Indianapolis International Film Festival

The Geography of Love

By Madelyn Ritrosky

The Indianapolis International Film Festival included a wide variety of films, from documentaries to shorts to feature films and from a host of countries. 

Two of the films I saw fall outside the feature film category (though both are feature-length), and they are Borderline Lovers and The Traveler.    

When I was browsing through the festival's website, the title Borderline Lovers and the accompanying photo of one of the film's couples attracted my attention.  When I then read that this documentary follows three couples who defy the ethnic and religious hostilities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia-Montenegro, and Croatia in order to be together, I added it to my checklist. 

Borderline Lovers is a documentary that shines light on the power of romantic love to bring people together across chasms of prejudice, animosity, and violence.  In the war-torn countries that were once Yugoslavia, filmmaker Miroslav Mandic followed star-crossed lovers pursuing their personal dreams and going against the wishes of their families.  Yes, sort of a modern-day homage to Romeo and Juliet - only these Romeos and Juliets are very real.  They are Anesa and Dragan, Ozrenka and Marko, and Adila and Velibor.      

The film's theme is clearly "love, not hate" and I found myself admiring these strong people.  Only one of the couples is married (as of filming), and director Miroslav Mandic ended the film on a nice note when this particular couple, Adila and Velibor, are sitting outside in the dark.  As they walk away from the camera, they tell each other that they would do it all again.  Despite economic hardships and a wedding which all family members snubbed, they would do it again.  And they're probably happier in their personal lives than any of those family members (though, to be fair, his mother finally came around when she got a grandchild).  Such is the amazing power of love. 

The Traveler is an experiment in the blending of fiction and reality.  It has the look and feel of a documentary, and most of the people who wander in front of the camera do so with the misinformation that they are part of a documentary.  However, as the press material makes clear, the central person in the film is, in fact, a fictional character played by an actor.  The film's story follows Albin as he struggles to get over his ex-girlfriend and figure out his life.  He hangs out with various other twenty-something travelers at a hostel in Berlin.     

Swedish filmmaker William Olsson has attempted this fusion of film types, calling it reality-fiction, with fairly interesting results.  The Traveler reminds me, in a way, of the old American television show Candid Camera.  One person in the scene is part of the set-up and then other people who happen by get filmed reacting naturally to the situation.  Only afterward are they informed that they've been enticed into something other than what it appears.  They then had to give their consent, after the filming, to have their segments included.  This is exactly what Olsson did.   

Albin, the traveler of the title, is portrayed by actor Johannes Albin Alfven.  Other than the character's ex-girlfriend, Lisa (portrayed by actress Sofia Zouagui in a few montage shots), all of the other people in the film appear as themselves.  That is, every person that Albin meets while staying at the hostel just happened to be there at the time Olsson and Alfven were filming.  They told them they were shooting a documentary about Albin (as if Alfven was Albin).  Afterward, they informed them what was really happening, and those who are in the film consented to appear in it.  I find myself wondering what kinds of reactions this generated.      

The problem with the film is that the above production information - which is what makes it quite interesting - can only be found in the press material (and now, of course, in reviews like this).  The DVD for The Traveler should definitely include this information on the jacket so that viewers will be aware of the set-up as they watch the film.  Otherwise, it feels like a standard documentary about an aimless graduate student in Europe - and that's not really what it is. 

Photo: Johannes Alfven, courtesy, William Olsson, the filmmaker.

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