The Other Side of Everything
(Serbia/France/Qatar, 100 min.)
Dir. Mila Turajlic
Mila Turajlic’s The Other Side of Everything is two things: on one level, it’s a first-person doc about a daughter’s relationship with her mother; on another, it’s the story of modern Serbia. The person who makes that move possible is Srbijanka Turajlic, the director’s mother, who is a retired engineering professor and stalwart democratic political activist.
The film begins with a locked door. The Turajlic’s apartment, we are told, was divided by the Communists when they came to power after World War II; their family was bourgeois and had built and owned the building that housed their apartment. The artificially divided house is an obvious metaphor for the divisions in the former Yugoslavia, but Turajlic smartly avoids pushing that too far. Instead she focuses on the lived reality of privilege lost—by her family—and gained—by the family given the other side of the apartment—before moving on to other matters.
Srbijanka proves to be a levelheaded guide to the history of Serbia. An activist throughout the Communist and Milosevic eras alike, she’s too much a skeptic to be a revolutionary. In one of her finer moments, which comes in a televised interview after the October 5, 2000 protests that removed Milosevic from power, she refuses to say that she is celebrating Serbia’s newfound democracy, insisting that there was still much work to be done to realize a truly liberal Serbia. 17 years later, after the election of the right-wing nationalist Aleksandar Vucic as president and with public opinion showing a society enamoured with Vladimir Putin, Srbijanka is sadly vindicated.
The film is co-produced by HBO Europe and has a bit of a television aesthetic. It could also have stood to explain more Serbian history for those of us to whom it remains a bit of an enigma. But it’s an interesting and heartfelt film.