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Written by: Milica Joksimović
In her debut feature, Ena Sendijarević takes us somewhere not so nice but rather compelling and visually striking. TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE by the Bosnian-born and Dutch-raised filmmaker won the Special Jury Award at this year’s International Film Festival Rotterdam and had its regional premiere at the 25th edition of Sarajevo Film Festival.
A mixture of a road movie and a coming-of-age story, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE follows Alma (Sara Luna Zorić) as she comes back to Bosnia and Herzegovina, after growing up in the Netherlands, to visit her father whom she has not seen in years. She lands in Sarajevo and finds her cousin Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac) showing no interest in being a good host and driving her to her father. After Alma’s initial lack of initiative, where she is seen mostly wandering through the city or idling at Emir’s apartment, she decides to take matters in her own hands. Eventually the two of them, along with Emir’s friend Denis (Lazar Dragojević), embark on a trip to the hospital in Podveležje (a region in Herzegovina) to visit Alma’s terminally ill father.
From the first shot – an electric blue curtain flowing in the wind with electronic music playing in the background – the film evokes associations to various filmmakers with distinct visual style, most notably Nicolas Winding Refn who often uses bright and neon colors paired with soundtracks mostly composed of electronic music. Throughout the episodic storytelling the film keeps challenging the audience’s expectations at every turn, with each new episode being more explicit and darker than the one before and more in contrast with the brightly colored surroundings.
If the deadpan acting at first adds to the apparent naiveté reminiscent of Wes Anderson’s characters, towards the ending, as the story takes darker and more disturbing turns, it can be more readily compared to the distant acting in Yorgos Lanthimos’ films. While these comparisons can hardly be ignored, as a whole, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE has a distinct atmosphere that cannot be easily categorized.
The film’s “strangeness” is probably intensified by the sudden changes in Alma’s attitude towards the circumstances she finds herself in (since most of the time she simply goes with the flow, and those rare decisions she makes are usually as irrational and stubborn as can be expected from a person still in her adolescence) as well as the people she interacts with. In the beginning she seems quite disinterested in almost everything except getting to see her father, but later she insists on knowing that Denis is in love with her. What at first may be thought of as her apparent coldness may also be seen as her reaction (or the lack of capability to express one) to the reality that is so far away – and not just geographically – from what she is used to, and her rare signs of affection towards other people (animals too) and displayed emotions may be glimpses into her more honest feelings. As she navigates between her cousin’s disinterest and a sexual relationship with his friend, she is also trying to reconcile her multiple double identities – being both Bosnian and Dutch, wanting to be her father’s child and actively exploring her sexuality – which can be seen as a central theme of this film.
This dualism can also be perceived in the film’s color palette – it starts off with shades of mostly blue and green creating a summery, seaside-like atmosphere, and soon a lot of pink seeps in. So much attention is paid to colors in this film that even Alma’s underwear (blue bra, pink panties) and sneakers (blue and pink lines) are consistent with these oppositions. The visual aspect of the film is the most striking one, with bright colors and the 4:3 aspect ratio often making it feel like we are watching a very “aesthetic” Instagram feed in the form of a film – one featuring breathtaking landscapes (kind of mandatory, considering it is a road movie) to pastel-colored interiors and clothing. Besides the potential symbolism of colors and the simple aesthetic pleasure one probably feels when exposed to these visuals, this look intensifies the surreal atmosphere of the film.
Despite its very stylized visuals, TAKE ME SOMEWHERE NICE does not completely rely on the style, although some plot points may seem random. The fact that not much attention is paid to practicalities regarding the road trip is consistent with the film’s dreamy atmosphere, but a deus-ex-machina solution in the form of a bag of cocaine could be seen as a little lazy. Nevertheless, Sendijarević carefully develops her characters and creates a sort of a parallel universe the strangeness of which emphasizes Alma’s experience, drawn in part from the author’s own life.