Aleksi made me laugh out loud so many times that I lose count. The directorial debut of Croatian director Barbara Vekaric and was a heartfelt, hilarious story of the dilemma 28-year-old Aleksi (Tihana Lazovic) experiences when she returns to Croatia after graduation. With 49% unemployment in Croatia for young people, a staggering statistic that means that few actually return home after they finish their studies — we find Aleksi, caught in the middle of wanting to spread her wings and land an internship in Berlin, while listlessly hanging around her parents’ vineyard. That is, several years post: after dropping out of three colleges and resigning herself to a disaffected, impulsive life, she’s beginning to get on everyone’s nerves. The results are chaotic and hilarious.
Director: Barbara Vekaric
Release date: Friday 8 March 2019 (SXSW World Premiere)
I instantly connected with the erratic wild child, and I’m sure many other graduates and young women could say the same: she’s all over the place! Dropping bags in her opening scene, dressing far too young for her age and behaving for all intents and purposes like a naughty child, it’s comically clear that she has some growing up to do. This unapologetically crude anti-hero is on a wobbly, elliptical trajectory that slingshots her from man to man, leaving behind a trail of destruction and avoiding her inevitable responsibilities.
I really enjoyed the fact that the structure of the narrative was carefully considered, but not in such a way that it seemed artificial. An alumnus of Performing Arts school, Barbara Vekaric has shown her talent for telling a story in making the seamless transition between scenes and events. One sophisticated device was the use of reversals: Aleksi becomes involved in relationships with three very different men, but she meets them one after another, becoming entangled with the latter first. The first, Toni (Slovenian national treasure Sebastian Cavazza) is a much older man with George Clooney allure, divorced, passing through and returning to Paris. The second is Goran (Goran Markovic), a typically handsome Croatian, a musician and artistic soul. And the third is Christian (Jason Mann, stepping out of his usual spot behind the camera), an American visiting Croatia who becomes enamoured with the nymph-like free spirit wandering the island.
Aleksi, predictably, uses each man for her own selfish gain, and I couldn’t help but see similarities between herself and Thomas Hardy’s effervescent heroine Bathsheba Everdene in Far From The Madding Crowd. She’s strong-willed, won’t listen to anyone, won’t take responsibility, won’t see her flaws and accept that her own choices have led her here in life. She’s unapologetically open about her sexuality, flaunting it in men’s faces and enjoying being the liberated young woman that her ‘uneducated’ family can’t understand. Yet she’s not entirely unsympathetic: there are an innocence and vulnerability about her that means that she’s a daddy’s girl, playing ping-pong with her loving and long-suffering father, and asking for help when she finally needs it.
One might make the criticism that it doesn’t always meet the criteria for the Bechdel test, therefore isn’t a true feminist picture, but I didn’t see it that way. Inevitably it focuses on Aleksi’s life, and it’s more of a journey in which she discovers herself, realising and accepting her flaws. In fact, the ending is truer to a feminist ideology than many pictures claiming to be actually do achieve, and although the filmmakers in a Q&A agreed that this was the hardest part of the narrative to decide on, it definitely pays off.
The cinematography and production values were also a pleasantly impressive party of the narrative. Hailing from a country where directing a film is like ‘going to the Gobi Desert to research glaciers‘, it’s clear to see that Barbara Vekaric has a gift for seeing art in everyday life and making a way where no-one else is. I think of this film almost like a wildflower in a very sparse landscape — it’s unique, charming, and I wish more people could see it.
Speaking to the directors and crew themselves, I heard that it was difficult to source funding for the film organically: a lot of it had to come from wealthier industries abroad. I do hope that through word of mouth and with greater publicity, the work of this very talented filmmaker and her crew is able to get the distribution it deserves. I’ve no doubt that its premiere on a platform like SXSW is a fantastic start in elevating its status, but there will also be significant benefits for the Croatian National Tourist Board and the infrastructure of the nation itself if only more people could see this film. Lighthearted as it is — a ‘dramedy’ of Shakespearean wit and proportions — Aleksi also acts as a social commentary and is a must-see.