The majority of this Serbian documentary employs a visually captivating technique that could be described as mildly psychedelic. The images transition between each other at an extremely slow pace, creating a seamless and almost imperceptible transformation. As the film follows the life of 90-year-old Sofia Vujanovic, her voiceover narration is accompanied by subtle changes in the rural scenery, such as the shifting cracks in walls and the mutating forest vegetation of the Balkans. It seems as though an inevitable force, namely history, is constantly shaping and altering the physical world.
These geological forces also affect the human body: Vujanovic’s tattoo from Auschwitz has gradually moved down her arm over time. With a clear sense of purpose, she shares her journey towards activism: she was drawn to communism by her progressive classmates in rural areas; she was chosen as a cell leader during World War II due to being a woman and therefore less likely to draw attention; and she was horrified after taking her first life, an SS officer during a supply train raid. Vujanovic was eventually captured, tortured, and sent to Poland in darkness, with Czechoslovakian railway workers taunting the prisoners by shouting “Gas, gas!” She mistakenly thought they were being taken to a gas plant for work.
The film, directed by Marta Popivoda, weaves together mysterious images with scenes of Vujanovic in her home. These shots are overlaid with diary entries and symbolic illustrations, subtly reminding us of history’s impact. However, Popivoda’s attempt to draw a connection to present-day fascism is not executed smoothly. Her mention of moving to Berlin with her partner Ana Vujanovic, as a form of protest against growing homophobia and capitalism in the Balkans, pales in comparison to the pensioner’s life-or-death resistance. While it is understandable that Ana Vujanovic, Sofia’s great-niece, would make the documentary personal, it feels incomplete as a warning against extremism in our current time.
The older woman’s life experiences, conveyed calmly by Popivoda, hold more weight. While we may initially be captivated by the images, our focus ultimately shifts to Vujanovic’s unwavering voice, a testament to the power of idealism and perseverance in passing down through time.
The documentary, Landscapes of Resistance, will be released on True Story on 2 February.