Memories before Dying: Reflections on Friendship and Surviva
Grady Harp | Los Angeles, CA United States | 11/23/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Zhivko Chingo wrote a children's book in the 1970s, a Yugoslavian best seller, 'Golemata voda' ('The Great Water') about the way the children of Macedonia responded to the critical changes Communism created in the country in 1945. It is stunningly brought to the screen by Ivo Trajkov as a labor of love and dedication and as an attempt to pay homage to the philosophical sensibilities of the Macedonian people in a difficult time of transition.
The film begins in the present as old Lem (Meto Jovanovski) is experiencing a heart attack and while he is being wheeled into a hospital and examined and wired, he has memory flashbacks to his childhood in 1945 when the WW II was over, Stalin was in power, and orphans were placed in 'orphanages' (re-education facilities) to learn the Communist life. Young Lem (Saso Kekenovski) was brought to the 'orphanage' when his parents were imprisoned for their anti-Stalin stance, and since he is new to the system, he must quickly adjust to the Dickens-like poor house conditions. He is befriended by his 'instructors' Ariton (Mitko Aposolovski) and Olivera (Verica Nedeska), learning how to adjust to the role of obedient brainwashing. The most influential person in Lem's life arrives in the form of young Isak (Maja Stankovska) whose girlfriend has been in the camp prior to Isak's arrival. The manner in which Lem struggles to repay Isak's kindnesses is by acting as a liaison with camp commander to find Isak's love. It is this friendship's course that serves as the tender core of this film.
The struggles quietly underplaying all of the camp surface activity are many: the dichotomy of a Communist ideology removing the Church from existence with a people dependent upon the spiritual values of religion, the Stalin/Tito issue, the adjustments to the policies of Communist regime in a country where fierce national pride had ruled, and the depersonalization of children into political pawns despite the need for role models and the luxury of growing up with friends and confidants. But it is the powerful effect of retrospect as the old Lem relives this tragic time that fills this film with luminous meaning.
This is one of the few films that has been made in Macedonia (a former portion of Yugoslavia now the Republic of Macedonia) and it is a genuinely touching, finely tuned work of art, one that depends on a large cast of non-professional child actors gathered from the Macedonian schools by Ivo Trajkov. The DVD is accompanied by a statement by Trajkov not only about the film but also about the pride of Macedonians that is enlightening and tender. Highly Recommended. Grady Harp, November 05
Thought provoking film (a warning in this review)
T.F. | 02/17/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This film is an arresting depiction of just why communism fails - people by nature, attempt to get the biggest slice of the pie for themselves, rather than working for the common good. There is a palpable juxtaposition between the "good Stalinist" orphanage staff, who are invariably self-serving, selfish and non-community minded and the "bad Stalinist" orphans, Lem and Isaak who actually show the most community spirit and sense of sacrifice for the good of the collective that is supposed to be central to communism.
The children in this movie shine. They have little dialogue, but their performances are memorable. The film sometimes sacrifices coherency for being arty, and there is a feeling that some things that are not made clear are left that way because that is how a child would have comprehended them. Well worth watching and pondering over.
Warning - there is a very disturbing scene where a cat is tortured by a sadistic guard, as well as many scenes where children are physically, emotionally and sexually abused. The film is not particularly graphic, but is very powerful in the implications of abuse."
Last laugh . . .
Ronald Scheer | Los Angeles | 04/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"The literary origin of this story accounts for the complexity of its moods, which range from grim to farcical to magical realism. Viewers who focus on only the cruel existence of children kept as political prisoners in post-war Stalinist Macedonia (part of the former Yugoslavia) neglect to recall the episode of the Missing Gym Shorts and the absurdities of a visit by a one-armed, one-eyed, and libidinous officer of the Yugoslav Army. A life-size bust of Joseph Stalin elicits an absurdly ardorous response from a devoted follower. Meanwhile, a young orphan exerts a mysterious power over members of the orphanage staff.
You can be depressed by this film if you ignore all this, but the author and filmmaker are obviously having a last laugh at the expense of those who believed wholeheartedly in the Soviet Dream. The film cross cuts between the modern-day central character as he lies stricken in a hospital bed and the same character as a young boy in the orphanage, some 60 years earlier. The performances of the child actors are wonderfully convincing, sometimes haunting, and the photography and music are expertly done. Definitely worth watching for what it has to say about the impermanence of political and social systems and the tenacity of the human spirit."
Great movie with a few confusing parts
Timbus | Bloomington, IN USA | 12/11/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Through the eyes of a young child, this film shows what life is like in an orphanage during the Stalin-era when USSR controlled macedonia. But from time to time, I had some difficulties figuring things out... such as who was Isaac exactly? What's with his magical power? What about the principal? Quite a few things were not clear - maybe something was lost in the translation? or maybe something was implied and I had to be there to understand all? still a great movie."
Mildly disappointing, but worth watching
Diane C. Howard | Burlington, Iowa, United States | 08/20/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"The english narration was uncomfortable to listen to. Forced is what one reviewer called it, and it's accurate. Several things in the film should have been clarified for some members of the audience -- why was a girl dealing with her menstrual period considered barbaric? What should she have done instead of using a pad, and why would or should she have required an advocate? An advocate for what? It should perhaps have been retitled, as well. The Great Water makes no sense to those who do not understand Yugoslavian geography, and it doesn't work well as a symbol. The film was too slow, and I HATED the scene where they tortured the cat. Calling Isaak "big man" didn't match his appearance and seemed foolish. There wasn't much dialogue or action -- it's basically narration with moving pictures. Still, it brings back memories to those of us who remember Tito, the Iron Curtain, etc. "