An interesting Yugoslavian thriller that uses the traditional
first-person psychofilm framework to make political points, with the
standard dark childhood flashbacks used to show the effect of past
upheavals--in this case the introduction of communism in Belgrade--on
those living in the present.
DÉJÀ VU (VEC VIDJENO) appeared in 1987. It was directed
by Goran Markovic, one of Serbia’s top filmmakers; his other films
include the horror-tinged VARIOLA VERA (1982) and TITO AND ME (1992). An
estimable success in its native land, DÉJÀ VU was in the late eighties
heavily hyped (at least by foreign film standards) in Britain and the
US, where it was promoted as the “first” Yugoslavian psychothriller
STRANGLER VS. STRANGLER actually beat it to the punch), but
it never caught on.
At a piano recital in Serbia a strange man with a
deformed left eye intently watches an old guy perform.
From there we flash back to Belgrade, circa 1971, where
the severely repressed middle-aged music teacher Mihailo is smitten with
a fellow instructor, a blonde seductress named Olgica. Seeing a chance
to advance her standing, Olgica initiates a carnal relationship with the
understandably gob-smacked Mihailo. He however has trouble handling
Olgica’s flighty, self-centered manner, and finds his already precarious
mental state deteriorating.
Mihailo is afflicted by childhood flashbacks, none of
which are especially pleasant. His gruff father, we learn, was hell-bent
on turning the young Mihailo into a musical prodigy, and forced him to
play the piano for hours at a time. As for Mihailo’s mom, she wasn’t
thrilled with the old man’s philandering ways and left. Around that
point communism strengthened its grip on Serbia, a fact that tied in
directly with the disintegration of the young Mihailo’s family. When
Mihailo reached his teen years he was forced to witness his father tried
in court and eventually executed by authorities. Shortly thereafter his
mother died from tuberculosis.
Back in the present the tipping point for Mihailo
arrives when he and Olgica are rehearsing for a TV talent show, he as
pianist and she as choreographer. On the day of the broadcast Mihailo’s
mental problems interfere with his piano playing, and a supremely
pissed-off Olgica shuns him.
This causes Mihailo to snap completely. He enters
Olgica’s house, where he kills her dog and stabs her elderly father
through the throat. The bloodletting reaches truly hellacious heights
once Olgica arrives home with a new boyfriend in tow, neither of whom,
you can be sure, are long for this world…
This being a Yugoslavian production from the eighties,
one has to be forgiving of its technical sloppiness. This is evident in
the cut rate sound design and substandard score (see below). The
visuals, at least, are impressively wrought, with an arresting lighting
scheme that always leaves a portion of every scene in darkness and
roving Brian De Palma-like camerawork that revels in lengthy tracking
shots (plus, unlike most Yugoslavian films from the eighties, the
available prints aren’t massively faded and scratched).
Director Goran Markovic does a good job delineating
between the film’s three time periods, each of which has its own visual
signature--although Markovic’s penchant for hazy diffusion (a
quintessentially eighties technique beloved by Ridley Scott) doesn’t
always work, resulting in a lot of distractingly smoke-filled interiors.
Another element that doesn’t work is the classically
based music score, with its absurdly over-dramatic cues that accompany
the protagonist’s psychotic freak-outs and plinky piano music that plays
over the emotional scenes. The rousingly gory climax is the one place
where the score actually does its job, with stately piano music making
for a perverse corollary to the action, which rises to a memorable pitch
of bloody insanity.
DÉJÀ VU (VEC VIDJENO)
Art Film 80/Avala Film/Croatia Film
Director: Goran Markovic
Producer: Aleksandar Stojanovic
Screenplay: Goran Markovic
Cinematography: Zivko Zalar
Editing: Snezana Ivanovic
Cast: Mustafa Nadarevic, Anica Dobra, Milorad Mandic, Bogdan Diklic,
Dusan Kostovski, Gordana Gadzic, Vladimir Jevtovic, Petar Bozovic,
Mihailo Paskaljevic, Vesna Trivalic, Olivera Markovic