Sarajevo Film Festival interview: Nenad by Mladen Bundalo

Sarajevo Film Festival interview: Nenad by Mladen Bundalo

Visual artist Mladen Bundalo returns to Bosnia and Herzegovina to tell a hopeful tale of migration and destiny migration, as experienced by the eponymous hero of the title.


Like thousands of fellow Bosnians, first time director Mladen Bundalo felt compelled to leave his homeland. In his case, it was thirteen years ago and his chosen destination was Brussels. 


Because of the war in the Balkans and ongoing economic depression post-2008 half the people born in Bosnia and Herzegovina no longer live there, Bundalo points out. “It is still going on, the economy has never recovered.”


And every time he returns to Bosnia, the place is even more deserted, fewer to people meet, fewer to people “to speak with, to have a coffee with.” So Bundalo set out to chronicle the massive anthropological/ethnographic changes that he was observing first hand. “It had become a real problem so I decided to react and to find optics through which I could speak about that phenomenon,” he underlines.


His close friend Nenad had always decided to stay behind, working in a factory that builds and repairs rolling stock for railways. But in 2017/18 Nenad’s gaze began to stray beyond Bosnian borders, to Germany or Austria. He may even try his luck in Slovenia. 


“I decided that this dilemma you feel just before you leave is a really condensed and crucial moment, a point of synthesis, a psychological moment which is important for what will happen afterwards,” explains Bundalo of the plan that he and Nenad hatched to record the latter’s future trajectory. “I decided that this might be the door through which to observe this phenomenon. That is how I decided that we work together, and he was pleased.”


Using the principles of Direct Cinema, Bundalo records his friend’s last day at work before his eventual departure to Slovenia, returning to shoot his hero two more times, the final section depicting him in a state of carefree rest and play, like a latter day Lotus Eater. “It was a sort of Utopia,” says Bundalo of the film’s closing passages. “It is only free time. It is [with] friends and there is freedom to do whatever they want, to drink, to chat, to discuss. There is just a pleasure, so it’s almost like an afterlife, a nirvana.”


Bundalo adds how he was influenced, like numerous documentarians before him, by Edgar Morin and Jean Rouche’s seminal Chronicle of a Summer (1961), shot in Paris and the Riviera, in which the subjects and their quotidian lives are fore-fronted. “I thought Direct Cinema would suit my suit purpose. [Chronicle of a Summer] was fascinating and empowering [in showing] the simple everyday lives of people, and there is already enough of poetics in that. We don’t have to communicate the director’s ego all the time.”


Another fascinating aspect of the film is the director’s reliance on and fascination with the number three within the film. Bundalo offers up three tips for survival as a Bosnian abroad, after having taken the third option of leaving in the first place. (Options 1 and 2 were living a life of crony capitalism or ignoring politics and retiring to a vegetable patch.)


“In general I am fascinated by mathematics,” says Bundalo. There is a very interesting novel by a Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin called ‘Three-Body Problem’ which speaks about Alpha Centauri, which is the closest solar system to ours, and has three stars. The three-way problem is a known problem in physics. In terms of predicting future movement of the bodies it is a chaotic system. If you have two objects you can calculate far in advance where each will be positioned, but when you have three the game changes completely.


“I found this quite astonishing because in Bosnia the number three is present everywhere, the number of presidents, the number of ethnic groups, the number of languages, even the number of neighbouring countries. There is something esoteric happening with this. This notion of number 3 and the chaos that it brings, I found an alternative way to [explain] the chaos in Bosnia.”


The film is imbued with a dark humour. “There is an absurdity, also a cynicism, I don’t deny it. And irony of course,” Bundalo says. “In Bosnia, in Yugoslavia, we really love humour from the UK – we are used to saying that Balkan and UK humour are similar… And when we watch the British humour on television we fall about. Monty Python is very popular in Bosnia.”