Sunday 23rd October, 20:45, NFT
Pjer Žalica's film casts a subtle and compassionate eye over the everyday activities of a rural Bosnian suburb, slowly drawing out the humanity and sadness of its inhabitants whilst building to a touchingly transcendant conclusion. Quite unlike Emir Kusturica's chaotic and bewildering portrayals of Serbian country folk, constantly tripping over their hordes of geese and moving to a soundtrack of frenetic gypsy music, Zalica's approach is more in the Mike Leigh vein. His focus is the slow activities of his subjects, allowing their emotions to rise up unhurried through their faces and their conversations.
Days and Hours sees the serene, trustworthy Fuke (Senad Basic, who played the traumatised Bosnian immigrant Reuf in Rolando Colla's Oltre Il Confine in 2002) visiting his Uncle Idriz and Aunt Sabiria in order to fix their boiler. Much slow conversation ensues about how best to mend it, and Fuke decides to return home in order to bring a new heater the next morning - but now his car won't start. Forced by this to stay the night with his aunt and uncle, Fuke casts around for help with his car from the neighbours, whilst Sabiria sets about baking and neurotically cleaning for her guest. Fuke ends up reconnecting with his relatives and with his friends from the past.
As the plot slowly progresses, the great strength of Days and Hours is its refusal to pull out the big guns at any point. Idriz and Sabiria's son Emin was killed in the war, but their sadness is humanely and steadily revealed. Objects speak quiet volumes: Fuke spends the night in Emin's bedroom, where everything is kept unaltered since his death seven years before. Idriz spends his time tinkering about with mementoes from the past, such as repairing an old mandolin he used to play, which twangs spookily as it is moved about, possibly saying something unobtrusive about discord and harmony. At the same time Emin's daughter is becoming increasingly estranged from her grandparents, simply because Idriz cannot accept her mother's wish to remarry.
At points it was hard not to wonder if some dramatic confession is about to make everything explode, Secrets and Lies-style, and even to wish for it, but it is to the film's credit that this never really happens. 'There's something I have to tell you', says Fuke to his uncle, as they discuss Emin's young daughter whilst tinkering with the boiler. In the ensuing pause, I imagined the worst. 'She looks just like him. It's the way she walks.' All would seem hopelessly set on its slow, sorrowful course, but mercifully change can and does creep in. Somehow Fuke manages in the eleventh hour to pull a touching reconciliation out of the bag for his aunt and uncle. All is suddenly music and unity in their backyard. It's a tearful and rousing moment, rather like the surprise ending of Lucas Moodyson's Together, except with a Slavic love song even happier and catchier than Moodyson's choice by Abba.
The film is lifted prior to this by moments of sombre, down-to-earth humour in its characters. When Fuke's car won't start, he asks his uncle if he has a flashlight. 'Yes', comes the reply, 'but it doesn't work.' Similarly a neighbour asks her sports-mad, rather Elvis-like son to buy her eggs on his way back from his jog. 'How can I jog carrying eggs?' he roars. 'Slowly', she responds with a shrug.
Affection is divided throughout between the old and the new, and this is tellingly played out in the details of this microcosm of post-Soviet society. One neighbour's wife has a flashy new red car (nothing like Fuke's old banger), dresses in gaudy skirt suits and is taking computer classes. Her son wants to spend his time playing video games, but his father is content to play table tennis in his beat-up garage with old friends. And whilst it may seem patronising to say it, Idriz and Sabiria have no hot water, but they have amazing cakes.
An arthouse film at this pace may not be to everyone's taste, but it makes for a convincing and touching portrayal of a Southern European community haunted by its past and facing its unsteady future.