić’s novel “No-Signal Area,” is part of this year’s Series Mania Official Selection. It’s produced by Ankica Juric Tilic with Kinorama and directed by Dalibo Matanić.
Variety spoke with Ankica ahead of the series premier at Series Mania.
Oleg and Nikola have wonderful chemistry as the leads for this series, the way they play off each other. Can you speak about your approach for these two?
These two characters are close friends and cousins, but they do not share qualities, values, habits or backgrounds. They complement each other even when they argue or fight, they care for each other. To build such connection in between two very different characters was easier than one would expect, thanks to the fact that they are played by such amazing actors.
The first two episodes are named after Oleg and Nikola. How did this style of storytelling let you drive the narrative of the series?
The characters from the original novel were the main motivation to create this series. They were so inspiring, so credible and so strong that I wanted to see them on screen. Mid-way through the development process we decided to dedicate each of the episodes to one of the six main characters to let them lead us through the story. It was a bold choice and it made a storytelling process more complicated, but I believe it was worth the effort.
“The Last Socialist Artefact” is based on Robert Perisic’s novel “No-Signal Area.” What were the challenges and joys of adapting the novel?
I believe the series conveys the world of the novel to its fullest, same with the characters. We are used to watching stories about the destruction of a firmly set world – this one is just the opposite, it’s a story about the construction. Our characters start building something together and, by creating together, they bring out the best in each other. It brings hope. In this the series is fully faithful to the novel. As for the challenges – the liberty of the novelist to span the action over several decades is not a luxury a filmmaker can easily afford. We also had to do some reductions, cut some story-lines and condense the story. Adaptation is never easy, but I strongly believe we captured the very heart of the story.
Music plays an important part in this series, with characters singing at times and records spun. Can you speak about the musical choices?
All the credits for the music choices go to the director – he feels the world through music as much as he does through the visual. The songs that actors are singing, most of them deeply sad and touching, are mirroring their hidden inner world and they were all carefully chosen. The original score is written by Jura Ferina and Pavao Miholjević, the composers we worked with on many films and TV series.
This story puts its characters in a small village in the Balkans with no cell phone reception. How does that plot device change the telling of the story?
The original title of the novel, same as the Croatian title of the series, is “No Signal Area” – it is not just the symbol of a desolated city no one cares about; it’s also the symbol of the lack of communication or miscommunication among the characters, or should I say – among us. It was important for the story so we kept it, but of course it caused many obstacles in storytelling that we have had to trick. Luckily enough, the reception is not completely blocked, it’s random, so we have played with that a lot. At the end of the day, as the series proves: personal contact is the most precious one, so having no reception can work for our benefit after all.