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Absurdist Croatian film with a unique sense of humour features a depressed goalkeeper desperate to change his ways after a ski accident – live from the Tallinn Black Nights Festival


Josip is a quiet goalkeeper with an unfortunate knee injury. He has been sent to a neglected spa to undergo rehabilitation. His club puts pressure on him to recover as quickly as possible, for his stay at the spa is far from inexpensive. He caused his injury while skiing, but was unluckily found too far from the marked perimeter covered by the club’s insurance company. His coach tells him that if they convince the company that he strayed away from the tracks unintentionally, it may be able to pay for his recovery.

His nickname is the Condor – on the football pitch, his arms spread wide open like a vulture extending its wings. As a tribute to his imposing nickname, his back shows the magnificent tattoo of an eagle. Jealous of Josip’s fame, a footballer friend complains that he has not been given a nickname yet by the fans. In what becomes an extremely humourous scene, the two try to come up with one for him on the spot. The obnoxious friend claims he can jump very high: ‘What animal is famous for jumping?’ ‘A grasshopper… a kangaroo…’, replies Josip, without much energy. ‘Are you kidding? What about the dolphin? A dolphin is a gracious mammal’. Josip stares back at him, unconvinced.

The film is tinted by an awkward sense of humour fueled in part by Josip’s complete inability to take part in any sort of human conversation. Lifeless, with no real interests, he looks more like an automaton than a human being filled with life experience, opinions, tastes and emotions. He only drinks coca-cola, his favourite colour is blue, he has a few tattoos which he just finds ‘cool’. His lack of concern for the people who surround him is made evident especially when his girlfriend pays him a visit. Dressed in alluring pink clothes, she tries to initiate sex with him, but he is too busy nonchalantly scrolling through his social media feed. When she leaves on the next morning, he does not even bother to wake up to say goodbye. Carrying a gormless expression at all times, his otherwise attractive facial features become sterile due to his incapacity to show emotion.

Soon we start suspecting that this deeply uncharismatic protagonist may in fact be suffering from nothing other than acute melancholia. He has been dropped out of his lush lifestyle, packed with ecstatic wealthy football players and radiant influencer girlfriends. The emptiness of life has just started to dawn on him, and the prospect of returning to the football pitch looks oddly unappealing. Losing concentration on his rehabilitation, he starts making plans for a new future, finding no other activity to fulfill his new aspirations than to attend a bizarre workshop that will teach him how to sell vacuum cleaners with empathy.

Filip Heraković gives a lot of attention to space in his mise-en-scène. The carefully-crafted shots reveal a directorial style that focuses on the interactions between different spatial elements. Characters in the background and in the foreground, on the left and on the right, are constantly playing with each other, constructing scenes that are relentlessly dynamic, giving the eye of the viewer countless details to absorb and to look at. For instance, one scene sees a character in the corner of the frame trying to catch as much free breakfast food as possible, clumsily gathering plates and glasses filled with juice in his awkward hands and arms. Meanwhile, our protagonist stands in the centre of the frame, occupied with a meaningless task, but Heraković knows that viewers will focus on the comedy springing from the peripheries – will the man near the buffet table be able to carry all of the food in a single journey? Paying tribute to the density and relentless motions of daily life, the clash between spatially distant elements gives the film a sense of absurd realism. We are constantly overhearing farcical conversations at breakfast, we observe old ladies being scolded by their swimming instructor for jumping carelessly into the water.

But while the film often shines with a persistent creative energy, it suffers in its latter part with a sense of having lost its initial spark of inspiration. Indeed, it appears slightly desperate to create a meaningful ending out of its narrative without offering any satisfying arc. Its style is also somewhat turned on its head when Heraković switches to an abstract, surreal language, instead of relying on the dry and discreet sense of humour that he was able to convey so successfully at the start.

Pelican has just premiered at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival. It is part of the event’s First Feature Competition.

By Liván García-Duquesne - 19-11-2022

Livan Garcia-Duquesne is a UK-based French-Spanish filmmaker and writer. He holds an MPhil in Film & Screen Studies from the University of Cambridge and his academic work has been centred around t...

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