Among many feature films and documentaries shown in the competition of the second festival of European and Mediterranean film, perhaps it is a bit surprising that two of the best movies neither came from Western Europe nor the Mediterranean basin, but from the Balkans. The main award of the International Jury was given to Enemy (Neprijatelj), made by Serbian director Dejan Zečević, and the FEDEORA prize went to the Macedonian drama Punk’s Not Dead (Pankot ne e mrtov) directed by Vladimir Blaževski. Interestingly enough, even the audience award went to the documentary made in Serbia, Cinema Komunisto (dir. Mila Turajlić). There are two possible explanations: either other movies were not so attractive or those produced in recent years in the Balkan region demonstrate distinctive aesthetic qualities and provocative scripts. The answer is simple: films from this region of the world is getting more and more attractive, socially critical and with higher professional standards, both in story-telling as well as in production. The aforementioned drama (better to say, something in-between black comedy and road movie), Punk Is Not Dead is a very pleasant surprise by Vladimir Blaževski, because he had a long break of two decades between his previous film and this one. Although this feature film is made with low-budget constraints, the main advantage is precisely its low-budget aesthetic approach, since it tends to be a very documentary-like, hard-boiled story focusing on ethnic conflicts in contemporary Macedonian society. It’s brutal, emotionally strong, with excellent directing and editing, a provocative screenplay and very convincing acting.
The plot is straightforward, but heavily embedded in Macedonian society, which barely survives under the post-communist transition: the main character Mirsa is a 40-year-old punk living in poverty. One day he is asked by his Albanian friend to reunite his former band members for a concert organized by the international NGO in the Albanian part of the country. In need of money and with an idea of breaking with his desperate life, he accepts the offer and together with his ex-girlfriend Nina and close friend Ljak decides to go on a trip to visit the other two former group members, who now live in Serbia and Bosnia. After reuniting the band and travelling to an isolated village with an Albanian majority, the concert turns out to be a genuine disaster: in the last moment, the NGO chiefs decide to remove the concert to somewhere in Kosovo, which became a more interesting region than Macedonia. Deprived of protection, the band decides to play on their own. Their aggressive punk coverage seems like a provocation, so the audience almost lynches them. The big surprise is yet to come: returning to Skopje, they are met by a bunch of mad and drunk nationalistic skinheads who dislike the idea of Macedonians playing to Albanians, for the fistful of dollars. Heavily injured and with broken skulls, after the act of brutal violence, they gather beneath the huge Christian cross above Skopje, which became the symbol of new Macedonian nationalism. Finally they look satisfied, completing the aim of punk rebellion against injustice and intolerance.
The opening sequences portray Mirsa as an old-fashioned junkie, but the scenery is no less optimistic: living in the suburb and surrounded by poverty, he is the exemplary protagonist of a society with complete lack of normal human relationships. His band was made up of those from former Yugoslavia, which is a strong social message: almost all citizens are basically punkers, people on the edge of the system, in the state run by corrupt politicians, mobsters and NGO mafia. Blaževski managed to produce a very disturbing and pessimistic picture of the new Macedonia, intelligently focusing his plot on the group of outsiders, and making fun of NGOs as well as nationalists on both sides. His portrait of a concert as a multicultural event, where a Macedonian punk band almost gets killed in a remote Albanian village is a succinct critique of political correctness and hypocrisy of international organizations. Dynamically directed, with very realistic and convincing acting, with a challenging script and clear political message, Punk’s Not Dead is not only one of the best Macedonian movies in recent years, but also one of the most interesting feature movies in the region, easily compared with similar artistic tendencies in neighboring counties such as Serbia (Skinning, dir. Stevan Filipović) or Croatia (Metastasis, dir. Branko Schmidt).
Tonči Valentić, Croatia, FEDEORA jury member