SLIFF 2010 Review: ORDINARY PEOPLE - We Are Movie Geeks

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Disappointment awaits the viewer who expects anything to happen in terms of drama or plot in the Serbian anti-war film ORDINARY PEOPLE. This minimalist, deadpan portrait of ethnic cleansing from writer/director Vladimir Perisic follows a day in the life of a young soldier named Dzoni (Relja Popovic) who spends most of it doing the mundane tasks of life and part of it shooting unarmed men in the back. ORDINARY PEOPLE opens with Dzoni making his cot, then eating breakfast, then taking a bus ride, then smoking a cigarette, etc. Finally he’s shown fulfilling his military duties; lining up and executing his captured enemies. Dzoni is clearly dehumanized and may as well be working at McDonalds with the emotion he shows.

It’s a brutal but matter-of-fact look at the Yugoslav conflict, more statement than story, that it is far from conventional in terms any war film we’ve seen. Terrorist attacks are vaguely alluded to through a radio, the soldiers seem to be preparing for some sort of conflict, but nothing really happens and Perisic keeps answers and specifics to a minimum. There’s very little dialog, and what there is does nothing to advance a story. “What are we waiting for?” Dzoni finally asks a fellow soldier who’s joined him for a lengthy smoke. “Don’t ask too many questions” is the terse reply.

As the title suggests, ORDINARY PEOPLE shows a world in which something as ghastly as mass genocide can appear, on the surface, to be completely commonplace. By showing Dzoni’s day-to-day actions, Perisic seems to search for some meaning or morals to explain his bland reaction to the horrific acts, but he comes up empty-handed. ORDINARY PEOPLE ultimately feels empty and soulless, a kind of military procedural without any melodrama or thrills, merely the simple suspense and fascination of an authentic execution squad. Yet it works. It is brutal, strange, and off-putting but it is far from nothing.

I know I haven’t made the movie sound enthralling, but in its own way it is. There’s nothing extraordinary about it, its story (or lack thereof), or its characters, yet it possesses the power to engross and mesmerize (and at 73 minutes, is short enough to avoid overstaying its welcome) ORDINARY PEOPLE is not for everyone, and far from a fun night at the movies, but it’s an effective and haunting film and is recommended.

ORDINARY PEOPLE will play during the 19th Annual Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival on Friday, November 12th at 2:30 pm  at the Plaza Frontenac Cinema.

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