Festival Films, critic’s pick: Slovenia’s ‘Piran Pirano’

Piran Pirano, directed by Goran Vojovic, is the Slovenian feature film entered into the International Competition at the Cairo International Film Festival. It is set in the town of Piran on the Adriatic Sea during the Second World War.

First, there is the sea: immense, wrinkled by gracious waves and scintillating in the light of the late afternoon. Then appears the face of an old man, Antonio, grave and dignified. He is about to dock in the small harbor of Piran, a coastal town on the Adriatic Sea where he was born and raised by a pianist mother and his father, a teacher at the local fascist school. He cheated death in Piran 50 years earlier by swimming all the way to Trieste after his father was murdered by communist partisans.

Walking in a state of bewilderment, he reaches the threshold of the house he used to live in and asks the permission of the tenant to visit it. This is how two characters who came across one other in a context of war start a conversation, in Italian for Antonio and in Slovenian for Veljko, a Bosnian who fought along the communist partisans during WW2.

They shared a common love for Anica, a Slovenian girl whose entire family was massacred by the fascists. A few glasses of strong liquor open the door to flashbacks of a time where Antonio and Veljko were young and plunged into a merciless war.

The director shot only a single scene on the battlefield; the rest of the plot develops within the heart of the city, where fascists were lined up and shot by Slovenian troops amidst patriotic chants. Antonio and Veljko’s love for Anica is what prevented the second to shoot the first and also the reason why they parted while escaping, Antonio swimming away to the Italian coast  and Anica remaining with Veljko, who is unable to follow because of his terror of water.

The lengthy, immobile shots of the sea bear a huge significance in the movie, because it embodies death for the Bosnian soldier. His mother and sister were drowned in a river by fascists, and he never could resolve himself to approach the water.

The movie was shot deliberately, and light is almost the fourth central character. The scenes shot in the house are dark, for the most part, with sudden eruption of a pale sun through the embroidered curtains.

The house is essential to the movie, because while it signifies belonging, it also questions it. Antonio perceives it as his house, the place he grew up in before being banished from it, and Veljko moved in after the war, married Anica and turned this house into a secluded shrine of his life’s memories. Antonio, between mouthfuls of liquor, explains to Veljko in Italian (even though the Bosnian does not speak the language) that he has been treated as an animal his whole life, and that only Anica made him feel human.

He also expresses his wish to be buried in Piran, close to his mother’s grave. Veljko also asks himself this fundamental question: How to die in peace? Approaching the end of his life, the Bosnian is contemplating going back to his home country to be buried there, but the discussion with Antonio makes him realize that “home” is a concept that is not limited to the ground one grew up on. “My life started after finding Anica again,” says Veljko, who spent five years in prison separated from the woman he loved.

This movie succeeded in aptly dodging a nostalgic melodrama. Thanks to the brilliant acting of the three main actors and the beautifully written scenario not devoid of comic lines, the film impresses with its simplicity and its accuracy.

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