The Son: The Past And Beyond proudly represents the works of young critics done in program Talents Sarajevo of 25th Sarajevo Film Festival

Written by: Sezen Sayinalp

THE SON / SIN (2019), the latest feature by the Bosnian director Ines Tanović, had its world premiere in the Competition section of the 25th Sarajevo Film Festival. The choice to make this an opening film is not a coincidence – she is rather well known with her shorts and documentaries. In 2015, her full-length film OUR EVERYDAY LIFE / NAŠA SVAKODNEVNA PRIČA talked about family, and now she seems to return to this topic with THE SON.

THE SON’s opens with a street scene. The young protagonist (Arman) prepares to meet with his biological mother. We see him in a taxi first, it is a long tracking shot. Along the road, the viewers watch both the opening credits and Arman’s facial expressions, as this tracking shot articulates his own journey from the past to the present. While the opening credits introduce the cast and the crew, Arman’s expressions introduce his journey. As an extra layer, we see the names of famous ex-Yugoslav actors, such as Snežana Bogdanović, Uliks Fehmiu, Emir Hadžihafizbegović – their connections with the local cinema and history start to form the motif of the past.

After the film’s opening builds up an atmosphere of excitement and anticipation, Arman’s biological mother is not coming, so he goes back to Bosnia again. This is how we get to know his life and his family little by little. THE SON’s main theme about belonging and family roots is being constructed with Arman’s adoptive childhood in the background. Arman is nearly 18, however, he has non-compatible personality and he acts immaturely. His behavior shows violence, and his family can’t deal with these acts. In fact, Arman’s violence can be seen as a form of communication. His graduation is at risk, because he may be expelled from school, which is yet another reason for him to feel he does not fit. As an adopted kid, he always assumes his presence is not desired. THE SON dedicates a lot of space to his relationship with both of his adoptive parents.

Meanwhile, virility appears. Albeit stuck in a childish behavioral pattern, Arman wants to dominate with his physical power and his masculinity. Not knowing where he belongs, he creates an autonomous area with his rage. Arman sees his younger brother as his parents’ favorite child. Faced with his mother’s unwillingness to meet him in person, he feels like nobody wants him. Thus, the idea of family and brotherhood is based on his friends’ circle and environments. In addition, his family’s behavior is meaningless to him, so he tries to produce new meaning through alienation. Instead of belonging to a family, he communicates with the city, with Sarajevo. The park, the hills, the old people are closer to Arman than his own family. Feeling like he belongs to Sarajevo is a way to catch up with his past, and probably also with the past of his biological mother.

THE SON has a humorous narration, with Tanović often using comedy to showcase family drama. However, she also uses the effect of alienation to enhance the humor. The acting style fits this concept, however, this creates a distance from the reality. Many scenes portray family ties that look unnatural, overly constructed. By using both alienation and realism in her direction, Tanović devises an unstable narration, she seems somehow irresolute about her approach. Her narrational choices don’t help explain the connections between the past and the present.

Speaking of the past, there are several references to the war, such as the scene in the War Childhood Museum in Sarajevo. A teacher says that history should always be remembered. This is also about people’s roots, because the idea of being part of a community (society, group, family) creates a common history. However, when people remember their past, and wars, rage and anger appear. Should this be the case? This question is being tackled both on macro level and on micro level, with Arman’s own family history. He seems to be living in the past, whereas his adoptive family inhabits a modernly refurbished house. No wonder he feels more comfortable in the old apartment of his grandparents. Still, both Arman’s past and the country’s history are unclear in this film, because there are no coherent clues, even if the protagonist’s childhood must have coincided with the post-war period in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Arman tries to reach beyond the past, just as the country struggles to construct a better future, yet there is a big question mark.

Ines Tanović’s second feature aims to integrate the past and the present in a collage of everyday stories from contemporary Sarajevo that, however, do not fit well together in terms of characters, tone, and editing.

Written by Sezen Sayinalp under the mentorship of Dana Linssen and Yoana Pavlova as part of the 13th edition of Talents Sarajevo

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