Author: Sanjin Pejković
The first frames already show an absurd and direct confrontation of Serbia’s realities of today. In an empty space and surroundings, between the church tower on the left and an anonymous building probably built back in socialist days, a title appears. A few minutes before we meet the film protagonist, the painter Aleksandar Denić, which enters the scene leaning in.
After losing his dog, Denić, an eccentric artist from Belgrade goes to find his pet. During his search, we meet many individuals, real, played, and imagined. The witty approach opens up a dialogue on various philosophic questions related to art, representation, identity, nature, history, ethics, and politics.
The state of things in this new Serbian documentary film is in dissonance with the state of things in the state. The worse situation gets on the political-societal scene, the films made by young Serbian authors become interesting, with more nuances, better. Without is no exception. Set up as a road and tracks leading nowhere and, in their selves, representing the inner lives of protagonists-film, Without functions as an absurd story on everything and nothing, on ideology clashes, politics of memory framed in eternal, never-ending transition form. Like the other newer production films in Serbia, Without uses landscapes as scenery, as an illustration of the half-chaotic state of surrounding things. Still, all of this can be seen in the very art of Aleksandar Denić, in which the religious narratives are merged with new pop-culture myths. The horrors of postmodern or entrapment in the parallel, out-of-time world?
The camera is static, framing does not fully include protagonists or objects. There is always something missing in frames, people, and surroundings. Dogs, partners, families, jobs, visions. Characters and architectural solutions are visually truncated. At the same time, such framing enables us the easier detection of the direct conflict between worlds in the clumsiness of transitionist realities. Belgrade on Water peers in the scene in which the characters sit on the balcony of the rundown building. The scene in which we suddenly appear in a wonderful sunflower field, reveals our two guides urinating, marking their territories. The architecture itself is mirroring the state of things in the country. While I follow Denić in his travels, I am not entirely certain if the characters are in the ruins or in the constructions almost completed.
Each of the frames is swarming with unobtrusive absurdism, nevertheless, it is the visualization of the state of things or the monologues of the people Denić encounters. And those are unknown individuals, as well as some half-forgotten celebrities, soccer player Dragiša Binić and rapper Vladimir Ilić Ila, for example, share with Denić, director Papić, but also with us their thoughts not just about dogs, but about themselves. We listen in to the monologues on saving dogs from the jaws of evil ”others”, on banal everyday nationalism, on Japanese warriors’ codes, but we also witness the existential talks on conditioning love between humble beings such as dogs opposite to stoically domineering animals such as elephants. Besides filling his days making portraits of unfinished churches around Belgrade, traveling with the canvas as nineteenth-century painters, and bringing the specific outlook of a country in which the past and present are constantly clashing, Denić is not afraid to talk openly about his considerations of the toxicity of nature, and not seeing the problem with poisonous pollutions and chemical materials.
Being a sort of tool necessary for film research, dogs suddenly have the ability to speak and think at one point. In one of the scenes, we follow two strays engaging in dialogue. The strays are at first astonished with their sudden gift, and are not certain that their capability to think and speak will last, and how long. Papić uses excerpts from the dialogue of the short story The Conversation of Two Dogs by Miguel de Cervantes. Just as we are not certain if the dogs truly convert in the story or if everything is a figment of the imagination of a syphilis-troubled owner, we are also not entirely able to see who is the narrator. Could Denić and his trusty friend be the characters in dogs’ minds, and who are the strays wandering aimlessly through Serbia searching for their purpose?