Tuesday 19 May 2020

Pertinent vacation: "Take Me Somewhere Nice"

If ever a title spoke to our present moment. Take Me Somewhere Nice, the debut feature from writer-director Ena Sendijarević, could at a push be claimed as a summer holiday movie, in that it describes a marked change of scenery, following Dutch teen Alma (the baleful Sara Luna Zoric) as she flies to Bosnia to visit her ailing father. Yet Sendijarević never lets us lose sight of the fact this is an obligation visit and a humdrum getaway. For starters, the only person she still knows in Bosnia is a blokey cousin, Emir (Ernad Prnjavorac), who claims to be too busy to show a girl around town, leaving Alma stuck indoors and having to entertain himself. (The title isn't the only element that will strike chords in early 2020.) There's a fumbly, sort-of holiday romance with one of Emir's pals, local playa Denis (Lazar Dragojevic), but for a long time this threatens to go no further than a bunk-up in a lift; and even when Alma finally sets out from base to visit her pa, things hardly go to what could only loosely be described as a plan. Sendijarević compounds this sense of underopened horizons by shooting in a tight Academy ratio that serves to tamp down any extravagance while giving rise to the drollest of sight gags: a reverse that reveals the head of a cat sat on the belly of Alma's sunbathing mother, a portrait of a fridge containing a pyramid of water bottles topped by one solitary orange. (It's been stocked by Emir, of course.)

Taking a bow on MUBI's UK platform this week after winning a jury prize at last year's Rotterdam festival, the film is essentially anecdotal, but it's the work of a director using her camera in such a way as to wring the most from these anecdotes, and to ensure her heroine would have a story of some kind to tell upon returning home. Sendijarević knows it's all a matter of perspective, and how one looks at the world. Consider the set-up that finds Alma suffering a violent bout of travel sickness, oblivious to the sweeping mountain range she's been deposited in front of: it'd be a hell of a view, if it weren't for all the throwing up. Accept that we're not going anywhere unduly scenic - that we're just passing through, and not in any immediate hurry - and the second half yields a run of quietly amusing mishaps and wrong turns, notably when a girl who can't even keep hold of her suitcase takes unexpected delivery of a coffin. My suspicion is that Sendijarević spent a good deal of her formative years watching Jim Jarmusch - chiefly the early, funny ones: the Alma-Emir-Denis triangle is very Stranger Than Paradise - and the results form the image of a festival-nurtured debut: small and self-contained, setting a tone early on, and then clinging to it for ninety minutes. Still, it's promising enough: a calling card where the signature is at least semi-distinctive, and the corners have been precisely and appreciably clipped.

Take Me Somewhere Nice streams on MUBI UK from Thursday.

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