The Great Water

No doubt serving a niche audience unrecognized by other distributors, the always daring folks at Picture This! Entertainment have begun curating an international series films that all happen to deal with orphans in peril. They call the collection "Tales from the Orphanage," and this bleak political parable from the Macedonian director Ivo Trajkov is one...read more

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Reviewed by Ken Fox
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No doubt serving a niche audience unrecognized by other distributors, the always daring folks at Picture This! Entertainment have begun curating an international series films that all happen to deal with orphans in peril. They call the collection "Tales from the Orphanage," and this bleak political parable from the Macedonian director Ivo Trajkov is one of the more unusual films on the company's roster. The film opens in contemporary Macedonia, where the esteemed politician Lem Nikodinoski (Meto Jovanovski) has just suffered a serious heart attack. As he's rushed to a city hospital, his mind takes a Bergmanesque journey back to the austere orphanage where he spent his adolescence — an abandoned factory that had been converted into a state institution for the children of "fallen enemies." It's now 1945, and 12-year-old Lem (Saso Kekenovski) has just a passed through the front gates. World War II has ended, Marshall Tito is now premier of the newly created socialist republics that include Macedonia, and Josef Stalin is still revered as a god. The children who have been placed under the stern care of Headmaster Ariton (Mitko Apostolovski) and his pretty but fanatical assistant, Comrade Olivera (Verica Nedeska), are there to be reprogrammed and hopefully initiated into the Soviet youth movement known as the Young Pioneers. Not long after young Lem is brutally awakened to the reality of his new life — sexual abuse, sadistic morning exercises, a virulently anti-Clerical education &#151 a mysterious 13-year-old boy named Isak Keyten (Maja Stankovska) arrives at the orphanage. Though he hardly speaks a word, Isak seems to radiate with a strange power that cows even the harshest disciplinarians. Infatuated, Lem is passionately determined to befriend this mesmerist, but Isak barely notices the younger boy, not even after Lem takes him to his "special place" where they spy on Comrade Ariton's beautiful wife, Verna (Nikolina Kujaca). "Friendship must be earned," Isak tells his adorer. It's not until Lem agrees to stand up in class and ask whether it's true that Isak's friend, Lenche Petkova, who'd been among a group of girls subjected to an terribly severe punishment, has died that Lem earns Isak's friendship. Lem's audacity, however, also earns him a reputation as a dangerous subversive in the eyes of Comrade Olivera and her goons. Shot in gorgeous widescreen, Trajkov's moody film takes on a increasingly mystical edge as the brutality of the totalitarian orphanage — a obvious microcosm of the Stalinist state — is juxtaposed with various manifestations of Isak's seemingly supernatural power. His arrival at the orphanage is heralded by a sudden cloudburst, and more than once he's seen performing arcane rituals that have little to do with Christianity as we know it. Trajkov's conceit of periodically positioning the elderly Lem as a witness to his misbegotten youth, however, is a distraction, simply because it belongs entirely to Bergman. Rather than drawing us deeper into Trajkov's own film, and only pulls us further out, and into WILD STRAWBERRIES (1957).

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  • Released: 2004
  • Rating: NR
  • Review: No doubt serving a niche audience unrecognized by other distributors, the always daring folks at Picture This! Entertainment have begun curating an international series films that all happen to deal with orphans in peril. They call the collection "Tales fr… (more)

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