Here and There [Tamo i ovde]

(USA/Serbia 2010)

I really liked Darko Lungulov’s Monument to Michael Jackson; it’s strange, sublime, melancholy, and witty. Its predecessor, Here and There, is a bit rougher, quieter, and sparser. While not as compelling, it still has enough of what I found intriguing about Monument to Michael Jackson.

Robert (David Thornton) is a broke, floundering, and depressed middle-aged sax player who just got evicted from his apartment in Queens. He hires a mover—how he affords it isn’t clear—who turns out to be Branko (Branislav Trifunovic), a young immigrant from Serbia who wants to get his girlfriend, Ivana (Jelena Mrdja), to the States. Branko proposes a deal. Robert, having no other prospects on the horizon, accepts: he agrees to go to Belgrade, marry Ivana, and bring her back—for a fee.

In Belgrade, Robert meets a few interesting characters—Ivana’s angry brother, Mirko (Goran Radakovic); a neighbor, Tosha (Fedja Stojanovic), who helps Robert score beer and find his way around; and Branko’s mother, Olga (Mirjana Karanovic), who puts him up in Branko’s bedroom at her apartment. She doesn’t know the reason why Robert is there. The plan doesn’t go as intended, and Robert is stuck in Belgrade as Branko is up a creek without a van in New York. Robert undergoes an awakening as he and Olga hit it off after a rocky start. Will his deal with Branko ruin everything?

Here and There is a tale of two cities, of sorts: set between New York City and Belgrade, it shows that urban life isn’t all that different from place to place—we all need to hustle to survive. Each character stands out in large part because the actors give them such complexity. Antone Pagan as savvy mechanic Jose Escobar is particularly memorable. Cyndi Lauper, who wrote and performed the film’s fine title song, makes a cameo as essentially herself. Lungulov works in some nice flashes of comedy to offset the bleakness in his characters’ lives. Here and There shows a talented filmmaker in development.

85 minutes
Not rated

(Home via iTunes) B-

Monument to Michael Jackson [Spomenik Majklu Dzeksonu]

(Serbia 2014)

After his wife leaves him, Marko (Boris Milivojevic) comes up with a way to revitalize his janky small Serbian town—and hopefully win back his wife, Ljubinka (Natasa Tapuskovic), in the process: he sets his sights on replacing a dreary old communist monument in the town center with something more exciting and “current:” a statue of the King of Pop, who he claims is attending its unveiling. You knock me off my feet now, baby…whooooo!

Monument to Michael Jackson is strange and wonderfully sublime, even if it is melancholy. The characters are realistic and fully developed, and the story is loaded with twists I didn’t see coming—like the reaction of many townspeople and the date of the unveiling (on May 25, 2009, the day Jackson died). I liked it, even with an ending that goes somewhere I was not expecting—at all. This definitely is not an American movie.

Director Darko Lungulov previously did Here and There, which I know from Cyndi Lauper’s title song for the soundtrack. Her husband, David Thornton, starred in it.

(St. Anthony Main) B+

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Film Festival