By Ailsa Davies (she/her)
This review is a part of our Glasgow Film Festival review series. The Film Festival is running between 01/03/23-12/03/23, don’t miss out and go and see some incredible new films.
Two children play in the courtyard of an estate in the Croatian city Zagreb, seemingly untroubled. Only a few minutes in, the scene switches to Bruno (Juraj Lerotić) breaking down his brother’s door, finding him on the floor following a failed suicide attempt. When they do come, the ambulance crew seem reticent and unsupportive. Much like throughout the rest of the film, the characters go unnoticed whilst silently dealing with their struggles.
Safe Place, which is having its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival, follows Bruno, his mother, and his brother Damir, played by Goran Marković, over the course of a day: the day after the suicide attempt. The film subtly captures a multiplicity of struggles: the ripple effects of coping with mental illness, ceaseless cold treatment from bureaucracy, and familial politics.
Quietly tragic, the characters lack the expected intensity of emotional response after such an event, seemingly oppressed by their circumstances and numbed by the shock. Instead, the film carries a silent weight like the feeling of holding back tears or restraining a scream, this refused sonority is heightened by the absence of music throughout.
The film’s formal features are understated and beautifully rendered, with each scene’s framing carefully considered, conversations are often enclosed between doors or in the reflections of mirrors. We catch interactions from side on, only observing face-on interactions in intimate family interactions. The tragedy positions itself in the in-between, liminal spaces, and we narrowly hook onto the narrative like the obscurity of a memory.
An impressive directorial debut from Juraj Lerotić, there’s no wonder it was selected as Croatia’s Academy Award candidate for Best International Feature Film. Its autobiographical nature makes itself aware in a chilling, meta-theatrical moment without edging into melodrama. Around twenty minutes in, while Bruno and Damir partake in an intimate conversation on a hospital bed, Damir looks at the camera, and therefore the audience. We become aware of the written construction of his character, as well as the reality with which the story is grounded.
Persistently uncomfortable to watch, Safe Place achieves delicacy and honesty in its depiction of the struggle of mental illness and bureaucratic insensitivity, maintaining a lingering, haunting quality throughout.