Ben Nicholson LFF

BFI London Film Festival 2012: ‘Death of a Man in the Balkans’ review

★★★☆☆

A brief synopsis of director Miroslav Momcilovic’s satire, Death of a Man in the Balkans (2012) might not exactly bring the punters flooding into the cinema. A Serbian comedy about those arriving at the scene of a composer’s suicide, shot entirely from the point of view of a web-cam is unlikely to appeal to a mass audience. What those who stay away will miss however, is a quietly funny, understated and quite clever look at present-day Serbian society and custom.

The film opens with a weeping man, Matic (Nikola Kojo), adjusting his web-cam before shooting himself. What follows is one long take, or at least the suggestion of it, from that same angle as his neighbour, Aca (Emir Hadzihafizbegovic), discovers the body, and then he and fellow building resident Vesko (Radoslav Milenkovic) await the emergency services. Through the relatively short runtime the flat is visited by a vulture of an undertaker, some bored and distracted paramedics, and a couple of oafish police officers. All the while, Vesko keeps drinking and Aca eyes a tool set which Matic had promised him some months previous.

Initially, the naturalistic humour and single wide-angled shot mean that very little seems to be going on in Death of a Man in the Balkans, and the first quarter of an hour is very flat as a result. Aca and Vesko are amusing, but not enough to warrant such lengthy pauses and lack of action. Once the apartment’s living room begins to fill with various interested parties, though, the skill of the director comes to the fore; in choreographing the events and in presenting various facets of Serbian society.

It never quite manages to be laugh out loud funny but there are various moments worthy of chuckles and snorts (“Smooth as fucking butter!”) and enough absurd situations to keep audiences amused; a pizza delivery man arriving and the intrusion of an estate agent trying to show a woman around the flat despite the body in the living room are particular highlights. It is perhaps in considering the film from afar, though, that its strengths begin to become more apparent.

At face value the web-cam gimmick is just that, but, as the story progresses we come to understand that many of the events have been orchestrated by our dead composer. As such, you begin to wonder whether the film is intended, by Matic himself, to be a comically bizarre suicide note to illuminate us as to all of the reasons that he has become so disillusioned with his life. Whilst it never quite manages to be funny enough to be exceptional, Death of a Man in the Balkans is perhaps a slightly more deft and clever achievement than it might initially appear to be.

The 56th BFI London Film Festival runs from 10-21 October. For more of our LFF coverage, simply follow this link.

Ben Nicholson