At times super-realistic, at times suggestive to the point of supernatural,
this story has an odd way of concentrating on gloom. One can only hope that
Yugoslavia-born director Ivo Trajkov's intensely dark aesthetic isn't all
there is to be offered by Macedonian cinema and its storytellers.
Lem Nikodinoski, a man of some years (Meto Jovanovski), is rushed to the
emergency room with a heart attack. As he faces the possibility of death,
his fevered mind submerges him (and us) into his early years as a teenage
prisoner of a state institution.
Young Lem (Saso Kekenovski) is a war orphan, which, when he's caught
wandering after the war, qualifies him for "care" at the communist children's
orphanage. That care is a hardnose effort to reprogram the impressionable
young with the credos and ideologies of their masters and the threat of
isolation and punishment for wrong thoughts.
To an extent, the effort pays off with a propaganda-spouting cadre of little
communists. But, Lem is resistant. And, when Isak Keyten (Maja
Stankovska) an older boy of flawless skin, handsome visage and a silent
charisma that even affects the staff, Lem finds his role model.
As wardens go, this bear (Mitko Apostolovski) seems almost human. Not an
especially brutal man, he can be philosophical, endearing, tough. What
compels him seems, at times, inconsistent and confusing. His assistant,
Komrade Olivera (Verica Nedeska), a beauty of a woman who lives in a world of
idealogy with Stalin as the god she worships, is less complex. The thing
that seems to mediate her harshness is an almost primal naivete'.
No one seems a mortal threat to Lem's existence, as he and Isak pursue the
liberties that are available to them. Lem is periodically visited by the
image of himself as the older man, to remind us that this is the flashback of
It's the sort of existence in which a mistake, such as an insult upon the
masters of the government, could become grounds for extreme treatment,
banishment, even death. Escape isn't an option, as one futile case
demonstrates. Even if you were able to get through the main gate, you'd have
a lake to cross, a barrier we presume to be the "Great Water" of the title.
One irony of the piece is in showing how, to these communist authorities, the
mere semblance of ideological belief wipes out all sins.
The writing is repetitive and the political context that motivates much of it
less than clear to a non-Yugoslavian. But, the atmosphere of doom and dark
destiny is superbly rendered by cinematographer Suki Medencevic ("The Inner
Circle"), whose imagery can only be described as brilliant. He turns a
torpid, relentlessly dispiriting scenario into a visual masterpiece that
should be witnessed. Rarely has a film of such confused structure and
unrelieved depression been so masterfully photographed.
~~ Jules Brenner