In the wake of Venice... 28 times cinema Review of The Other Side of Everything

Photo from The Other Side of Everything

by Sofie Maas

At the beginning of the documentary The Other Side of Everything (one of the three finalists of this year’s Lux Film Prize), we see the political activist and retired engineering professor Srbijanka Turajlic polishing the doorknob of a door, that has been closed for over sixty years. The director of the film, Srbijanka’s daughter Mila Turajlic, shows us the apartment that is situated in Belgrade (Serbia), where Srbijanka was born. At the age of two, her parents apartment was divided in two by the communist dictatorial regime that was in power. Srbijanka’s family was part of Serbia’s bourgeoisie and their apartment was deemed to be spacious enough to be shared. This division can be seen as a metaphor for the political turmoil that was awaiting Serbia in the following sixty years. 

After the collapse of communism in Europe in 1989, and the rising nationalism, Yugoslavia’s disintegration had begun and the Socialist Federal Republic – that was set up in 1945 under Josip Broz Tito and consisted out of Serbia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia - started to fall apart. 

In 1991, when Slovenia, Macedonia, Croatia and Bosnia had broken away from Yugoslavia, the tension started to rise. In the following year, Montenegro and Serbia formed the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and the UN imposed its sanctions because of alleged human rights violations. Serbia was now divided between those who were in favour of war and those who found it an insane notion. A civil war seemed inevitable. 

Srbijanka Turajlic was at the forefront of the revolution and opposition against the regime of Slobodan Milosevic. Milosevic was the ‘strong man’ of Serbia, a former communist leader that clung to power by replacing Marxism-Lenism by virulent nationalism. The documentary shows images of Srbijanka in her apartment, alternated with stunning archive material that the director herself collected. While we get to hear about the bloody and violent civil war that followed the disintegration of Yugoslavia, we come to understand the exceptional bravery of Srbijanka, who had the courage to stand up, putting her life in danger. For her, there was no alternative: it was what she was supposed to do. More than once, Srbijanka expresses in front of the camera that she feels responsible for the state of the country and her generation.

What is particularly interesting about The Other Side of Everything, is that Mila Turajlic denies the politicians a voice; a decision that clearly shows this documentary is not about them. This documentary creates a portrait of Srbijanka, her apartment with all the closed doors and finally it tries to make us conscious of our situation in the world. And what other way is there to get a fundamental understanding of our world today than through history?

At the end of Turajlic’s documentary, the question is being posed whether our current generation has got what it takes to fight for fundamental change. The mentality that drove the opposition during the revolution to get heard is seemingly absent in our generation. It is perhaps this lack - or rather disinterest – of commitment that causes deep concern. During the communist regime in Belgrade, Srbijanka did not believe that Communism would ever come to an end. In the documentary she mentions that she failed to see the moment when those circumstances dramatically changed – a danger we possibly find ourselves in today.

When we take a look at the world of today, we can see new divisions between countries, governments, and citizens. A new, often extreme, nationalism has emerged that choses to focus on contradictions, in fear of ‘the other’. Interestingly enough, we can also see that nationalism is no longer reserved for the far right. It is impossible for us to believe that - as Mila Turajlic put so well into words during the Q&A at the Venice Film Festival – a war could break out in Europe. However, what if we fail to recognise these changing circumstances as they did then, before it is too late? What becomes painfully clear in this documentary is that this division between people with different opinions is still very much alive. Srbijanka is absolutely right when she states that people fight each other to be able to rewrite the past, while they forget about their future. However, Mila Turajlic also gives us hope when she shows her mother arguing with her friends at the table. Despite the huge differences in their political opinions, they are able to preserve their lifelong friendship and to keep the conversation going, instead of staying silent and cutting all connections. 

Mila Turajlic’s documentary can be seen as a plea for a new era, a new future, a new revolution. ‘You always have to fight for change’ , Srbijanka proclaims at the ending– and that is exactly what Mila Turajlic’s documentary does. In this case, it is the role of the filmmaker to reflect, to be socially responsible and relevant. And perhaps Mila also poses the most fundamental question in her documentary – the role of the artist in society. She is the living proof that cinema can enable change and can create a language that is based on communication. Where the political language fails, cinema can bond and stand as evidence that there is still hope for a better future.