In Domovine, Serb director Jelena Maksimovic goes on an odyssey to discover both her familial and philosophical homelands.
The story that Jelena Maksimovic tells in Domovine is one of injustice born out of historical patrimony, the director stresses. In the film a woman named Lenka (played by actress Jelena Angelovski), ostensibly silent, arrives at a village. It is winter and the place is picturesque and inviting, as shown within the night time aerial shot.
She takes snowboard lessons and meets the chatty owner of a local restaurant. Yet her demeanour remains constantly serious.
Little by little, we are offered clues as to where she is and why she is there. We see archive footage showing happy and bucolic life in the village many decades ago, before the Greek Civil War. Then we see more archive, but this time lines of people are walking from their homeland in forced evacuation towards the then-Yugoslavia.
Back in the present Lenka discovers, and seeks to reclaim a ruined house, and begins to clear away debris from the land, in the process planting a fir tree. At the film’s conclusion she decides no longer to be mute, and delivers a monologue in praise both of the woman, her grandmother, who was forced to leave this house many years before, as well as to “the perfectly arranged collage of old women [who] make up my skin, organs and spirit [to whom] I owe everything that I am.”
Her invective includes a promise of “sweet revenge” on the agents of “patrimony [and] capitalists who have wreaked ruin in the world.” It is powerful stuff, pure, polemical and deeply personal.
“Yes, it is partly my own story but I wanted the film to be free enough to discover some other elements out of the stories we found during the shooting,” explains director Maksimovic.
“My grandmother was from that village (Agios Athanasios in Northern Greece) and the fact is that she couldn’t ever go back to her homeland because she was like a political refugee. Her father was Communist and her mother was a Macedonian, and during the Greek Civil War they had to flee from the village, so I listened to her telling me stories about social equality and justice and the peace they had back then, and all those socialist ideas which I also felt during my childhood in Yugoslavia.”
“I had to make a film which somehow connects my own feelings towards my own country which doesn’t exist anymore (Yugoslavia) and her country which she wasn’t allowed to enter anymore,” Maksimovic adds, explaining her primary motivation.
The film is a feast for the eyes, located by Mount Kaymakchalan whose mists Lenka dances through on her snowboard, arm in arm with her instructor. Generous apples are picked in the village orchards, and the pre-War b/w footage is joyous and lively.
The climactic scene presents an impressive 360-degree tracking shot of the dramatic woodland and grasses (through which stories of the past are whispered) before the final oration.
“Almost everything was pre-written, but we were also experimenting on the set,” explains Maksimovic. “About the final shot, I realised that somehow it had to go from the observational scene to the meta-film moment when she looks straight into the camera. The structure of the text made me realise that it had to have that circular sense.”
Maksimovic commissioned fellow Serb screenwriter Olga Dimitriovic to write the final text both for dramatic impact and to help the spectator retrospectively digest everything he or she has just seen.
“In the middle of the shooting I kind of realised it was missing something, the political and philosophical position from which I was making the film. I had to have something that, while not explaining everything, puts it all into a certain context,” says Maksimovic. “So I met her [Dimitriovic] and I told her everything about the film, about my grandmother, about my feelings, about my approach and everything and then she turned it into this monologue.”
Elaborating on this to FID Marseille’s Claire Lasolle before the festival commenced, the director added: “I felt the necessity of having such a direct element in which we are trying to define our position in former Yugoslavian countries, questioning our relationship with both the present moment and the past. This text is also an homage to all the women in our lives who were brave enough to fight for their ideas.”